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« Do multiple lanes move more traffic? | Main | Just another distracted driving accident »

Do we need sidewalk cycling advocates?

The above video ridicules the League of American Bicyclists for advocating that riding a bike on the sidewalk is dangerous. The commentator suggests that if riding on the sidewalk is dangerous maybe we should all put in a few hundred miles on the sidewalk to sharpen our sidewalk riding skills.

The video then shows a bike switching from the road to sidewalk and back again as he sees fit. The commentator points out that a bicycle is maneuverable and can do this. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should; this is the whole problem with some who ride bikes. Rather than stop and start again they maneuver around obstacles; like slowing or stationary traffic, or pedestrians in crosswalks.

In my book, switching from the road to the sidewalk and back is one of the worst kinds of cycling behavior; choose where you are going to ride and stick with it. Children are allowed and encouraged to ride on the sidewalk, and rightly so. They are mostly traveling at a walking pace, and are probably not riding in a straight line.

If a parent is accompanying a child they too should be on the sidewalk with them, making sure they stop at intersections and other danger points. If you are a raw beginner on a bike you should probably start out on the sidewalk until you have mastered the basic bike handling skills.

It is not so much where you ride that is dangerous it is how you ride. If you ride on the sidewalk you are not going to get run down from behind by a car; however, there is a greater potential at every intersection for a collision. And whether you are on the road or the sidewalk most collisions happen at intersections.

Cars turning right into a side road or driveway, or making a left from the opposite direction are not looking for cyclists on the sidewalk, especially if the cyclist is coming from the wrong direction. Cars entering a road from side roads or parking lots often have to pull completely up to the curb or stop sign in order to see what is coming, because of trees and bushes obstructing their view.

Most places it is illegal to ride on the sidewalk; for this reason you shouldn’t do it. If a car hits you at an intersection, the driver’s insurance company will probably not pay damages, because you were riding illegally. If you are on the sidewalk you should be riding slowly, probably no more than 8 mph; to avoid injuring pedestrians and so you can stop on a dime when cars suddenly emerge from parking lots.

If there is a situation like in the video where there are sporadic parked cars, the cyclist should not be fully in that lane anyway, but rather giving a hand signal in plenty of time and moving into the next lane to pass the parked car as any other vehicle would.

To hop on the sidewalk is all well and good, but what happens when there is no driveway ramp at that point; you suddenly have to do a slalom move out into the path of other traffic. Or what happens if you hop on the sidewalk and a pedestrian steps out in front of you, or a car suddenly appears from a driveway.

If people choose to ride a bike they need to decide whether they are to be a pedestrian on a bike, (POB.) riding at a walking pace on a sidewalk; or a real cyclist riding exclusively on the road following the same rules and protocol as all other road users.

The constant complaint I hear from motorists is that cyclists make up their own rules and ride whereever and however they please. We don’t need videos encouraging people to behave in this manner.



Reader Comments (13)

The bit where he cycles past the bus made me cringe. What if a kid had jumped off, all excited to be arriving at his gran's?

The problem with cycling on pavements is that most pedestrians aren't prepared for fast moving stuff happening around them - especially behind and the risk of hurting someone (and getting hurt) is too high IMHO.

I think your view about deciding if you you want to be a PoB or a cyclist is correct.

Ride high, ride safe.


September 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHG

In my opinion we don't need to separate traffic by mode (i.e. vehicle lane for cars/motorcycles/trucks, bike lane for bikes, sidewalk for "pedestrians). We need to separate traffic by speed. Inner lanes for 20+mph, middle lanes for 10-20mph, outer lanes for <10mph. Lanes would have a surface or perhaps grade separation, and maybe bollards if the inner lane exceeds 25mph. We could add inner lanes for major arterials, up to an including inter-city highways.

Since I'm dreaming, the top speed for all but a few roads would be 25mph, and most streets with lots of storefronts or houses would lack an inner lane altogether (effectively being a shared space less than 20mph).

I find it very interesting that many resorts and gated communities effectively take this approach.

September 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Souders

If a bloody car hits you at an intersection his insurance will not pay? Dave did you write this? Blimey mate, see you in heaven. Let ME tell you something, I would rather have a collision with a pedestrian on a sidewalk than a car on the road ANYTIME! EVEN if the ped sues me, at least I will be there to defend my self. How about, like pedestrians STOPPING at an ntersection and looking FIRST. If you in such a hurry drive a car,

September 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGRUMPY Crump


If you ride on the sidewalk you are not going to get run down from behind by a car; however, there is a greater potential at every intersection for a collision.

There is a stretch of a multi-use bike/pedestrian trail that loops through a residential area for about a mile. The trail dumps you onto a residential sidewalk. You can follow the sidewalk for about 10 - 15 feet to get on the road. Follow the road through the housing development. Hop back up on a sidewalk for about 15 feet, and pick up the trail again. However, lots of folks do that full connecting mile all on the sidewalk. And, that stretch of sidwalk was built somewhat wider than the sidewalk on the opposite side of the road, ostensibly, to accommodate that likelihood.

I've gone through once or twice on the sidewalk with new riders, but it positively freaks me out. Cars do rolling stops at these intersections, and they never seem to expect something traveling "bike speed" at them from the sidewalk. Pedestrians approaching those intersections are expected, and you can watch the driver time when that pedestrian will reach the intersection to cross, and pace their rolling stop accordingly. A bicycle simply startles them, and it seems that an equal number will romp the gas to get through ahead of the cyclist, as lock up the brakes. And, this is in an area where the residents have come to expect bicycles, golf carts, skateboarders, moms running with strollers, rollerbladers, little kids on bikes and dog walkers.

