Why not ride on the sidewalks?

Editor’s note: This post is bringing in some good discussion so we decided to move it to the front page. Please note that his post was originally posted last year.

Before our server took a crap, the following comment was posted:

I’ve been riding for almost thirty years, and I’ve ridden roads, trails, sidewalks, and whatever else would get me where I was going. The thing I don’t understand, is if sidewalks are an option, why would you choose the street? Sure, I’ve lived places where it was illegal to ride the sidewalk, and then of course the street is the best place for a cyclist. If, however, you live somewhere like LA County, where you can legally ride the sidewalk, why not take advantage of it? Yeah, it is a little slower, but I have always found that cars present the biggest danger to cyclists (I’ve been hit 5 times), and there aren’t that many cars up on the sidewalk, which I find a fair trade-off.

I understand that we all have the right to ride on the road, but aside from making a political statement at the risk of your life, why choose that path if you don’t have to?

And no, I don’t own a car. Haven’t for almost five years.

Here’s Ken Kifer’s answer:

People wonder how riding bikes on sidewalks can be dangerous. First, there is a greater chance of minor collisions with cyclists and pedestrians due to poorer visibility and restricted room and also a greater chance of falling down. However, the likelihood of a collision with a motor vehicle also increases. These accidents occur at intersections and driveways, the former more deadly. Unwilling to dismount and often unwilling to wait for the light, the bike rider starts across the intersection parallel to the main road, completely hidden from a turning motorist until the last second, when it’s often too late for the motorist to stop. A study of these risks was made in 1994 and showed that sidewalk cycling is almost twice as dangerous as cycling in the street, and cycling against the traffic on the sidewalk is over four times as dangerous as cycling in the street.

Pedestrians are safer than sidewalk cyclists because 1) they are moving more slowly, 2) they can look behind more easily, and 3) they can jump to one side. However, even if these sidewalk cyclists were as safe as pedestrians, they wouldn’t be very safe, since seven times as many pedestrians are killed each year as cyclists and since pedestrians have more fatalities per mile of travel than cyclists. (The Environmental Benefits of Cycling and Walking estimates 21 to 44 billion miles of walking and 6 to 21 billion miles of cycling.)

My two cents: As a bike commuter, I have to ride over 15 mph to get to work on time. There’s no way in hell I can ride that fast in the mornings on the sidewalks. I also don’t have to wait or stop for a crosswalk light when is red, I mean, if you are going to be riding on the sidewalk, shouldn’t you abide by the same laws as pedestrians do? On the streets, my main concern is cars and doors. In the sidewalks I have to worry about cars (yes, they do come out of driveways or block the sidewalks), dogs, pedestrians, trees, signs and other cyclists riding the wrong way.

Now, I understand that there are some streets that to ride on them would be suicidal, but to say that sidewalks are a better path, I would have to disagree.


36 Comments

  1. Ghost Rider October 18, 2007 5:00 pm 

    Here’s another consideration: think of how you behave as a motorist. When you’re backing down your driveway, do you stop at the sidewalk to look, or do you roll all the way down to the street? At intersections, do you stop back at the sidewalk to make sure it is clear, or do you roll all the way up to the intersecting road so you can see if other cars are coming?

    Yeah, I didn’t think so. Stay off the sidewalks! It’s dangerous up there!

    All that being said, there are times when a brief foray on the sidewalk is not only warranted but absolutely VITAL to your safety. When you’re up there, though, be extra careful at intersections, driveways, etc. and be especially vigilant to avoid right and left hookers!!!

  2. Ghost Rider October 18, 2007 5:02 pm 

    And by hookers, I don’t mean the money-for-sex kind…that kind is only a concern in MY neighborhood.

    Rather, I meant those motorists who misjudge your speed (or don’t even see you) and turn right or left right in front of you, leaving you no escape.

  3. Laura October 18, 2007 6:28 pm 

    My mother would LOVE IT if I road my bike on the sidewalks.

