Peter Smith (Google Maps Bike There) stirs up controversy by advocating for sidewalk riding.
And when measured in the most critical terms — your ability to bike another day — you are almost certainly safer on the sidewalk than in the road — because most collisions occur in the road — i.e. doorings, hit from behind, etc.
So when certain ‘advocates’ tell cyclists not to ride on the sidewalk — they are effectively telling these cyclists to stop riding — which makes riding overall that much more dangerous for everyone else — because of the safety in numbers effect, in reverse.
About 11,000 people commute to work by bike in San Jose, California on a regular basis. Another 8,000 school children ride their bikes to school. If what I see is any indication, almost all of those children bike on the sidewalk, a probably a good 50% of those adult commuters seem to ride on the sidewalk for at leat part of their journey.
I don’t have a statistical breakdown, but scanning the San Jose police blotter shows the large majority of bike vs car collisions involve a sidewalk cyclist. Most result in minor injuries (scrapes and bruises) at the very worst, though there has been at least one fatality in recent memory when a driver turned left across an intersection occupied by a 12 year old girl. The few times I’ve personally witnessed a bike vs car crash in San Jose, it’s always been a sidewalk cyclist.
Does sidewalk riding entail more risk? Certainly. Even Dutch studies show more risk of an injury crash for cyclists in their vaunted cycle tracks. But I think Peter SMith is onto something in calling out the exaggeration risk many of us claim. If sidewalk cycling is really as bad as some of us say, the gutters of San Jose would be rivers of blood from all of the slaughtered sidewalk cyclists. That doesn’t seem to be the case.
Perhaps a better discussion might be how to recognize and mitigate the risk, though the biggest challenge in sidewalk cycling is recognizing the potential conflict points. I confess to sidewalk riding in a couple of places, mostly to avoid multiple left turns across large intersections to get to my destination. Even on familiar sidewalks, though, I’ve been blindsided a couple of times by a car coming from a completely unexpected direction. In both of those cases, a crash and injury were avoided by the diligence of the drivers (God bless ‘em).
If you read the essay, avoid the video he embeds — it’s insulting and adds absolutely nothing to the conversation. Baltimore Spokes includes this introduction / disclaimer / warning / apology at the top of his page where he links to the essay.
While I am not a huge fan of sidewalk cycling I do understand why many prefer it over riding in the street. As the article points out the criteria for when it is allowed and when it is not is … well all messed up. But for safety my own research points to the fact that riding against traffic either on the sidewalk or on the street is very risky and a lot of people do it. I will further assert including wrong way riding in the stats for comparative risks throws the whole comparison off.
It is noteworthy that you cannot safely do near traffic speeds on the sidewalk like you can in the street. Viable transportation needs to have an element of swiftness. While accommodating slow beginners is a good thing, there is a fear that allowing sidewalk riding will make street riding seem unsafe, thus penalizing those of us who go faster and further by bike. This topic should be approached with caution as both can be safe if precautions are taken and both can be unsafe if no thought to the potential hazards is ever done.
Via Biking In LA.