*** Disclaimer – this blog by no means encourages trespass ***
Firstly we need to define a footpath, these are routes that are away from the carriage way not footways which are paths for pedestrians on the sides of roads.
Cycling is legally permitted on less than a quarter of Rights of Way within England and Wales, unlike in Scotland where due to Scotland’s Reform Act (2003) access is available for cyclists in most of the country as long as riders abide by an access code.
In England there are 146,000km of public footpaths which are restricted to use by pedestrians only in rural areas and the right to walk along them is legally protected, unless the landowner gives permission. If no permission is granted then cycling on a public footpath currently constitutes as trespass which at present is a civil matter not a criminal offence. A TRO (Traffic Regulation Order) or by-law on a route specifically prohibiting cycling can make it an offence.
Although it’s a civil offence to ride on a public footpath many routes are ridden regularly by cyclists, this use along with other such users as equestrians can create higher rights over the route. If the route is used by these users ‘nec vi, nec clam, nec precario’ which means without secracy, permission or force then a bridleways or restricted byway can come into being by a claim being submitted through ‘presumed rights’ under s31 of the Highways Act 1980.
Many people believe cyclists on footpaths create a lot of problems but in most cases this conflict is more perceived than real and can be mitigated by good design and education of users.
Cycling UK believes that it is acceptable for cyclists to use footpaths, provided they do so in a manner which respects the safety of other path users and their peaceful enjoyment of the outdoors, and with regard for the environment and its ecology. These are the circumstances in which Cycling UK believes it is acceptable for cyclists to ride on footpaths:
- Where the surface and width of the path make it eminently suitable for safe cycling without causing disturbance or risk to pedestrians; or
- Where the path is lightly used, such that the likelihood of disturbance or risk to pedestrians is minimal; or
- Where a path is unlikely to attract such high levels of cycling that it will cause environmental damage (notably erosion); or
- Where there is a reasonable belief that the footpath in question might already carry higher rights, for example: where there is historic evidence (e.g. through enclosure award maps) demonstrating past use either by horses or by vehicles; where the path is shown on OS maps as an ‘Other Road with Public Access’ (ORPA), indicating an assumption that higher rights may exist; where there is regular use by equestrians, motor vehicles and/or by other cyclists
So in answer to the question ‘can I cycle on a public footpath’ the answer legally is no. But there are avenues to explore to upgrade footpaths and in certain circumstances it may be that you can cycle on the footpaths without causing any upset.