April 2024

Considerate path & road use


1. Background
2. Spokes Initiatives – including downloadable/printable Spokes On Shared Paths leaflets
3. Other high-quality shared-use leaflets
4. Particular local problem areas
5. Countryside Access Code
6. Dangerous or scary dogs
7. Footway cycling


Spokes is concerned that using a bike should be seen by everyone as a positive and obvious way to get around.  Inconsiderate cycling damages this perception.  It can also cause motorist aggression to other cyclists, it can frighten people who are walking, and in some cases it can be an actual danger to other people, as well as to the cyclist themself.

Of course, this is a 2-way street and we equally need to see safe and considerate behaviour by all road and path users.   It is a sad and surprising fact that around half of motorists admit to sometimes “driving significantly above the (speed) limit in built up areas” [RAC report on motoring, 2007].  And cyclist injuries occur due to dogs off the lead or on very-long leads on shared paths.

It is also notable that many provisions ‘for cyclists’ are also very beneficial to walkers.  Advanced stop lines at junctions improve visibility of and by all road users, thus reducing risks to pedestrians as well as cyclists.   For years locals campaigned unsuccessfully for a pedestrian crossing of Melville Drive at Middle Meadow Walk, but only once cycling was legalised did the council consider there was enough total demand to justify a light-controlled crossing.  And much of Edinburgh’s off-road path network, benefitting both walkers and cyclists, was initially created thanks to long campaigning by Spokes – the North Edinburgh Network being the prime example.

Of course, as far as roads are concerned, the main issue is the need for danger reduction, and this is where Spokes puts most of its effort – segregated cycle (and pedestrian) facilities, widespread 20mph, traffic reduction measures, road policing, strict (or even presumed) liability, etc.  Motorists are in charge of a lethal piece of machinery, against which cyclists and pedestrians have little protection.  Nonetheless, mutual consideration and common courtesy between motorists, cyclists and pedestrians is valuable in its own right and can help counter stereotyping and aggression.

The more people who get about Edinburgh by bike, the less pollution, noise and congestion for everyone, and the less the strain on the NHS from obesity-related illness.   Already 7% of trips to work are by bike in Edinburgh [Scottish Household Survey] – imagine the roads if all these people went by car!   Spokes seeks to increase this figure, and at the same time to spread awareness of the value of mutual consideration by all road and path users – for example through initiatives such as the following…


Over the years Spokes has taken several initiatives to promote considerate path use by all users.   These include…

2013 We worked with an Edinburgh University MSc / City Council research study which produced a Strategy for Considerate Cycling in Edinburgh [pdf 1MB].  This is to be considered by the Council.

We worked with Scottish Canals on their new Towpath Code.  The cycling sections were adapted from our Shared Paths leaflets [below] and used by Scottish Canals for consultation with other groups such as Living Streets.

2012 New innovative Spokes On Shared Paths leaflet in 2 versions.

We strongly recommend reading our news item 19 October 2012 which explains the reasons for the two versions and gives some more background on them.

You are welcome to download and print these as they are.  If you use our ideas in your own materials we would welcome a credit and mention of our website.

The ‘topics-based’ version is available on paper – ask for copies if needed.  It was printed as an extra page in all 12,000 copies of Spokes Bulletin 114, available at Spokes stalls, and used in campaigns with other groups, such as for leafletting towpath users.

2010-2011 We support the Bike Station/ BWTW Shared Paths leaflet [pdf 430k] and have distributed these at stalls etc.

2008-2009 Bike Polite Campaign included 10,000 Bike Polite slap bands distributed mainly with new bikes via bike shops.   Subsequently Spokes was commissioned by Glasgow City Council to run a similar campaign.

1995-2005 Cycling Skills on Shared Paths Leaflet sent to all Spokes members, supplied on request to community groups, and handed out to cyclists on the canal towpath.

3. OTHER RELEVANT LEAFLETS/ CODES [if particularly good or useful]



This is regulated by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code [SOAC], which emphasises all users behaving responsibly.  For cyclists, this includes deciding whether or not a path is suitable for cycling.  For full details see the code itself and summary leaflet, both available from Scottish Natural Heritage at www.outdooraccess-scotland.com.


Dogs which are out of control on paths or elsewhere are a danger and frightening both to walkers and cyclists.  The Control of Dogs Act (Scotland) 2010 says that dogs must be kept under close control.

If a dog bites a person or is considered dangerous it should be reported to the police using 101.   Also, if a dog causes injury to a 3rd party, there is a strict liability on the owner to pay compensation to the injured party.

Otherwise, out of control dogs should be reported to the Council, as they have powers under the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act to take action against out of control dogs and to enforce measures to improve any such behaviour.  Phone 0131 608 1100 or see this Edinburgh Council web page.  West Lothian gives fuller information.

A separate issue is that of dogs on long leads, which are a danger to people cycling on shared paths – this is mentioned in most of the  leaflets on considerate path use in (2) and (3) above.


[this section is also available as a pdf, here]

In Scotland the ‘pavement’ is officially known as the ‘footway.’

Cycling on a footway (pavement) is an offence under section 129(5) of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 and (for England / Wales) under section 72 of the Highways Act 1835.

Rule 64 of the Highway Code states – “You MUST NOT cycle on a pavement.  Laws HA 1835 sect 72 & R(S)A 1984, sect 129.”  Although much of the Highway Code is advice rather than law, it is here telling you the legal position and the relevant laws.

However you can cycle on a footway which has been designated and signed for shared use; and you can also cycle across (but not along) a footway to access a route where cycling is allowed

Under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 (the ‘right to roam’ law) you can also cycle along a footway which is designated as a ‘core path’ – but this is very unusual.

Of course, it is also illegal to cycle “dangerously” or in a “careless or inconsiderate manner,” and this could attract a much higher penalty than the fact that you are on the footway

  • “Dangerous” is defined as “cycling in a manner liable to cause either injury to a person or serious damage to property”
  • “Careless or inconsiderate” is cycling “without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons.”

Penalties & discretion for footway cycling

You can be given a fixed penalty fine (£30) for cycling on the footway – these are not given out very often, but are the most likely penalties.  However, if you are prosecuted the fine can be up to £500 (much more if you are cycling dangerously or inconsiderately).

There is no lower age limit to the pavement cycling ban.  However, the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010, Section 52 establishes that no-one aged under 12 can be prosecuted for an offence – thus anyone aged under 12 can cycle on the pavement without risk of prosecution (even a fixed penalty notice is extremely unlikely to be given or to be enforced).

The police (and UK government) clearly recognise that in some places there are severe traffic dangers, because the government (for England and Wales) has issued guidance to the police which states, “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.”  This is a discretion about penalties, not a ‘right.’  We have not seen similar statements from Police Scotland or the Transport Minister, but we imagine the police here might show similar discretion.


Footpaths are paths not associated with a road – for example most park paths and offroad paths, whether in urban or rural areas.

Cycling on footpaths used to be illegal, but was made legal (in Scotland only) by Section 1 of the abovementioned Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.  There are a few exceptions, such as where crops are growing, or where other laws restrict access, but in practice nearly all park and offroad paths are legal for cycling.  However the 2003 Act says that these footpath rights must be “exercised responsibly” – in other words, to be within the law you must cycle carefully and considerately.

Further information

  1. For more on cycling in Scottish Law see pages 9-11 of the Scottish Parliament SPICe Bulletin  Cycling
  2. This document is our best understanding but should not be taken as legal advice