Sidewalk Cycling Explained

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But obviously, the bike and the car couldn’t be more different mobility solutions with regard to safety and comfort. For the parents who just want to ride with their kids, or for the new rider or new commuter who is understandably shaken by the idea of riding with traffic, the sidewalk is an appealing alternative to biking in the street. And while a majority of municipalities allow bikes on sidewalks, cycling advocates continue to encourage bike riders to ride in the road.

There are several reasons for this, and most of them have to do with driveways and intersections. A large percentage of car–bike crashes happen when a car turns into a cyclist while making a left or right turn, or when a car is pulling into or out of a driveway. For example, let’s say you’re riding your bike northbound on the left-hand sidewalk. The road that is parallel to you is four lanes wide. You approach an intersection and, while you may have the right-of-way across the perpendicular street, a car turning left from the four-lane road adjacent to you is looking to make their left turn across multiple lanes of oncoming traffic. In the 5 to 15 seconds that the driver of that car has been waiting for an opening in traffic to turn left, you, the sidewalk cyclist, have ridden up from behind and started to cross the perpendicular street. The driver who finally has space to move in between oncoming traffic turns quickly and a “T-Bone” crash occurs between the driver and the cyclist.

If the cyclist had been riding in the road, they would have been riding with traffic, thus alleviating the sightline issue from the driver’s perspective noted above. Cycling is safer when we eliminate the 90-degree points of conflict between cars and bikes, especially when the bike rider is on the sidewalk.

Also, pedestrians who use sidewalks dislike the presence of faster-moving vehicles like bikes and scooters for reasons of comfort and safety. While I would like to think that sidewalks can be shared space for all of those who navigate their communities without a car, I’ve listened to countless stories of pedestrians who have been struck or rudely surprised by cyclists invading what really should be a “safe space” for those traveling on two feet.

So, with regard to a feeling of safety, cyclists are often left without a home. Drivers loath the inconvenience of navigating around road-riding cyclists, while pedestrians on sidewalks see cyclists like cyclists see cars: an uncomfortable point of conflict that needs to be addressed.

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