Dear PoPville – What are the Rules on Biking on Sidewalks in Parks?

Dear PoPville,

On my bike commute home today I rode through Lafayette Park as always. As I approached the car entrance on H Street, a cop SUV, not sure which police force probably Secret Service, was entering and the first set of blockade bars were lowering into the ground so that the SUV could pass. I purposefully waited until the car stopped to wait for the second set of bars to lower and I was sure there was room for me on the side. As I went through the cop got out, blocking my way with the door, and told me to get on the sidewalk and that “this is a roadway, think about it, you’re going to get yourself killed!” I said that I was thinking about it and rode off.

Right after, I remembered that I thought it was illegal to ride a bike on the sidewalk in DC and stewed about not delivering that pertinent fact as a comeback line. When I got home, I of course Googled it and came up with this from DDOT.

It looks like Lafayette Park is within the CBD, but is there some restriction to this no-sidewalks rule in parks managed by the NPS?

29 Comment

  • Are you talking about at Connecticut and H ? If you are, i just ride on the sidewalk and hop back onto the street after the barricades. Also, i use to ride through the barricades, you’ll get 1 out of maybe officers that care if you ride thru.

  • if you are going to be on the road you have to abide by the same laws as a vehicle. passing on the right is illegal. come to a complete stop at a stop sign. single file people! I want bikes to have the same rights but in this city too many bicycles abuse and believe “they” are different.

    • That’s not true. Bicycles are allowed to pass on the left or right of a car, within their lane or off the side of the road. Commonly referred to as “splitting lanes.” You can argue about the safety or merits of the law, but it sounds like what this person did was not illegal. See for the laws on bike travel.

    • As Anonymous 12:17 points out, it is you who need familiarization with the traffic laws. Perhaps a little more education and a little less self righteousness are in order.

    • It is every bit as legal for a bicycle to pass a car within a lane of traffic as it is legal for a car to pass a bicycle in the District of Columbia. Read the traffic code. Actually the DC code is a bit more lenient on bicycles than cars in this matter as the cars must meet space requirements to pass bicycles and bicycles are held to no such requirements when passing cars.

      To quote the code:
      bicycles are allowed to pass cars “on left or right, in the same lane or changing lanes, or pass off road.” Cars are allowed to pass bicycles “by leaving a safe distance, but in no case less than three feet, when overtaking and passing a bicycle.”

  • Working on Capitol Hill where there are security bars as well, im not sure he was talking about riding on the sidewalk as a general rule. I have been told by Cap Police that those security bars cannot sense bicycles because they don’t weigh enough. Im pretty sure he was advising you to go around, so as to avoid an accident.

  • That cop was an idiot – there’s barely any traffic in Lafayette Park! And if there is some secret service SUV, it’s not like it’s driving fast. You’re much more likely to collide with a pedestrian if you ride on the sidewalk in the park.

    That said, I do ride on the sidewalk in the park because they often don’t let me squeeze past the car barrier on H st, and there’s no curb cut there to easily hop up onto the sidewalk.

  • gotryit

    Not 100% sure, but look at the national mall for comparison. I think that’s listed as a legitimate place to bike, even on the sidewalk.

  • You’re an idiot to sidle up to a stopped Secret Service SUV on a bike and not expect a reaction. Why not wait until the coast is clear? Or just take the sidewalk in the first place?

    Let’s use a little common sense instead of debating the jurisdiction of public park authorities.

    • I agree, this is a stupid confrontation that didn’t need to happen. If you are using the tiny service roads on the sides of Lafayette Park, then you should wait until the police are out of your way and not try to squeeze between the cop car and the curb. Or, as others have said, use the sidewalk – unless you are incredibly wide, bikes fit between bollards just like pedestrians do.

      Police around the White House are on high alert 24/7, so you’re lucky you only got yelled at. Not saying anything the cop did was legally justified, just saying you need to use more common sense and not purposely piss off people who can arrest/shoot you.

  • PoP — you have to help clear up this misconception! It is NOT illegal to bike on the sidewalk everywhere in DC. It’s only illegal within the Downtown BID.

  • I have a pocket WABA guide (granted from 2009) and it says you cannot bike on the sidewalk ONLY in the Commercial Business District “bound by 2nd st NE and NE, D st SE and SW, 14th st SW and NW, Const Ave NW, 23rd st NW, and Mass Ave NW.” You can bike on areas controlled by the Park Service however. These laws may have been relaxed more actually based on this DDOT map I bumped into:,+2+pg,+8.33+MB%29

    It may take a second to load. But anyway- don’t bike by those bars. It is silly. I use common sense- if it is a high ped traffic area- don’t bike on the sidewalk.

    • Well said use common sense. Pedestrians want bikers to ride on the rode and follow those rules. And I have been told by drivers and police, to ride on the side walk and follow Pedestrian rules. Hell even bikes lanes sometimes say follow pediestrian law then they will say follow the car laws. Let me tell you this secret service guy has no idea what the bike laws are as with most police in DC. My number one rule as a biker is use common sense. I would say I use a biker law, because we are not a car or pedestrian but on a bike

    • Thanks for the link! I had no idea the downtown/sidewalk-restriction zone was so big. I ride my bike on the vast Independence Ave sidewalks to/from work, since I’ll be damned to ride in traffic along that road, but it looks like that’s technically restricted. Maybe I’ll have to switch to riding on the Mall, as NPS land…

  • i often ride through lafayette park to get onto the 15th street cylcetrack – which goes on vermont ave for a block or so. it is very poorly designed in that it is really difficult to get onto that cycletrack without going through the park. i just go super slow and give pedestrians a really wide bearth. i ride on the sidewalk to avoid going through the security barriers set up for cars. i would expect those police to give bikers a hard time, but i don’t know what the sidewalk rule specifically in parks is.

    • Last summer/fall the cops put up yellow police tape on those security barriers clearly in response to all the bikers who tried to go through. I think it is actually expected that bikers ride on the sidewalk down to Penn Ave.

  • Lafayette Park is in the CBD, but it is not under the city’s jurisdiction, so I doubt their rules apply. In any case, I don’t bike through the barricades because it feels unsafe.

  • Best to just ignore cops and do whatever you like. This is America.

  • I bike through the barricades at lafayette every day, and have done so for at least two years. occasionally it’s in lockdown and the ss will certainly let you know and you just gotta go around, but I’ve never been told it’s not allowed.

  • As a native Washingtonian I remember that during the bicycle craze back in the 70’s the rule was if your bicycle had wheels larger than 26 inches you must ride in the street and must obey all rules of the road that cars do. If it was smaller than or = to 26 inches you can ride on the sidewalk but at intersections you must get off and walk across the street.

  • I ride through there every day for four years and I never have a problem. My personal rule is to give the police a large space. If they are standing there make a big circle around them and don’t even act like your going anywhere near them. If they are driving I give them the right of way every time. I know this is not the way of civilized society but it’s kept me police free since 93′.

  • I’ve ridden through lafayette park a bunch of times and have never had a problem however only once have I ever seen a moving car in the last 3 years. If you can play hockey on inline skates on the wider parts of the roadway (which I have seen in lafayette park) you are definitely allowed to ride on that roadway. I would be careful if those pillars are about to (or) being moved. To be on the safe side I would never ride “in” with a vehicle in that area.

  • funny. two police officers on bikes rode past me on the sidewalk on I NW between 16th and 17th yesterday. i asked them if it wasn’t illegal to ride your bike on the sidewalk south of mass. ave. and they looked at me like in complete surprise.

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