Footpath Cycling

Most cyclists have probably ridden on footpaths at some time although it is actually illegal. Many local authorities, including those here in Aylesbury, have allocated sections of footpath for cyclists to ride on. Some of these are shared use paths for use by cyclists & pedestrians and in other areas they are separated for use by each specific group. This can lead to confusion when a cycle path ends & a footpath designated for the specific use by pedestrians then follows. Many riders continue onto the pedestrian footpath as though they are fully entitled to ride there.

The actual position is straighforward as clarification of the position has been set out by the government. We set out below the background & what you may do if you choose to ride on a pedestrian footpath.

Legislative background

The primary legislation which makes cycling on a footway an offence is section 72 of the 1835 Highways Act, this provides that a person shall be guilty of an offence if he "shall wilfully ride upon any footpath or causeway by the side of any road made or set apart for the use or accommodation of foot-passengers or shall wilfully lead or drive any carriage of any description upon any such footpath or causeway."

Section 85 of the Local Government Act 1888 extended the definition of "carriage" to include "bicycles, tricycles, velocipedes and other similar machines."

The object of Section 72 Highways Act 1835 was intended not to protect all footpaths, but only footpaths or causeways by the side of a road, and that this is still the case has been ruled in the high court. The legislation makes no exceptions for small wheeled or children's cycles, so even a child riding on a footway is breaking the law. However, if they are under the age of criminal responsibility they cannot, of course, face prosecution. The child's parents could be held responsible for any damage caused by their child riding on the path which could involve personal injury costs in the case of a collision with a pedestrian.

On 1st August 1999, new legislation came into force to allow a fixed penalty notice to be served on anyone who is guilty of cycling on a footway.

Home office guidance

The Home Office then issued guidance on how the new legislation should be applied, indicating that they should only be used where a cyclist is riding in a manner that may endanger others. At the time Home Office Minister Paul Boateng issued a letter stating that:

"The introduction of the fixed penalty is not aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of traffic and who show consideration to other pavement users when doing so. Chief police officers, who are responsible for enforcement, acknowledge that many cyclists, particularly children and young people, are afraid to cycle on the road, sensitivity and careful use of police discretion is required."

Almost identical advice has since been issued by the Home Office with regards the use of fixed penalty notices by 'Community Support Officers' and wardens.

"CSOs and accredited persons will be accountable in the same way as police officers. They will be under the direction and control of the chief officer, supervised on a daily basis by the local community beat officer and will be subject to the same police complaints system. The Government have included provision in the Anti Social Behaviour Bill to enable CSOs and accredited persons to stop those cycling irresponsibly on the pavement in order to issue a fixed penalty notice.

I should stress that the issue is about inconsiderate cycling on the pavements. The new provisions are not aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of the traffic, and who show consideration to other road users when doing so. Chief officers recognise that the fixed penalty needs to be used with a considerable degree of discretion and it cannot be issued to anyone under the age of 16. (Letter to Mr H. Peel from John Crozier of The Home Office, reference T5080/4, 23 February 2004)".


It is illegal to cycle on the pavement but Home Office guidance has been issued that does permit considerate riding. At any time you decide to cycle on the pavement then ensure you give priority to pedestrians. If you ride on the pavement in an inconsiderate manner you could face a fixed penalty notice of £30 or a personal injury claim in the event of a collision with a pedestrian. Having a bell on your bike & using it is a good way of ensuring your presence is known to others. Take care at all times & give priority to pedestrians.

Canal Towpath Riding

British Waterways are responsible for towpaths but similar rules apply to the above. You can find details of their advice here. Please note that for some canals you are required to have a cycling permit - these are free - and you can find out more information & download a permit here.