I think there are crusier bikes that can approximate pedestrian speed, and maybe they make sense on a sidewalk. The Electra Townie might have been specifically made for sidewalk sales... but I'm not sure the average road bike has much business on the sidewalk at all.

September 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbystander

One of the chief advantages of a bicycle is that it is possible to decide whether you are a pedestrian, a pedestrian on a bike, or a vehicle in traffic and that the transition from one to the other can be done smoothly and safely for all.

The problem then is that this is not how people ('round these parts) behave.

September 7, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkfg

We've had several bicycle / auto collisions at my elementary school - all the result of a small child riding on the sidewalk on the wrong side of the street. The car pulled out - and the bicycle hit the car (in all three cases). Fortunately there were no injuries, save a scraped knee.

In the Bay Area we see bicycle riders behaving quite badly - the worst being Stanford University students - who ride on sidewalks, cut off pedestrians and never, ever use a light at night. Walking around the Stanford campus in the dark is really, really dangerous - and there are skunks in the distant parking lots.

I fear sometimes we are our own worst enemy. Please, ride on the road, exercise your rights as a vehicle and, as such, follow the traffic rules.

September 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames Thurber

Until 8/30/11, I rested nicely in the "Riding the Sidewalk if OK" camp. But after ending the evening with two broken arms due to a missing ramp, I have since become a staunch believer that a sidewalk is called a side-walk for a reason.

September 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin

I noticed in the video that there were absolutely no pedestrians to be seen on these sidewalks. Strange.

September 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

Dave, here's another case in CT where a kid got killed by a drunken speeding cop, 73 in a 30 MPH. This may have something to do with riding on the sidewalk, as I speculated that the kid jumped off the sidewalk to dart across the road to make a left right before the crosswalk. A friend of Dang's said he always used the sidewalk on his BMX bike.

My theory is he didn't hear the speeding vehicle behind him, and was distracted by the lights of an oncoming vehicle.

This is a HUGE case here. I put a "ghost bike" at the crash site, amazingly, the residents really appreciated it, a huge fight over its removal for a few days ensued. The link to the original case is on my blog, or just Google "Henry Dang".

The defense is probably going to use reflectors and clothing as part of their presentation.

Pre- trial is this October.

Normally I would send this through your email thing, but the security thing is a bit of a hassle.

My blog, includes link to original news story:


CT Fox News video of the Ghost Bike:


September 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Graves

I don't even ride much on multi-use trails. I've had too many problems with pedestrians wandering around especially with earphones. I've also had problems with cyclists, same issue. Then there are the areas where you cross a major street. IF you don't dismount and walk you could be found at fault even though it is part of the trail so you can potentially ride across the crosswalks. I'm on sidewalks only to get to a location that is not served by a ramp to get to where I'm stopping, always slow and propelling my self with a toe instead of pedaling.

There are two issues other than being dangerous to pedestrians, for me. I want to be predictable in my actions on the road or as a rider. If people have a clue of what I'm going to do I hope for some accommodation of that. We do that when we watch cars and trucks on the road, cycling or driving. What is that guy going to do next? Whipping on and off the sidewalk doesn't help with that issue and worse takes you out of the line of site for drivers so they 'forget' you are around. Hey he pulled off the road.... The other issue is intersections of all sorts but especially mid block. Drivers seem, around here at least, to have a hard time leaving private property and stopping before they put the nose of their vehicle into the bike lane. The thought of stopping before the sidewalk is a concept that doesn't occur to a motorist.

I'm used to cycling. I'm used to looking for bikes because I ride a fair amount and a couple of weeks ago I came close to taking out two cyclists who came barreling down the sidewalk wrong direction, screened by hedges. I noticed in the video the cyclist didn't seem to slow down much for any intersection that wasn't a stop and that two cars did come out and block his path. Not sure what state he is riding in but here in CA he might not have any recourse if he collides with the cars.

Learn how to handle your bike. Obey the law. Be respectful of other users of the facilities and stop this stupid war between types of riders.

September 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

Ralph, You are the ONLY ONE with any sense,'Learn how to handle your bike. OBEY THE LAW! Be respectful of OTHER users' This says it all.

September 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGRUMPY Crump

Denver Post to-day says. Three women cyclist, at 8am yesterday, Riding in a pace line on a road in Boulder hit head on by a black SUV. One rider is in critical condition. Photo shows the bikes bent in bits, Maybe the drivers insurance will pay for them? HUH Dave! Once again. Its suicide out there, You can NOT win even if your are right, as these gals where. The driver of the SUV was NOT charged YET? Police are still trying to extract the cell phone out of his ear!

September 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGRUMPY Crump

Don't read the comments in the linked article. Typical bunch of know nothing idiotics flapjacks spewing ignorance.

I think in many cases police don't cite motorists involved in large accidents until the investigation is completed or close to completion. I don't know what charges will be leveled, if any. Should be failure to yield, crossing double yellow, speeding just for the driving. I don't kow enough about the law to say what happens when some one is injured in a collision. This is usually less than man slaughter if you use a car. That is something which may have to change.

September 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

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