The following questions were submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "The Law Q&A," runs in the Champaign News Gazette.
Is it illegal to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk? If it’s not illegal, can cyclists ride both the sidewalk and the street?
State law says you can ride on the sidewalk. Local ordinances, however, may prohibit bikes on sidewalks certain areas. Where it’s not illegal, you could bike on either the sidewalk or the street.
The “Rules of the Road” are Chapter 11 of the Illinois Vehicle Code. Article 15 of that chapter covers bicycles.
In general, Illinois law treats cyclists like drivers. Bikes are “granted all of the rights and...subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle.” More specifically, the law sets out some basic do’s and don’ts for cyclists:
Do: ride on the right; stop at stop signs; signal all turns and stops; use a front headlight and rear reflectors at night.
Don’t ride: with no hands; with any passengers; while holding anything, or onto a vehicle; or two abreast (unless you’re going the speed limit).
Under state law, bikes are illegal on sidewalks only “where such use of bicycles is prohibited by official traffic control devices.” Some kind of sign, then, must keep bikes off sidewalks. Otherwise, the law says that cyclists on sidewalks shall “have all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same circumstances.”
So, on streets and roads, bikes are treated like cars. On sidewalks, they’re treated like pedestrians.
When they’re on a sidewalk, cyclists must “yield the right of way to any pedestrian;” and “give audible signal before overtaking and passing such pedestrian.” Acting like pedestrians, speed-wise, isn’t a bad idea.
Local ordinances can be more restrictive than state law. Urbana, for example, bans bikes on sidewalks in the “central business district.” That’s defined as the “area bounded by Illinois, Water, Urbana and Cedar Streets, and including the said streets.” A violation is a $50 fine.
Champaign is trickier. It bans bikes on sidewalks in “business districts.” That’s any street or highway within 600 feet of “buildings in use for business or industrial purposes.” That includes “hotels, banks, or office buildings, railroad stations, and public buildings”—but apparently only if they have 300 feet “of frontage on one side,” or “collectively on both sides of the street or highway.”
That size requirement might only apply to “public buildings.” At any rate, it’s not easy to tell when bikes are illegal on sidewalks in Champaign. When it is, it’s a $165 fine.
Even if it’s legal, many cycling advocates oppose cycling on sidewalks. Among other things, they say that cars don’t watch for bikes on sidewalks.
Which makes the point that, especially with bikes, what’s legal isn’t necessarily safe. You could, for example, ride your bike at midnight, in dark clothing, in a downpour, with the minimally required lighting (headlight and rear reflectors), and be legal. You’d also be begging for trouble. And unlike unsafe drivers, who threaten both themselves and others, unsafe cyclists are usually the only ones who suffer.
Riding on the sidewalk in Chicago is illegal unless the sidewalk is marked as a bike path, or you are going to a nearby bike station or road.
As of January 1st, 2017, bikes are considered vehicles under the law. Motorists must provide the right-of-way to bicycles when the bicyclist is entitled to the right-of-way. Read more about Dennis' law.
Updated: November 2016