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Please don’t ride your bike on the sidewalk

Gerardo Ramos was a 51 year old Mexican immigrant, who at 6:45 am was riding his bike to work in Glendale, California. A woman failed to stop at a stop sign; Gerardo’s head hit the windshield, and he suffered massive head injuries.

He was not expected to live more than a few hours, but he remained in a coma for 13 months before dying from his injuries. The 48 year old woman driver has now been charged with a misdemeanor count of vehicular manslaughter.

I came across this story via Biking LA blog, where the writer led with the line, “Kill a bike rider in Glendale, get a slap on the wrist.”

The police have stated the reason this is a “misdemeanor” charge is because although the driver failed to stop, the cyclist was riding on the sidewalk, which is against the law in Glendale. Both parties were breaking the law.

It is quite easy, as cyclists, to get our anti-bacterial padded shorts in a twist over a case like this; after all the man on the bike paid for his mistake with his life. Very tragic indeed, I will agree.

The report on the incident does not say from which direction the cyclist was traveling; I suspect he was traveling in the wrong direction approaching from the right.

The reason I surmise this is because: A.) The driver making an illegal rolling stop, would most likely looking to the left first, as this is the direction she would expect traffic to come from. B.) Had the cyclist been approaching from the left he would have seen the car approach, and had the full width of the road to stop, or steer a course behind the car.

Like I say, I do not know if this was the case, but it is typical of how these incidents happen. I have had it happen to me when I have been driving. Just recently I was leaving a restaurant parking lot; the sidewalk was clear, and I sat with the front of my car across the sidewalk in order to see approaching traffic to my left.

As I waited for a break in traffic, I was startled when a man on a bike rode around the front of my car. Approaching on the sidewalk from the right, he swerved into the road, and then back onto the sidewalk

What if the cyclist passing in front of my car had corresponded with a break in traffic and I had pulled out, I could have knocked him clear across the road and into the path of opposing traffic.

Had the man been killed, would I have then been charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, and would cycling bloggers rush to judgment and call it a “Slap on the wrist?”

Where I live there are many low income people who ride bicycles as their sole means of transport. They ride on the sidewalk, or they ride in the road, contra to the traffic flow. Doing so gives them a false sense of security.

Don't do it. Riding on the sidewalk is against the law in most places, and motorists are not looking for you there, especially if you are approaching from the wrong direction. The same goes for riding on the street in the wrong direction.

If you must ride on the sidewalk, do so only where it is legal. At least ride the same direction as traffic, and stop at ever intersection. I’m not sure how to get this message out because none of these low income people are likely to own a computer, much less read this article.

The woman driver from Glendale was wrong, had she stopped Gerado Ramos would have passed by. However, under the circumstances I don’t see a charge of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter as a slap on the wrist.  Many motorists run down and kill cyclists riding on the road lawfully, and are never charged with anything.

People driving cars sometimes drive carelessly and dangerously, but we as people who ride bikes must at least give a car driver a fighting chance at missing us. That means not suddenly appearing from the wrong direction, whether on the road or sidewalk



Reader Comments (9)

I agree with not riding on the sidewalk. For a long time, I wondered why folks wouldn't use the danged bike lane and instead choose to ride on the sidewalk. It always seemed so dangerous to me. I think I understand better now that I think way too much about bikes as transportation.

Ultimately, I think it's a problem of the infrastructure. You can't blame people for the false sense of security they get in Sidewalk vs Road. Roads need to be made to _feel_ safer than sidewalks, even if _we_ know they already are. Education can only go so far. Maybe physically (ie, curb) separated bike lanes?

As a driver, I've been guilty of this offense (not running stop signs - for that car drivers should be held to a much higher standard)... but I look where I expect obstacles to be, namely, cars in the street. Since I never (and by never, I mean <0.1% of the time) see pedestrians in my area, I have to remind myself constantly to look for the rare occasion of people walking on sidewalks, just in case. When walking or running on sidewalks, I always, always, always assume that I'm invisible to cars. This has save my bacon multiple times.

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commentereric

This isn't just a problem for low-income riders. We're in the middle of "bike to school month" here in Portland, and I see lots of parents ushering their kids to school on the sidewalks. It makes my skin crawl.

