So, we’re not the first blog to go on record about the sidewalk cycling issue, we’re probably in the minority on the side we take though (I actually haven’t checked with Graham on that so he might lay into me a bit for this).
The first thing I want you to do before reading on is to forget about the letter of the law. I know it’ll be tough for some who view the law as the divine word, but try. After all, the laws are fine, but they do change from time to time when they no longer make sense. I might be in the minority on this too, but being ‘against the law’ is not a compelling enough reason in a lot of ways.
There are a few reasons why I choose to embrace sidewalk cycling more than the average ‘avid’ cyclist.
- I think it’s really hard to make a convincing argument to a maybe-biker that the road is the place to be. We need to convert these maybes into ‘avid’ bikers. Shouting them all onto the road will never work.
- Pedestrians aren’t a difficult breed to get along with. There isn’t a real rift between cyclists and pedestrians the way that some surly cyclists and pedestrians would have us believe. Most don’t mind sharing their infrastructure if we are respectful.
- The big argument against sidewalks is always the crossings. I think there’s a lot of noise and wind on this, but I’m not sure there’s real difference between being a pedestrian and being a cyclist at a crossing, if you do it right.
Since I got more involved in cycling community activism, I talk to a lot more people about what it would to get them riding. The answer is nearly always the same. Biking on the road is a non-starter. People won’t ride if they need to take the road. Bike lanes help a lot, although, they probably aren’t the safety panacea that people think.
At first, I challenged people on this. I knew that it wasn’t as terrible as they imagined and I knew that they would eventually be able to ride in many circumstances on the road. But new cyclists aren’t open to this conversation. No matter how much experience or how many techniques I offered, there was no way to convince most people that I was right. In the end, you just have to accept that people want to be on the sidewalk when they’re not in the car. That’s just the way it is. If you pretend it isn’t then I hope you stop talking to the ‘maybe cyclists’ because you’re not doing them or us any favours.
In a couple decades when the ranks of cyclists have swollen, new cyclists will start out on the roads. There’s safety in numbers, for now, we don’t have the numbers.
It’s not difficult to deal with pedestrians on the sidewalks that I frequent. In all my sidewalk zones, there are wide grass boulevards and I normally go around pedestrians of they are travelling the same direction as me. I don’t treat the sidewalk as a bike path and call out ‘on your left’ to get them to move either. I feel it’s more appropriate if I simply go around. If they’re coming the opposite way, there’s never been an issue with sharing the sidewalk.
The odd spot is so barren of pedestrians and driveways that I am comfortable getting my speed up. In the rare case I see a pedestrian, I drop speeds again and pass at a respectable pace. No buzzing the tower!
Sometimes, there’ll be a surly pedestrian who doesn’t like what I’m doing. It probably doesn’t have anything to do with me or my use of his sidewalk. It has more to do with him being surly. These grouches are always middle aged to older men. It bothers me more than it should.
My real beef with sidewalk cycling bylaws (HTA laws in the crossings) is that I don’t really see any difference cycling crossings compared to when I’m a pedestrian in them. But when I am riding two wheels, any incident is my fault for some reason.
I’ve been a runner for years. Longer than I’ve been a cyclist. Until I got injured last year, my weekly running mileage was much higher than biking mileage. When I was training for a marathon, I might have been running up to 100km per week. Not a lot for a cyclist, but it’s a lot for a runner. Lots of that running was done on my commute.
At that time, it would be irregular for me to go a week and not have a close call at a crossing. There were two types, one where the motorist is perpendicular to my travel and looking the other way for an opening then proceeding without looking in front again. The second where the motorist is turning left through a gap in oncoming traffic and they forget to look in the crosswalk for pedestrians before proceeding. No different from close calls I have these days on my bike. Although they are less frequent now.
There’s no simple way to make an apples-to-apples though. There are just way more miles of sidewalk running than sidewalk biking, though I would estimate the crossing speeds to be roughly the same.
So, if you’re going to tear a strip off me for this, then do. But be mindful that ‘against the law’ isn’t a reason and I don’t care or want to hear what happens in European cycling cultures.
Can you really blame someone for riding the sidewalk?