by Meghan Sahli-Wells
When cyclists are faced with streets full of speeding cars and potholes, it’s not surprising that many riders feel that sidewalks are the safest place to cycle.
However, unless you’re a small child, sidewalk riding can be significantly more dangerous than riding on the street, and in many places it’s forbidden by Culver City law. The website www.bicyclinginfo.org warns cyclists:
“Don’t ride on the sidewalk. Although you might think it’s a safer option, motorists are simply not looking for bicyclists on the sidewalk, especially those riding against traffic. So at every driveway and intersection, you are at much greater risk of being hit by a motorist than if you were riding on the road with traffic. Pedestrians will thank you for riding on the road as well.”
Sidewalk riding is dangerous for three main reasons: speed, visibility and predictability.
Cyclists travel much faster than people on foot. Pedestrians aren’t looking out for bicycles speeding down the sidewalk. It’s near impossible for them to anticipate – or avoid – sidewalk cyclists, nor should they be expected to. Remember, pedestrians have the right-of-way. Plus, a great variety of sidewalk users – people with strollers, wheelchairs or walkers, seniors, children and even pets – are not compatible with fast-moving bikes.
When riding on sidewalks, bicyclists pass driveways and cross streets at speeds that put them at odds with motorists. Often hidden behind parked cars, trees and other obstructions, sidewalk cyclists are invisible to drivers on the road until they suddenly enter a street or driveway, when most drivers won’t have enough time to stop for them.
A bicycle is a vehicle. As with all vehicles, predictability is the key to safety. Weaving in and out of intersections and around pedestrians is dangerous, because no one cannot predict what the cyclist is going to do next. As a result, drivers and pedestrians cannot prepare to deal safely with sidewalk riders.
Even though street riding is safer than sidewalk riding, it’s true that numerous Culver City streets need improvements before many bicyclists will feel secure on them. Fortunately, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan was adopted in November, which means that we will see better street conditions for biking in the future. In the meantime, cyclists may feel more comfortable on streets with lower traffic volumes. Also, taking a street safety skills class from a certified bicycle instructor will help give riders the skills and confidence they need to take to the street, regardless of its condition.
For those times when sidewalk riding can’t be avoided, for example, when riding with small children, or when faced with a particularly unsafe portion of a street, please follow these guidelines:
- Ride slowly
- Always give the priority to pedestrians – stop and dismount your bike if there is not enough room for pedestrians to pass
- Say a friendly hello or ring your bell gently to warn pedestrians that you are about to pass from behind
- Approach driveways carefully, looking both ways
- Take extra care when going from the sidewalk onto the street and watch for turning cars
- Never ride with headphones covering both ears
- Never text or phone while riding
- Always assume that pedestrians and cars do not see you: ride defensively
Finally, do not ride where it is not permitted. Under Culver City municipal code you may not ride on the sidewalk in business districts, or in front of schools, churches, playgrounds or recreation centers. In those areas, either ride on the street or dismount and walk your bike.
If you have school-aged children and are wondering when they should start riding on the street, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) suggests: “Children nine years of age and younger, are not able to identify and adjust to many dangerous traffic situations, and therefore, should not be allowed to ride in the street unsupervised. Children who are permitted to ride in the street without supervision should have the necessary skills to safely follow the “rules of the road.”
Cycling is a fun, healthy form of transportation as long as you bike safe, bike smart. Please remember to wear your helmet, ride responsibly, and continue to read this column for more tips, techniques, resources and more.