    No way! In Toronto it’s illegal to cycle on the sidewalk unless you are a kid. But it would take me forever to ride the 10km to work if I rode on the sidewalks. Oh fast could I possibly ride? Barely 6 km and that’s a tough speed to maintain balance. Add to that driveways, intersections, and anything that could obscure the sidewalk like post boxes, trash bins and recycling bins, and lets not forget pedestrians.

    I’d rather walk if that was my only option.

  4. Mike Myers October 18, 2007 7:55 pm 

    Ghost Rider can attest to a stupid road design which is prevalent in Florida. For some reason(actually I think it’s the law), roads here can either have a paved shoulder OR a sidewalk and curb, but not both. There’s a section of my ride home on which I’m forced to ride on the sidewalk. It’s that or ride with a concrete curb on my right and 55mph traffic on my left. Once the shoulder reappears I get back on the road. Now, I only ride the shoulder there because it’s as wide as a bike lane. I normally take the lane.

  5. Arnie October 18, 2007 8:11 pm 

    Just my humble opinion: I believe sidewalks do have a place in a bike commuters route. Like Mr. Meyers, there is a section of road on my commute that you couldn’t pay me to ride because it’s just to damn dangerous. So up onto the sidewalk I go. Sure, I’m at a way reduced speed and risk a ticket but I’d rather press hard signing the ticket instead of the cop documenting my demise.

  6. Russ Roca October 19, 2007 12:01 am 

    I’d have to agree about disagreeing with the sidewalk thing…

    When I ride, I see more near bike/car collisions when the cyclist is on the sidewalk. What happens is that they just tend to putter along with a false sense of safety since there are no cars immediately around them, so much so that some tend to be a bit cavalier about crossing the street or riding by driveways.

    If you think it’s tough for a car to see you on the street, think about how much harder it is for them to notice you when you’re on the sidewalk.

    When I took the Road 1 class that the Bike League offers they showed us some striking statistics. One of them was that about 75% of bike injuries/accidents are caused by cyclists (riding against traffic, riding on the sidewalk, hitting a parked car, etc.,).

    That means an aware and educated cyclist has pretty good odds out there in traffic.

  7. Joe May 18, 2008 3:08 pm 

    I saw this one lady almost hit another car because she was more concerned with not hitting the bicyclist. I think that bicyclist have a certain degree of arrogance to assume that cars should always yield to them on a road.

    What I still don’t understand are recreational cyclists who absolutely chose to use the road in a state park when a bike path was built specifically for them and it’s in much better condition than the road.

    There is also a bit of flawed logic with the argument that there is a greater chance of minor collision with pedestrians and other cyclist by riding on the sidewalk. Yes, obviously there is a greater chance for minor collision because pedestrians don’t walk on the road and other cyclists who ride on the road follow the flow of traffic.

    In my opinion, if you’re enough of an idiot to get in an accident on the sidewalk while riding a bike, you deserve it.

    Of course, this also depends on where you live. If you live in a crowded urban environment, then perhaps the road is a better place for a cyclist.

    But once again, I don’t think cars should have to dodge a cyclist. Cyclists should yield to cars on the road.

  8. Ghost Rider May 18, 2008 4:03 pm 

    “Cyclists should yield to cars on the road.”

    Horseshit. In almost every municipality and in all states, bicycles have the same exact rights and responsibilities on the road that cars do.

    Yield only when it’s your responsibility to do so, not when it is convenient for the motorist…they can wait just like everybody else when the bike has the right-of-way.

  9. Moe May 18, 2008 5:27 pm 

    Why do drivers drive their cars on side streets when Freeways were specifically built for them?

  10. RL May 18, 2008 5:37 pm 

    Sounds like Joe is either a cabbie or a truck driver. What cyclist would think like that…

  11. J May 30, 2008 11:01 am 

    “I saw this one lady almost hit another car because she was more concerned with not hitting the bicyclist.”

    I’ve seen this too…dozens of times. When they see the cyclist, they think, “I better make sure I don’t hit this guy, so I’ll make sure there’s plenty of room between us,” but then they forget about the other lanes of traffic where cars are riding.

