Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Solidly Safer Sidewalk

Over on the BikeSpeak forum, we're having a conversation about whether its wise, or safe, to ride on the sidewalk. I'm of the school of thought which believes there are certain roads which demand that bicyclists ride on the sidewalk for their safety.

I got a late start this morning, and I was headed south on a road which I ride almost every day. There was much more traffic than I usually encounter on this road at around 5:15 a.m., and I decided to stop to see if I could take a picture which would illustrate why I believe this particular road falls into the category of having a Solidly Safer Sidewalk. With a single shot, I got results better than I could have paid for! Look closely at this photograph:

The speed limit on this road is 35 mph, but I can assure you that not one of the three cars in the photo were going that speed or below. The Jaguar in the left-hand lane, the blue compact SUV in the center lane and the gray full-sized SUV in the right-hand lane were all going faster than 40 mph.

It is important to note that I framed this photograph looking south, and then looked back over my left shoulder to the north (so I could time taking the photo to catch these cars in it), the big gray SUV was still behind the blue SUV in the center lane. When the gray SUV began his pass by switching lanes, he was parallel with my bike sitting on the sidewalk. If my bike and I were in that right-hand lane, rather than being safely on the sidewalk, I can almost guarantee you I would have been run down by the gray SUV.

And there is an element in this photograph which supports that contention. Look closely at the photograph again and tell me if you can see what it is.

Also look closely at that nice sidewalk ahead of my bike. The driveway just ahead of me has all of the landscaping set well back of the roadway, which allows me a clear view of automobiles pulling up to the road, and provides them a clear view of me approaching on my bike. The next driveway opening is far enough down the road that I can safely spin up to full speed and then have plenty of time to slow down when I reach it.

This is a textbook case of a road with a Solidly Safer Sidewalk.


  1. Bluescat I ride short sections of sidewalk every day for more or less the same reasons you mention, so I tend to agree. I have some caveats though. You mentioned the first: driveways. Most drivers appear to assume that whipping out of the driveway across the sidewalk is okee dokey. Some walks by chance give you enough vision to watch for them, but it's clear that most sidewalks are not designed for 15-20mph cycle traffic in terms of visibility to risks entering from the sides. Then again, a lot of bike lanes have the same problem! Second is pedestrians. I've come to the conclusion that a cyclist should give five feet of space to a ped when passing or overtaking. That's more or less not possible on many sidewalks. Else slow down to a snail's pace. Which I do, but who wants to do that? On the other hand, many cyclists who don't try road riding are concerned with being hit from behind, which, if you take the correct lane position to avoid being squeezed out on the right, which is entirely up to you to disallow, being hit from directly behind is a very rare type of car-bicycle accident.

  2. JRA, I agree with you on virtually all of your points, especially the part about "most sidewalks are not designed for 15-20mph cycle traffic in terms of visibility to risks entering from the sides."

    I much prefer riding in the street, especially with Bluetiful and DutchGrl. And the reason has nothing to do with Pinheaded Pedestrians or California Stoppers. Even on the "nice" sidewalk of the road in the picture, those expansion joints are murderously rough! The suspension forks, and the lower tire pressure, of The Roadley and Hardiboi mitigate the rough ride, but the high-pressure tires of the other two bikes ... OMG!

    Bam, Slam ... Blam, Bam ... Bang, Slam ... etc., etc. JEEZ! It's enough to knock yer fillings loose!