Those well-meaning but scared folks -- usually riding shiny REI bikes and covered with reflective tape -- are teaching their kids probably the most dangerous cycling behavior, because they think it's safer. Huge pet peeve of mine.

About a year ago I saw a father towing a kiddie trailer on the sidewalk narrowly miss colliding with a car. It was horrifying but slightly funny (b/c he almost struck the car, not the other way around). I wonder if he rides in the street now, or just quit riding altogether?

I also haul my son around in a trailer, sometimes on roads with no bike lane. In such places I take the damn lane. My son's life is worth a few seconds on someone else's commute. Not once has anyone honked at me or behaved uncivilly.

Thank you so much for this Dave. Keep preaching it.

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Souders

Its not just riding on the sidewalk. Too many bicyclists ride facing traffic rather than with traffic. About three months ago I almost hit a cyclist coming from my right as I watched for traffic coming from my left. This was in a subdivision with a grassy median so I didn't have to look to my right until I got to the middle of the street.

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTexasYankee

Dave, I agree with you completely about the dangers of riding on the sidewalk. However, it should be noted that the officer was wrong about it being illegal in California; the state actually leaves it up to the local government. In Glendale, it is legal to ride on the sidewalk except in a business district; since this collision occurred in a residential area, the victim appears to have been operating within the law.

My concern with the driver getting "a slap on the wrist" is that, as a society, we've lost the awareness that a car is a dangerous machine capable of killing another human being unless operated with caution. Each year, somewhere around 40,000 Americans die on our streets as a result of motor vehicle collisions, the overwhelming majority of those occur because someone broke a law or drove carelessly.

In this case, the driver ran a stop sign and failed to see someone enter the crosswalk in broad daylight. While you are correct in noting that some bike riders dart into intersections without warning, we have no way of knowing if Ramos was riding recklessly, or if he had approached the corner carefully and only proceeded when he thought it was safe to do so. But considering that the driver ran the stop sign, and as you note, apparently failed to look in both directions, the victim could be just as dead if it had been a pedestrian walking in the crosswalk, instead.

It is up to every cyclist to ride as safely as possible. However, as long as taking the life of another human being isn't taken seriously by the authorities, no one — bicyclist, pedestrian or driver alike — will ever be safe on our streets.

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbikinginla

Here in DC, it is legal to bike on the sidewalk and only prohibited on what is the downtown district. This weekend I was riding on the road and was stopped and admonished by the capital police to ride on the sidewalk. In my eyes, riding on the sidewalk only creates more problems for cyclists and pedestrians.

The problem becomes worse because we have mixed use paths. Horses, bikes, and pedestrians all share the same paths. It can be frustrating to deal with all the weekend traffic, but it is wonderful to see so many people exercising and utilizing our state and federal parks. I think that we need to be more tolerant and more aware of people using any mode of transportation. It's no longer just "share the road", but something larger. Most accidents are avoidable. We as cyclists need to lead by example and not take unnecessary risks.

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZach

The other danger of cycling on a sidewalk is the risk of getting hit by a car backing out of a driveway. A driver will look in the rear-view mirror, and back out to the street if he or she sees nothing. A pedestrian will stop if the car is coming out, but a cyclist will not see it until it is too late.

In addition to it being illegal and unsafe to do, riding on the sidewalk always brings out nasty comments from anti-cycling types--well, the other half of the anti-cycling community thinks bikes SHOULD be on the sidewalk!

May 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSprocketboy
May 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermark_melb

Biking LA has a follow-up story on this case.
It apears that it is legal to ride on certain sidewalks in Gledale, so Gerado Ramos was probably within his rights to be where he was. However, right or wrong the unfortunate man is still dead. In the interest of being visible on a bike it is still the best bet to ride on the road.

May 19, 2010 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Thanks for the thoughtful and well-written post. I'm scouting a route to ride to work, and I use the sidewalk for short distances on major arteries, especially with single lanes. Otherwise I take the whole lane. It's wierd, but I'm concerned about road rage from backed-up motorists. I'll check local laws on this, but I find that suburban motorists simply don't know how to deal with cyclists here. And bike lanes are for the "big city liberal elites." I've not seen one yet in the city of Mobile, even though it's wonderfully flat here. Anyway, you've got a reader here!

May 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGulfcoastpedlar

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