    Now let’s say the motorist didn’t move any to the side and keeps going in their path. In some cases the cyclist might come very close to the vehicle and possibly get brushed by the vehicle. I don’t know about any of you, but I think it’s pretty scary riding so close to other cars.

    Now let’s say the motorist just follows behind the bicycle, you know, so they don’t hit them or they don’t swerve around them. SOME (at least in the city I live in) roads would be backed up pretty bad.

    Anyway, I take the safest route possible as a cyclist. Just because someone is supposed to stop for me as a bicyclist or whatever, doesn’t mean they’re going to. Again, it does depend where you live. Some people would conside it crazy to bike on sidewalks, some would consider it crazy to bike in the streets. I can see it both ways.

  12. J May 30, 2008 11:03 am 

    Also, bike paths are the best. I have a question though…are people that are just walking allowed on these paths?

  13. Jon Karak June 3, 2008 10:57 am 

    The only time I’ve every been hit by a car (I’ve been a serious cyclist for about 10 years now) is when I was riding on the sidewalk. I knew I wasn’t supposed to, but I was being lazy. Unfortunately, my bike paid the price.

    I was riding against traffic and someone pulled out of their driveway. Luckly, no one got hurt, but my wheel and fork got mangled when she plowed right into me.

    Now I’m in the habit of telling motorists what to do with themselves when they tell me to ride on the sidewalk. Sometimes a brief hand gesture works just as well.

  14. Jon Karak June 3, 2008 11:13 am 

    Sounds like Joe is either a cabbie or a truck driver.

    Commercial drivers get a bad rep. I have never-EVER had a cabbie or a truck driver give me a hard time about riding on the road. 100% of the foulness I get while riding my bike on the roadway is from non-commercial drivers.

    While Road Rage can affect anyone behind the wheel, its different when driving is how you make your living. Deep down inside I think they would rather share the road with a cyclist than with another SUV-sized behemoth.

  15. Eric June 3, 2008 1:18 pm 

    I yield to cars, because in a tie, I would lose.

    When I commuted to work, I rode on the sidewalk along a 45mph+ 5 lane road. There’s no way I could have ridden in the road safely.

  16. Paul Rivers June 3, 2008 3:27 pm 

    I have trouble disagreeing with the sentiment of the original commenter. But to borrow from forums like Fark – this thread is useless with pics.

    If I had pics I could point out places where riding for stretches on the sidewalk sure looks a heck of a lot safer than riding on the street. Saying “I’ll never ride my bike on the sidewalk” is absurd.

    In other places, like people have pointed out, riding on the sidewalk is more dangerous than riding on the street because of driveways and intersections. People backing out of their driveways looks for cars and pedestrians – they don’t expect to see something small but higher speed like a bike. Imagine a Chevy Suburban backing out of the driveway – how much do you think they can see out of the back of that anyways? And intersections are another good point, though that depends on what kind of cyclist you are. If you actually stop at every intersection, and the sidewalk has no driveways going across it (like where I live, all the driveways are in the back of the houses) you might be safer on the sidewalk. But if you like to go as fast as possible, you’re better off on the road where other traffic is looking for traffic coming towards them.

    And of course, we haven’t even mentioned what exactly constitutes a sidewalk – in the suburb I grew up in they would build sidewalks a little ways off the highways that were obviously meant for biking. With a 2 miles stretch between intersections (at least), you’d be stupid not to take the bike path and instead use the very narrow shoulder. You just need to stop at the intersections.

  17. twoblacklabs June 3, 2008 11:30 pm 

    Sure sounds like Joe is a troll. Wonder what site he linked from. Although new here, it’s fairly obvious that he’s not a bike commuter.

    As a full time paramedic in a decent sized city, I have treated multiple cyclist struck by cars. Never, have I responded to cyclist struck on a sidewalk. However, I live in a city that IS NOT biker friendly.

    With that said, I am proudly commuting to and from work as much as possible. A mixture of 4 lane roads under 45 mph and a “River Greenway”. The biggest problem I have so far is the idiots that try to teach me with screams and fingers to get onto the sidewalk. It’s funny though. If I am working as a bike medic or riding with police officers, that never happens. Despite using the same routes. Go figure.

