3 Reasons to Not Bicycle on the Sidewalk

For most people who bicycle to work, riding on the sidewalk is an occasional necessity; but it should be the exception rather than the rule. In today’s post I give three reasons to not ride on the sidewalk (and two reasons why you should).

A bicycle on the sidewalk

When I was a child, I biked as a child, but when I became a man, I started riding in the street.
Photo by Richo.Fan.

I have a friend who insists on riding on the sidewalk. He is convinced that doing this is just safer; he has been hit by cars twice.

Risks of Riding a Bicycle on the Sidewalk

Risk #1: Getting hit by a car
There was a bumpersticker that was already old even when I was growing up: If you don’t like the way I drive, stay off the sidewalk. I doubt that it was ever funny, but the more I ride, the more I realize it’s true. Every car drives on the sidewalk from time to time because sidewalks are so often found between the roads (where people drive) and the stores, homes, and offices (where people park).

A button with a not pithy truthI think this close relationship between parking and sidewalks is particularly dangerous. When people are just getting into their cars, they are not fully engaged: they are putting on their seat belts, adjusting their mirrors, inserting their tasty beverage into their cup holder, etc. And they are doing all this just at the time they are most likely to encounter the sidewalk.

To the driver, the sidewalk crossing a driveway is part of the driveway. Cars don’t stop at the edge of the sidewalk because drivers are not expecting traffic there. Cars stop (if at all) at roads because that is where a driver expects to encounter other cars. Remember too that drivers often cross sidewalks in reverse and can’t see very well.

Stay away from sidewalks…there are just to many cars there.

Risk #2: Hitting a pedestrian
One of the reasons I bike to work is because it limits the amount of damage I can do. Sidewalks can be full of people walking, playing, eating, and generally being oblivious to their surroundings. If you hit a pedestrian at high speed you can seriously hurt them, and the chances of accidents are pretty high:

  • Pedestrians are unpredictable: they don’t walk in straight lines, they don’t pay attention, and they travel in herds. If you come up behind a pedestrian and call “on your left,” they will inevitably jump left.
  • Sidewalks are generally narrow: there is not a lot of room to maneuver.
  • You can get sued. If you hit and injure a pedestrian on the sidewalk you can (and probably deserve) to be sued.

Whenever I ride on the sidewalk, I make it a rule not to ride faster than I could travel on foot (running). I don’t know that this makes a lot of sense, but it makes me feel safer around pedestrians.

Risk #3: Getting a ticket
In many jurisdictions, it is illegal to ride on the sidewalk. Check with your local bike shop, bike collective, or police department to find out for sure.

Reasons to Bicycle on the Sidewalk

Reason #1: It is occasionally safer
If you need to travel from Point A to Point B and part of that journey is on a narrow street with no shoulder or with a dangerous bike lane (these do exist), you might consider riding on the sidewalk. Keep in mind the three risks above. The same is true for roads where the bike lane is blocked by construction, double parked vehicles, or trash.

Reason #2: It is significantly more convenient or fun
Yeah, fun. I occasionally find myself on a road that leads to a light that experience has taught me does not  change. When this happens, I ride through the pedestrian plaza by the library for convenience and for pleasure–it is a nice spot (sometimes I even slalom through the lampposts). When you are in control of your commute, it should be enjoyable.

Question: Why do you (or don’t you) ride on the sidewalk? Enter you answer in the comments below.