Private Roads, Public Access

March 2021 Updated from July 2007

I have phoned several police departments in my area about cycling on private roads. They all pretty much said NO PROBLEM.  However, a friend of mine told me, the other day, that not only was cycling allowed, but so were cars.  So, I decided to see what I could find.  It appears that he  was correct.

This information took awhile to find.

In Many  Cases You Can Ride Your Bicycle on Private Roads

The sites below seem to indicate that these roads are not really private to public access.  However, when I read more websites, conflicts seemed to arise, particularly about motor vehicles, on private roads.  So, even with these three sites stating one thing, others reflect slightly different views.  Most of the differences pertain to motor vehicles, not bicycles.

According The Free Dictionay,  you can ride on public roads:

“A private road can be used by the general public and is open to all who wish to use it, but it primarily benefits those at whose request it was established.”

General Info, Identical at two sites:

Private Road.. Excerpts from above sites.

A street or route that is designated by a public authority to accommodate a person or a group of people.

A private road is often established because an individual needs to gain access to land; such a road can cross another person’s property. A private road can be used by the general public and is open to all who wish to use it, but it primarily benefits those at whose request it was established. Unlike highways that are cared for by the public at large, private roads are maintained at the expense of the private individuals who requested the road.

The authority to establish a private road is derived from the power of EMINENT DOMAIN and exists only when expressly provided by a statute. The statute must be strictly followed, especially when the private road benefits only the requesting party.

Specific To Boston Area…but in reading same in other states, pretty  much the law of the land

Excerpts from website:

You wouldn’t believe how tough it was to get a straight answer on this.

Residents cannot put up a ‘No Trespassing’ sign at the front of a private way,” he said. “The public has the right to pass on it. People think of ‘private’ in the sense of something being exclusive. But it’s really private in that it has not been accepted as a public way, with public standards. It does not mean exclusivity. Being a way, it’s open for the public to pass.

Do the people along the private way have rights in the private way? Yes,” Rumley continued. “But those rights are subject to the right of the public to traverse the way. Some people will say to you that as abutters, we own to the middle of the way. When they say that, ask them to go to the assessors’ office and see if the additional footage into the middle of the street is on their tax bill. I can tell you: No, it isn’t. And do they want it included? No, they don’t.”

Police, in fact, can hardly enforce any driving regulations on private roads, because they are not owned by the state or by municipalities. (There are rare exceptions, such as drunken driving arrests.)


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Northern California