  18. Iron Man June 4, 2008 7:47 am 

    I think Joe’s comments represent a good chunk of the driving public. Especially drivers getting on in years who likely do not remember their driver training if they even had it to begin with. Drivers in general DO NOT have a clue what their state laws dictate concerning drivers and cyclists rights and responsibilities. It’s not until they’ve done something wrong and a cop tells them so that they realize this.

    I’ve gone round and round with a guy on our local paper’s forums about cyclists rights. He was of the same mindset as Joe, that cyclists should let cars pass them. His weak reasoning was that he pays vehicle related taxes (he assumed I didn’t own a car), cyclists who are out for recreation need to yield to cars that have important places to go.

    Overall was the ominous background threat that I hear over and over, that when cyclist and car meet that the car will always win. That argument irritates me no matter how logical it may sound. This is an excuse for flagrant disregard for the rule of law. This driver would surely not agree that a tractor trailer should be allowed to run him down in his Toyota, simply because the 18 wheeler was bigger and would have a greater survival chance. It’s absurd.

    Joe would probably fancy himself as a law abiding citizen, but Joe when you spout that crap you might as well be advocating that store owners should be forced to let shoplifters get away with stealing.

  19. Ghost Rider June 4, 2008 8:08 am 

    Can I get an “AMEN” in the house?!?!?

    Iron Man, the big truck analogy is perfect. I don’t think most motorists would agree that yielding to big rigs is required due to their implied dominance of the road. Nor should we as cyclists “bend over and take it” for the sake of allowing some slob in an SUV to get to their destination 20 seconds faster than if there were no “pesky bicyclists to dodge”.

    Why is it that so many motorists give the impression that we’re merely obstacles to avoid, rather than genuine, visible humans with equally important destinations as those same motorists?

  20. Iron Man June 4, 2008 8:55 am 

    You’re last sentence was pretty much our local paper’s headline the other day. They did an article on increased bicycle sales and bike commuters due to gas prices. The article was really positive and well written, but the headline was “More Cyclists Equals More Hazards.” So I’m a hazard?

  21. Palm Beach Bike Tours June 4, 2008 11:05 am 

    I just want motorists to treat me like a slow-moving farm tractor.

    You see them all over the Midwest and in other farming areas. Those tractors don’t do much over 15 miles an hour and block at least one and a half lanes while traveling between the north 40 acres and the south 40.

    And, yet, I have never seen a driver honk at a tractor. No one shouts at them to use the sidewalk or drive entirely on the shoulder. The dude is taking up at least a full lane and half the shoulder. He’s doing about the same speed as I would be doing only I’m three feet wide and easy to pass while he’s 15 feet wide and requires the other lane to be clear for passing.

    To emphasize my tractorness, I ride with one of those orange slow-moving vehicle signs for the back of my jersey or Camelback.

    My hope is that drivers will see the slow-moving vehicle sign, put two and two together and understand that I just might have a right to some small portion of the road.

    As for sidewalks, I stay off them most of the time. If, as another noted, they runs for miles without interruption, I’ll consider them if the road is bad. Otherwise, the road feels safer and, most of the time, smoother. If a town’s streets are rough and in need of repair, let me tell you, their sidewalks are worse.

    Yield to cars? It depends on the income level of the neighborhood and the kind of car.

    I spend a lot of time riding the very wealthy islands of Palm Beach (Donald Trump, etc.) and Jupiter (Tiger Woods, etc.) down here in Florida. There, I’ll never yield or swerve. I’m looking forward to ending up dead-roach style on the hood of a Bentley. A few bruises and a minor concussion later, I could upgrade to the DuraAce-equipped all-carbon bike of my dreams.

  22. Ghost Rider June 4, 2008 12:10 pm 

    Yeah!!!!

    Great point about the farm tractor, too. We’re much easier to pass than a tractor…so why so much grief from motorists?

