Drivers, this may be a familiar feeling for you: You are driving along a somewhat narrow road when you see a cyclist trying to squeeze his way along the shoulder of the road. What do you do? Do you stay behind him, slow down, and hold up traffic? Do you hold your breath and blow by him and hope you don’t kill him? Regardless, the thought probably flashed in your head: Why don’t they use the sidewalk? Well, in some cases, the answer is: It’s illegal. That’s right, in some cities and states, a cyclist can get a traffic violation for riding his or her bike on the sidewalk.
To be fair, it is statistically proven that sidewalks are more dangerous for bicyclists than riding in the streets. On the other hand, cars are much larger than bicycles and I would be much more terrified riding a bicycle in the streets than hiding in the safety of a car.
Large cities, such as Chicago and New York City, are those that typically have laws prohibiting bicycles on sidewalks. This is due to the large amount of pedestrians on the sidewalks and the higher potential of collisions—of course, it’s certainly difficult to weave back and forth between mobs of people in Times Square without hitting someone. But it isn’t just the crowded cities: Cornell University (in spacious upstate New York) and the entire state of Georgia also make it illegal to ride a bike on the sidewalk. But often, these laws aren’t readily known by everyday cyclists and when they get ticketed . . . well, they aren’t happy.
Shouldn’t there be an effort to make these laws more public? Moreover, should we keep these that keep cyclists off of sidewalks entirely?
While the common perception is that bicycles are safer on the sidewalk, research suggests that they actually aren’t. It turns out cyclists become almost invisible to motorists when they are on sidewalks, so that at intersections, motorists tend to turn into cyclists using crosswalks. In addition, more cycling injuries that wind up in the hospital are due to the obstacles and condition of sidewalks. For the cyclist’s sake, it makes sense that they ride on the road. Plus, if the country is truly serious about trying to reduce carbon emissions, bike riding should be encouraged and laws should be passed to make cyclists safer.
How, then, do we placate the motorists? A good start would be revamping our underlying infrastructure. Minneapolis is ranked one of the best cities for cyclists because of the biking infrastructure that they have in place. Separate bike lanes and dedicated paths make sharing the road with cars much more manageable. Motorists will be less nervous if there is a dedicated path that they can see, and cyclists will be less nervous if they have a dedicated path exclusively for their use.
As for the visibility of such laws, it’s difficult to advocate for better publicity. There are many laws that aren’t incredibly well-known, and to argue that this type law should be more publicized may be difficult given the importance of many other lesser-known laws.
So next time you’re driving and you get frustrated at a biker sharing the road, remember that it’s probably better that they’re on the road and not on the sidewalk, where they might sneak up on you. And if you’re a cyclist, I understand why you’re on the road . . . but let’s start lobbying for more bike lanes.