WA’s Sunday Times reckons the state Government is working on legislation that will permit adult cyclists to ride on footpaths with no restrictions on speed (New laws will allow cyclists to legally ride on footpaths in WA):
The Department of Transport would not say when the laws would come into force, but confirmed that the Government was “in the process of taking steps to change the Road Traffic Code to allow cyclists of any age to use footpaths”.
Children under 12 and adults supervising them can ride on footpaths at present in WA, but the idea that riders of all ages can use them is a vexed issue with reasonable arguments both for and against.
The key arguments in favour of allowing all cyclists to ride on footpaths include:
- Safety is a key obstacle to greater take-up of cycling, but there’s inadequate infrastructure on roads. Footpaths are a relatively safe haven for cyclists; roads are dangerous.
- Realistically, cyclists will be waiting decades before a safe network of on-road paths is provided.
- Footpaths are an enormous existing resource that is only lightly used in most locations. There’s plenty of spare capacity for both cyclists and pedestrians.
- A bicycle is far less dangerous to a pedestrian than a car is to a bicycle.
- Bicycles are not a major cause of serious injury to pedestrians where space is currently shared e.g. off-road trails.
- Cycling on footpaths works well in those jurisdictions where it’s legal for adults e.g. Qld, NT.
- Perceptions of risk to pedestrians can be controlled by a global speed limit on cyclists when close to a pedestrian e.g. 10 km/h max.
- Conflict between cyclists and pedestrians is caused by a small minority; the great majority of cyclists are respectful and considerate around pedestrians.
On the other hand, the arguments against cyclists using footpaths include:
- It would degrade the value/amenity of walking by making pedestrians fearful of injury. That feeling of apprehension is amplified for anyone walking with young children or a dog.
- It would weaken support for cycling in the wider community, including from many disaffected pedestrians who would otherwise be natural supporters.
- It would signal that roads belong to motorists and that motorists don’t have to give up anything. It sends the message that pedestrians and cyclists can fight over the scraps.
- Speed limits and designated “no cycling areas” won’t work because laws are seldom enforced. A minority of cyclists (and pedestrians for that matter) will always be inconsiderate.
- Walking is the most accessible and the most natural of all modes; virtually everyone can use a footpath. It must stand at the top of the “steam gives way to sail” hierarchy.
- Legalising use of footpaths creates a norm that could lead to a significant proportion of cyclists viewing footpaths as “their territory”.
My view, which I’ve put consistently on these pages, is that cycling belongs on the road, not the footpath; motorists should give up some road space for cyclists. Of course it’s not a black and white issue (e.g. see Can cyclists and pedestrians share public space?), but it makes no sense for cyclists to be fighting on two fronts.
Cyclists and pedestrians should be allies, not enemies.