  23. Iron Man June 4, 2008 1:06 pm 

    Palm Beach, that is precisely why I love riding the farm roads and not the city. Scenery is better of course, but farmland folk are used to things impeding their progress a bit, and are generally very courteous. We have a large Amish community nearby who are always on bikes, horses, or buggies. Plus there are the tractors, threshers, horse riders, and such of the “English” as they say. So when I come tooting along they go around me or wait quite patiently behind me for a clear and safe place to pass. Other than being in spandex I fit right in with daily life there. Shoot it can even get a little annoying how nice they can be when you are fixing a mechanical roadside. Almost every car stops to see if you are OK or need a lift.

    But get within twenty miles of a large city and out goes the hospitality and in comes the hostility, honking, and aggressive driving.

  24. Clancy June 4, 2008 1:27 pm 

    I always ride the rode when commuting or riding with the wife or friends. When I ride with my kids(5&7), I am 50/50. On quiet residential streets, we are on the street. On arterials and other major streets, we are on the side walk. I don’ t trust my kids as much as I don’ t trust drivers. When they are older, I will teach them streets are best.

  25. AngelWolf June 4, 2008 4:04 pm 

    Here in Medford, Oregon (a city that got a D- on the Bicycle Transportation Alliance bike safety survey, by the way), the sidewalks are so narrow that I’d catch my handlebars on mailboxes, chain-link fences, telephone poles, etc. Pedestrians barely fit down them!

    I ride in the street, taking a good lane position, and I don’t ride during times that traffic is likely to be too heavy, or if I have to ride at that time, I ride a different, less car-congested route with bike lanes.

    Honestly, though, the only bike accidents we’ve had in the last 6 months both involved drunk cyclists on our “bike path” running into cycle cops. I tend to stay off the bike path because of the drunk cyclists and the transient camps every few feet. I never know if the puddle I just rode through was from last night’s rain, or from last night’s vodka.

    I also have a problem accepting the “yield the road to bigger things” mentality. If we’re going to go that way, we might as well make it legal for fire trucks to run over everything except 18-wheelers. After all, they have to get places REALLY quick, and that volvo is just in the way.

    Here in Medford, though, you really get used to getting buzzed by cars. The first mile of my ride is a two-lane (one in either direction), no-shoulder, 45-55 mph road with just barely enough room for a car to squeeze by a cyclist. I would take another route, but there exactly one road that goes to my neighborhood, so it’s not an option. I’ve gotten quite comfortable being passed with less than 12 inches to spare. Most drivers are courteous about it, though, and will move over the double yellow if they can.

    To draw attention to the fact that I’m there, I wear bright clothes, and I use big red panniers with “EMT” and the Star of Life, and “Search and Rescue” patches on them. I ride to SAR and I ride to work, so they’re both fitting. Ever since I got the patches, I haven’t had a single honk!

    I do have to say, though, that if you have a road that is completely unsafe to ride on, and you have a sidewalk available, and you don’t have an alternative, hey, ride the sidewalk, but be careful. If there’s any alternative, though, get on the road, it’s just safer.

  26. Smudgemo June 4, 2008 10:30 pm 

    The bigger, more important vehicle argument is like saying it’s okay to push past a little old lady with a walker at the mall because she was moving too slowly and you’ve got important shopping to do.

  27. Ragged Claws June 5, 2008 9:03 am 

    Hey Iron Man, how slow do you have to be moving to find yourself being passed by Amish farmers? (Please accept apologies for the lame joke, but you left that thing hanging over the plate like an overripe pumpkin and the temptation was too great.)

  28. jdb June 5, 2008 9:10 am 

    What is the “wrong way” on a sidewalk? Do you maybe mean “…. and other cyclists riding the opposite direction.”?

  29. Iron Man June 5, 2008 11:44 am 

    LOL, that’s good. I bet the Amish would pass me. They are the ultimate retro cyclists. They haven’t rediscovered wool as performance fabric, they never left it.

