Cycling on the sidewalk is dangerous to cyclists
The cyclist, a middle-aged woman, approached quickly. Her expression alternated between fear and anger as she desperately tried to stop her bike or else she would slam into the side of the pick up truck I was riding in.
I’m sure she would disagree but the potential accident was her fault. She was riding on the sidewalk–and against traffic. The pick up had stopped at a light and seeing no pedestrians about to enter the intersection, the driver edged it forward to see if it was safe to make a right hand turn. As he looked and waited for it to be safe to turn, the cyclist approached. Thankfully she was able to stop.
But I can’t blame the driver since he did what he was supposed to do. And like the vast majority of drivers, he was not looking for cyclists further down the block. But they shouldn’t have to. Cyclists on the sidewalk move much quicker than the type of traffic that drivers associate with in that type of situation. The result is that cycling on the sidewalk is dangerous for the cyclist–the person who put themselves in that situation. And even more dangerous when they are on the sidewalk that goes against the traffic. Going in the same direction as vehicles would be an improvement though still unacceptable.
The tweet that hit a nerve
The next day I was walking along the sidewalk when before I knew it a cyclist was on top of me and passed me. I was surprised because next to no warning that they were coming even though he wasn’t moving that quickly. So I shouted to him to use the road.
The incident though still uncommon seems to be increasingly common over the last several years so I pulled out my Blackberry to tweet that there should be a crackdown on adult cyclists on the sidewalk. I expected it to be one of those tweets that disappears into the Twitterverse but apparently I touched a nerve since it soon developed a life of its own.
Surprised that cyclists defended the practice
What surprised me the most were the cyclists who ride on the sidewalk who were upset that I didn’t want them to. Some were even indignant about my position and that I stuck to it despite their concerns about their safety. At the same time, I couldn’t understand that they felt they had a right to ride on the sidewalk even if it was unsafe for pedestrians like myself and other people commonly found on sidewalks like my young children.
Cyclists can keep pedestrians safe with or without changes to infrastructure
To a large extent, I can understand their concerns about biking on the road. There have been times when I’ve been riding my bike on the road when I had my own safety concerns. Some responses to my tweet had complaints about drivers in the bike lanes–which is obviously unacceptable. Others wanted changes to our biking infrastructure that would make them feel safe enough that they didn’t need to be on the sidewalk. What I find interesting about those comments is that these people ultimately agree with me that bikes don’t belong on sidewalks because it’s not a use they were intended to have nor one that has been encouraged or taught.
I am deliberately avoiding the issues about biking infrastructure changes that could make cyclists feel safer since that is not what I am addressing here.
You can choose safe roads to ride on
When it comes right down to it, whether changes are made or not. It is possible to feel safe cycling without using the sidewalks. The roads that make cyclists most concerned are major streets like Weber or King. They like them for the same reason that cars do because they are fast and direct. But they are not the only choices. I recommend that cyclists concerned about their safety on the road plan a route that avoids as much as possible the roads where they have concerns about their safety.
Follow the law–or risk being a hypocrite
Adult cyclists (with the exception of beginners) do not belong on the sidewalk. The Ontario Highway Traffic Act defines the bicycle as a vehicle that belongs on the road. It says so in part because it keeps pedestrians safe–all pedestrians because they get taken by surprise from behind. Some pedestrians present special concerns. Young children like mine can be unpredictable and tough for even the most aware cyclist to be confident they won’t hit and seriously injure. Or the elderly who move slower and can’t react quickly.
Cyclists who use the sidewalk say that they do so because they are afraid of their safety. But doing so puts others at risk and creates legitimate fears by those who are the sidewalks were built to be used by. Where are pedestrians supposed to go to be safe from the bikes if the bikes are on the sidewalk to get away from the cars?
If you’re an adult cyclist, please be considerate of the proper use of sidewalks. Anything less is being hypocritical because you expect drivers to respect the rules of the road.