Cycling on sidewalks and walking the Trans Canada Trail

Cycling the Trans-Canada Trail at Stittsville Village Square.

Last week a neighbour was knocked down by a cyclist on the Trans Canada Trail, parallel to Abbott Street. She required surgery for a broken elbow, needed 6 stitches for her forehead and suffered significant bruising to her face. The very same day, I was almost knocked down by cyclists on Main Street, near JoJo’s. My thought when I heard about my neighbour…“There, but for the grace of God, go I”.

I live in a senior community off Main Street where walking around the neighbourhood is becoming increasingly dangerous with the recent upsurge of cyclists, to the point that people are afraid to venture out on the sidewalk or trail. 

My frustration and concern prompted some online research of the subject, with historic media coverage indicating that this problem is nothing new.  There have been many attempts over the years to make the sidewalks and recreational paths safer for pedestrians. CBC news was dealing with this way back in 2010, regarding sidewalk cyclists and fines. In 2017 The Globe and Mail responded to the question “Is it Legal to Ride Your Bike on The Sidewalk?” Then, very recently on the local scene, there was a well presented letter to the Editor of Community Voice, by Michael Lotan, another Stittsville resident and a cyclist for over 75 years. (Links below to media references).

Intersection at Stittsville Main and Abbott Streets – one of the busiest in the Stittsville Community.

My own close encounter with a cyclist was when I heard someone call “Excuse me”, or something to that effect, not identifying who he was (a cyclist) or that he was passing on my right. Stunned, I froze mid step and fortunately managed to remain upright despite the fright. Once he passed I continued walking, only to then have another person, ring her bell as she passed me. Again, no warning as she approached, too late for that, and no indication of which side she was passing me on. She was then followed by 2 children on their bikes. How will they learn about safe cycling if their parents set poor examples and break the law?

Yes, it is against the law to cycle on sidewalks.

I myself am a cyclist so am familiar with courteous cycling practices.  I obey the rules of the road as they pertain to cyclists and am familiar with the challenges of cycling in Stittsville. One incident in particular comes to mind.

Riding on the back streets, I was almost knocked down by a fellow cyclist who failed to stop at a Stop sign. Fortunately her husband called to her to stop and averted an accident, but it was a close call. He obeyed the Stop sign but it took a few desperate shouts before she finally braked and fortunately we didn’t collide. The two children, having followed Mum, also stopped in the middle of the intersection bewildered and vulnerable to cars which had the right of way. Dad was not happy, and nor was I, but I expect they have all obeyed Stop signs since then.

Last year Safer Roads Ottawa partnered with Stittsville Scouts and Girl Guides to hold a family bike rodeo here is Stittsville, with over 70 children and parents participating. Unfortunately, due to Covid restrictions, such educational opportunities are not available this year but there are quiet neighbourhoods and safe places to cycle. Local side streets are good places to gain road sense and develop safe cycling habits. A helpful resource, available online, is a kid friendly handbook from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. The Young Cyclist’s Guide  is referenced below along with an adult’s guide plus  other links to safe cycling information provided by various organizations and levels of government.

Regarding the law and cycling on sidewalks there were two things that I couldn’t find reference to:

1. The age at which it is legal for children in Ottawa to ride their bikes on the sidewalk, although I was told by a City of Ottawa employee that, contrary to the law, it is permitted for aged 12 and under.

2.  I was also told by a friend that there is a certain wheel size which indicates if a bicycle is small enough to be used on the sidewalk.

If anyone has access to such information perhaps you would post the link in the Comment section to clarify the situation

Please everyone, Stay Safe in all respects – Covid and otherwise, on pavements and on paths, on bicycles and on foot.

Some references for safe cycling tips and road rules are listed below

Ontario Ministry of Transportation 

  • Young Cyclist’s Guide (PDF – 2.83 MB) : a kid-friendly handbook of cycling safety tips and rules for young riders

Cycling Safety – City of Ottawa

Bicycle Safety – Ottawa Police Service

Safer Roads Ottawa

Bike Ottawa – Safe Cycling

Cycling and the Law/Ottawa Bicycle Club

CycleON: Ontario’s Cycling Strategy


4 thoughts on “Cycling on sidewalks and walking the Trans Canada Trail”

  1. Cycling on the sidewalk is covered by a City of Ottawa bylaw. There is no age restriction, but it is selectively enforced.

    67. (1) No person shall drive a vehicle or ride upon a skateboard, rollerskates or inline skates on a sidewalk except for the purpose of directly crossing the sidewalk.
    (2) No person shall drive a vehicle over a raised curb or sidewalk except at a place
    where there is a ramp, rolled curb or depressed curb.
    (3) No person shall drive a vehicle on a boulevard except for the purpose of directly
    crossing a boulevard at a driveway or other designated vehicular crossing.
    (4) Subsections (1), (2) and (3) shall not apply to wheelchairs, baby carriages,
    children’s tricycles, children’s wagons, handcarts used for vending, or bicycles
    crossing between the roadway and any other cycling path or facility.
    (5) Subsection (1) shall not apply to prevent the driving of bicycles on a sidewalk
    where it is permitted by official or authorized signs.
    (6) Despite the provisions of subsection (5), a person driving a bicycle on a
    sidewalk shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and shall give an audible
    signal before overtaking and passing such pedestrian.
    (7) Nothing in this section shall relieve the pedestrian from the obligation of taking
    all due care to avoid a collision.
    (8) Subsection (3) shall not apply to prevent the driving of bicycles on a boulevard
    where it is permitted by official or authorized signs.
    (9) Despite subsection (8), a person driving a bicycle on a boulevard shall yield
    the right of way to any pedestrian and shall give an audible signal before
    overtaking and passing such pedestrian.

  2. Bicycles should have mandatory lights and bells plus not to speed on walkways and sidewalks which are primarily for pedestrians. The other day, a tiny young girl on a tricycle wanted to pass me
    and she rung her bell. Brava!

  3. Having rules and regulations in place that govern cycling behaviour is only one step in achieving a safe cycling culture. The most important step is education. I have felt for a long time that cycling should be part of the school curriculum with a mandatory test at the end. This is the norm in the Netherlands where children are taught the rules of the road at 12 years old and then must take a test to receive a traffic certificate.

    Although Ottawa has a bylaw governing cycling on sidewalks, I can find no bylaw concerning bicycle/pedestrian interactions on a shared pathway. There is a reference on the city website, but it is only a guideline:

    Rules of the pathways

    Bicycles are permitted on mixed-use pathways, but cyclists should follow these guidelines:

    Keep to the right of the yellow centre line (where one exists)
    Pass other users only when it is safe to do so
    Use your bell or voice to warn others when you are passing e.g., “Passing on your left!”
    Ride at a suitable speed for a mixed-use pathway (recommended speed of no more than 20 km/hr)
    Be cautious at night, especially along pathways that are not lit. Ride more slowly, especially around dark curves, and stay visible by dressing brightly and using bicycle lights.

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