Who has priority on shared paths?

On paths which are shared by pedestrians and cyclists, who has priority?

Around Tonbridge a number of the cycle routes are paths that are shared with pedestrians so this is something I come across most trips out on the bike.  In a way, the answer doesn’t really matter – what’s important is that both pedestrians and cyclists use the paths considerately, rather than insist on their rights.  But, nevertheless, there are some legal principles which apply on shared paths.  Just to clarify, I’m talking about paths where cycling is permitted. Generally (but not always) shared paths will be indicated by signs like this:

Do cyclists have to give way to pedestrians?

The most obvious question is whether cyclists have to give way to pedestrians on shared paths.  There’s no general rule that cyclists have to give way to pedestrians, whether on the roads or on shared paths (or elsewhere).  Nor is there a general rule that pedestrians have to give way to cyclists.  So what does the law say about interactions between pedestrians and cyclists on shared paths?  Bicycles are vehicles, and the law regulates vehicles more heavily than it does pedestrians.  So there are some general obligations on cyclists which don’t apply to pedestrians.  The most relevant for present purposes is the requirement to ride carefully and considerately.  If you cycle carelessly, or without reasonable consideration for others, you’ll commit an offence for which you can be given a £1000 fine (but can’t be given a fixed penalty notice).

So (generally) on shared paths you have to cycle considerately, or you’ll commit an offence.  The courts are also likely to take into account the Highway Code’s advice on using shared paths. The Highway Code says this:

Cycle Tracks. These are normally located away from the road, but may occasionally be found alongside footpaths or pavements. […] Take care when passing pedestrians, especially children, older or disabled people, and allow them plenty of room. Always be prepared to slow down and stop if necessary. (Highway Code, rule 62)

These parts of the Highway Code are advisory only, so ignoring them isn’t an offence on its own,but it might make it more likely that you would be convicted of inconsiderate cycling. So passing close to pedestrians (or failing to allow plenty of room) could make it more likely that you’d be convicted of inconsiderate cycling, as could refusing to slow down or stop  again, depending on the circumstances.  But still, as I’ve mentioned above, there’s no obligation on cyclists to accord precedence to pedestrians on shared paths (like you have to at zebra crossings).  So drawing attention to the fact that you are there (for example by ringing your bell), in a way which gives sufficient warning and amounts to a request to make room, seems ok. Rule 62 of the Highway Code also has this to say about shared paths:

Cyclists and pedestrians may be segregated or they may share the same space (unsegregated). When using segregated tracks you MUST keep to the side intended for cyclists as the pedestrian side remains a pavement or footpath.

This section of the Highway Code suggests that, where there’s a segregated shared facility it will be an offence to cycle on the pedestrian side.  Even if (in some circumstances) riding on the pedestrian side isn’t an offence in itself, again it might make it more likely that you would be convicted of riding inconsiderately – for example if you rode along in the pedestrian section and failed to move into the cycle section when you approached pedestrians.

Pedestrians have responsibilities too

This works the other way too. As I’ve mentioned, there are no offences for pedestrians of walking carelessly or inconsiderately. But a pedestrian does have a legal duty totake care on a shared path.  So if a pedestrian behaves in a careless way and injures you or damages your bike, they might be held liable to pay compensation if you sued.  For example, a pedestrian who steps into the cycle side of a segregated path is unlikely to be committing an offence, but they might be liable for any injury or damage which occurred as a result (as ever, depending on the circumstances).

To summarise, then, the law requires all path users to take care; but the obligations are, in a sense, stricter on cyclists, because they also have to behave considerately, and because they may be committing an offence if they don’t.

Byelaws

Also note that Local Authorities can create byelaws affecting cyclists.  These are worth looking out for in particular in parks and pedestrianised areas.  Byelaws can ban cycling, or can permit it subject to conditions – for example, a byelaw could saysomething like “cycling is permitted but cyclists must give way to pedestrians”.  In this case, if you fail to give way, you might commit an offence of breaching a byelaw.  The penalties can differ from those which apply to normal cycling offences.  This creates a difficulty because byelaws can be location-specific, as a result it can be difficult to know exactly what they are.  So when you’re cycling in places like parks and pedestrian zones, where it’s more likely that there will be byelaws, it’s perhaps worth being extra cautious.

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