  30. Charles Stepp June 7, 2008 3:01 pm 

    I have a feeling that the rising gas price is going to give this subject much more legislative involvement. I’m going to try the 11 1/2 mile commute to work, but there are stretches of the trip that are Russian Roulette, street or sidewalk. I think it would be a benefit if future construction took all that sidewalk space, added 18 inches and moved it over to smoothly attach right to the road…with a bright yellow double line. Plenty of space for everyone.

  31. Shek June 16, 2008 7:16 am 

    I get a lot of “use the sidewalk if it is present” from my co-workers. I have been commuting to work for three weeks now and I read a lot of information on riding on the road starting with Ken Keifer’s site. I am convinced that riding on the road is safer than sidewalks.

    Then only time I felt unsafe is when I would use pedestrian cross walks to cross a major intersection and people turning right would not notice me. That is the only time I thought I would be run over. Now that I have learnt to actuate the traffic signal (thanks to RL Policar’s post last september) , I no longer use the cross walk.

    My co-workers are concerned for my safety and they think that people will simply ram me from behind. I have blinking lights and a reflector in the back and I control the lane when it is not safe to ride on the shoulder. I take care to not impede traffic as much as possible and I signal motorists to pass me when I think it is safe.

    My question is how drunk do the motorist have to be to not see a cyclist in front of him/her in the middle of the road?

    And I only yield when I normally would if I was driving. Riding my bike has made me a better driver when I do drive around.

  32. Ghost Rider June 16, 2008 8:48 am 

    “My question is how drunk do the motorist have to be to not see a cyclist in front of him/her in the middle of the road? ”

    Not drunk at all. Said motorist could be texting, talking on cellphone, eating a burger, applying makeup, changing the CD, changing the radio station, handing their backseat passenger a drink, “taking matters into their own hands”, getting a hummer from their friend, reading a newspaper draped over the steering wheel (really — I’ve seen it), peeling a banana or any other possible thing that I’ve seen motorists engaging in INSTEAD of paying attention to what the hell’s going on in front of them.

  33. Shek June 17, 2008 1:19 pm 

    I was only kidding about motirists being drunk. I understand that they can be doing a lot more while driving. My friend has even seen someone eat breakfast out of a plate with a fork while driving. Not a paper plate, a dinner plate!!!

    The newspaper over the steering wheel scares me though!!!

  34. coolbandit July 26, 2008 10:28 am 

    Joe wrote
    “What I still don’t understand are recreational cyclists who absolutely chose to use the road in a state park when a bike path was built specifically for them and it’s in much better condition than the road.”

    I cant understand either. all i can think of is people walk their dogs down those bike trails. That can be annoying and dangerous for cyclist who are about speed. I do always think “why do i have to drive slow behind you when there is that big empty path built for you 5 feet from you” The Cleveland Metro-Parks near my house have nice bike paths. I am a new road cyclist and cars scare me, so i stick to the sidewalks while possible.. However I don’t ride very fast, and most peoples driveways are in perfect view.

  35. new bike commuter August 20, 2008 12:01 pm 

    I personally think that one of the beauties of cycling is that you can pretty much ride your bicycle anywhere like when you were a kid and nobody cares as long as you are hurting their property or getting in their way. I feel safer on the sidewalks and I don’t feel pressure to go fast either like I do on the road. I am fortunate to live in an area where they are trying to make bike lanes everywhere…the only problem is that right now, most of them obruptly just end and you either are left to hop on the road or head into a ditch sometimes…it’s crazy…but I make it a point to always be aware of my surroundings…when on sidewalks, I approach every driveway, intersection as if I was walking, I slow down, I push the button at crosswalks and only cross when given the walk signal. I mean, I don’t want to get hit, I’m just enjoying my commute to work and try not to get too sweaty while doing it or stressed out! :) So, I ride the road when I have to and the rest of the time I am either on a bike lane, a sidewalk, or a trail and sometimes I even cross through fields just because I can! :) Try doing that in a car and I’m sure you’d get a ticket. I live in Williamsburg, VA by the way.

  36. new bike commuter August 20, 2008 12:04 pm 

    >>nobody cares as long as you are hurting their property or getting in their way

    oops…I meant nobody cares as long as you are NOT hurting their property or getting in their way…ha! :)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *