Every few weeks a cycling ‘advocate’ will tear into people for daring to ride their bikes on the sidewalk — usually after someone riding a bike on the sidewalk was killed. We get some of the same from many cycling ‘advocates’ when cyclists riding in the road are killed, but the pomposity really flows when the killed cyclist was cycling on the sidewalk. This ‘criticizing the dead’ behavior is boorish, but it doesn’t seem to stop people. C’est la vie.
The concern these ‘sidewalk cycling bloggers’ are trolling is one of ‘safety’ — in theory, presumably they care, or claim to care, about the safety of the person doing the sidewalk cycling — not the drivers and walkers.
These bloggers point to various dubious studies by vehicular cycling advocates, and they fail to provide context for the studies. For instance, I could probably find data that shows walking on one-way streets is much safer than walking on two-way streets. But what use is the study if we don’t talk about the fact that people don’t walk on one-way streets because they’re so anti-human? Not much.
Ditto with these ‘sidewalks are dangerous’ studies — they simply don’t hold water if we claim to care about implementing policies which allow people to ride their bikes. We need studies that look at the totality of safety effects of riding on sidewalks vs. riding on the street — to the extent that such studies can even be statistically significant.
For instance, this safety page (which is, overall, very good — even if it’s old school, and has some nonsense in there about headphones and other alleged dangers) says don’t ride on the sidewalk, except in certain cases where it is OK to ride on the sidewalk – so, which one is it? Always, never, or sometimes? And who gets to decide the criteria?
This video makes a strong case for sidewalk cycling (the narrator clowns League cyclists while he’s at it — funny):
Someone at Treehugger called ‘bs’ on the anti-biking brigade a couple of years ago:
As a new or continuing city cyclist, you are bound to hear the admonishment: “Don’t ride on the sidewalk. It’s dangerous.” I swallowed that Kool-Aid for quite a while. After all, I want cycling to be a respected part of the transport infrastructure, I want cyclists to be generally law abiding and not continually agitate either pedestrians or car drivers (or each other!). But that word “dangerous,” bandied about as it is so frequently in cycling, should serve as the first clue that the warning to not sidewalk ride is a complicated, multi-faceted subject.
One oft-cited study seems to make some sense — it says, at a minimum, the haters need to stop hating:
Whatever the reasons, sidewalk cyclists should not simply be taught that sidewalk cycling is dangerous and should, therefore, be discontinued. Attempts to teach cyclists effective cycling skills should be considered.
This study from Toronto says sidewalk collisions are lower than riding in the street:
The rate of collision on off-road paths and sidewalks was lower than for roads.
And, if riding on sidewalks and sidepaths is so dangerous, why are they primary features of the roadway infrastructure of The Netherlands, the safest place on earth to ride a bike?
Because sidewalk and sidepath cycling is safe.
If you were ever told otherwise, you were fed a line — by the same people who probably admonished you to wear a helmet.
And when measured in the most critical terms — your ability to bike another day — you are almost certainly safer on the sidewalk than in the road — because most collisions occur in the road — i.e. doorings, hit from behind, etc.
So when certain ‘advocates’ tell cyclists not to ride on the sidewalk — they are effectively telling these cyclists to stop riding — which makes riding overall that much more dangerous for everyone else — because of the safety in numbers effect, in reverse.
So, if you are confused as to what you should tell a new sidewalk rider who has been accosted by the anti-cycling zealots, go with this:
Dude(tte) — I am so happy to hear you’re riding your bike — that’s so cool. Keep it up. Don’t let the haters get you down — haters gonna hate. Just keep doing what you’re doing, and if you feel more comfortable on the sidewalk, then you keep riding on the sidewalk. It’s probably safer there anyways.
I would advise that you not injure, maim, or kill any pedestrians — that just goes without saying — the same argument for cars — they shouldn’t injure, maim, or kill any cyclists or pedestrians — so watch out for pedestrians, and just generally be considerate of them, especially if they’re old — flying by a walker on the sidewalk can make them jump (make the jump/twitch! move here), and that’s kinda scary and just not cool. But other than that, have at it.
You’ll learn that the slower you ride on the sidewalk, the generally-more comfortable ride you’ll have, just because you can relax more, not worry about hitting walkers so much, etc. Try to watch out for blind entrances/exits from shops/apartments — if you start taking the same route every day you’ll learn which doors are busy. It might be technically illegal to ride your bike on some sidewalks, so some cops might harass you if you’re blazing down the sidewalk and menacing people, but if you’re kinda chillin and just moseying then they probably won’t bug you.
All the same rules apply as if you were riding in the road — so read this page if you haven’t yet — watch out for the right hook, definitely watch out for the left hook, watch out for all the cars that are going to blow through every Stop sign on every street along your route — you know, all the usual stuff.
Oh, don’t forget to top up your tires once a week (get a good pump — it’s worth it) — you won’t notice the difference until you top up and then you’ll be like, “Dang! I wish I topped up earlier!” And, it’ll help keep you from getting pinch flats, which are super-common for noob riders like you.
A couple of other points — telling people to ride in the street is akin to telling them to subject themselves to harassment, random violence and threats of violence (i.e. terrorism) — from outlaw drivers — I don’t think that’s a very nice thing to do.
Also, telling cyclists to do anything other than not kill pedestrians absolves drivers of…injuring, maiming, and killing people. Just because it is legal to kill bikers and walkers doesn’t mean that it should be legal. The laws should be changed, and we should push for them to be changed. We should pass a radical new law that says ‘Nobody is allowed to kill walkers and bikers.’ — something like that.
Happy sidewalk cycling!