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.