Is It Dangerous to Bike on a City Sidewalk?
When it comes to city bicyclists and city sidewalks, it is not only often dangerous to bike on a city sidewalk, but can be illegal as well. City to city, laws differ. So while cities may consider sidewalk biking illegal, others may not. If you’re considering biking on the sidewalk, check your city’s laws first. But regardless of legality, recognize that cycling on sidewalks may pose danger to bicyclists, pedestrians, and even drivers.
The average speed of commuters on a sidewalk is much slower than a bicycle. This means that drivers and pedestrians are often unprepared for a faster-moving biker. They may not be aware of an oncoming biker either, and even if a biker can spot a path through the foot traffic, pedestrians may change gait unexpectedly and end up right in the biker’s path.
Car drivers usually aren’t on the lookout for bikers and don’t expect them to cross from one sidewalk to the next. And when this happens, sometimes a biker gets hit. Other common sidewalk collisions include running into a right-turning car. Conversely, cyclists often hit pedestrians on the sidewalk, causing injury to both parties.
When city governments are trying to determine how to govern bicycles, they tend to focus on the idea of bicycles being a type of vehicle. In cities like New York City and San Francisco, it’s illegal for cyclists to ride on the sidewalk. Other cities allow cyclists on the sidewalk, but no matter what choice is made, people still fear for the safety of bicyclists, pedestrians, and car drivers.
Cyclists Feel Safe on the Sidewalk
While city bikers may feel safe on the sidewalk, pedestrians don’t. Some compare bikes to the equivalent of a car on the sidewalk. Basically, the rate of speed of sidewalk users make faster moving vehicles such as bikes or scooters dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists. When a collision occurs, it will hurt both the biker and the walker.
Drivers Don’t Expect Bikers on the Sidewalk
A biker can clear a sidewalk block much faster than a pedestrian, which can cause problems for drivers and bikers. Since most drivers don’t expect to watch for bikers, they may look one way and then check the other direction, and in that short time, a biker could appear. Many collisions occur between cars and bikes because a car doesn’t expect to see a bike riding across a sidewalk, crossing a driveway or crosswalk.
Sidewalk Biking is Less Safe
The street might seem much less safe for biking than the sidewalk. But a 1994 study analyzed the number of bicycle-car collisions in California and discovered that the sidewalk bikers were 1.8 times more likely to be in an accident than a street biker. Sidewalk bicyclists traveling against the traffic flow had the risk of collision at 5.3 times higher. Other studies have shown that bicycle riders are more likely to face collisions because of sidewalk biking.
One way that cities are finding a solution to help bicyclists, motorists, and walkers stay safe is through bike lanes. While these might not always be an immediate option, bike lanes reduce sidewalk cycling and provide a constant reminder of the potential presence of bikers. Bike lanes can be delineated with paint or physical barriers. In situations where biking on the sidewalk is necessary, cities are encouraged to inform bikers to ride at a slower speed and defer to pedestrians.
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