Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Sidewalker

Riding on the sidewalk. It is a charged concept, especially in places like San Francisco that are very busy.   I remember the law in California being that only those under the age of 12 were allowed to ride on the sidewalk, and then only on residential streets.  When I go to look for actual code I get a lot of hits pertaining to cyclists  "21200 (a) Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver...".  To me, this means don't ride on the sidewalk as we are not supposed to be driving on the sidewalk (although I have not found anything that specifically addresses that, either).  Then again, there are times when even I am forced onto the sidewalk for a variety of reasons.  Especially on my street.

Tree, Rider

Monterey Blvd. is very busy.  1700 cars an hour in the afternoon rush period!  There is no bicycle lane, no sharrows and not much consideration between the hours of 3:30 and 6:30 pm (and all day Sunday, for some reason).  It is a 30 MPH street (!!!!!!), entirely uphill when traveling west, and it is the best bicycle connector between CCSF/SFSU and the Mission, which is a major connection.  If you do not know how to ride in that kind of traffic, it can be harrowing.  I am not surprised when I see people choosing to ride on the sidewalk.  There are times when I do-

when riding west bound with Declan by ourselves without the bike posse that is the rest of the family with us.

when riding home from the grocery store with very heavy bags during the wind season

for certain blocks during rush hour because I don't want to become a statistic

anytime I am too tired or slow to be able to compete or cope with traffic.

Even then, I find myself mildly indignant when I see others doing the same thing.  The opportunity to be a hypocrite is seldom let pass me by.  Why?  Are there no times when riding on the sidewalk is the better option?  I have stated the circumstances when I do (I will say that this is the only time I ride on the sidewalk other than a stretch of Dolores St. which is so terribly lovely to ride on on very hot days I can not always resist).  Now, if the City would do something to calm traffic and provide bicycle space on my street, it would not be a problem (the neighboring Hearst St. is where the City would like us to ride but it is poorly controlled at the intersections and unacceptably hilly for most riders to tackle regularly).  No one would have to make a choice between the street and the sidewalk.

When do you think it is OK to ride on a sidewalk?  Or is it ever OK?


  1. What is the sidewalk thing of which you speak?

  2. yes, it is ok when there is inferior bike infrastructure AND when the sidewalk is wide enough to use without bothering pedestrians. i ride on the sidewalk everyday to work for about a couple of hundered feet to get to where i work. otherwise, i'd probably be a splat on brannan st.

  3. I used to ride the sidewalk all the time, when I first started riding again. Now, it's no longer an option (unless I'm using it as a short cut).

    It's all about what you are comfortable with.

  4. I don't ride on the sidewalk. Why? Because when I am a pedestrian, I don't like people riding their bikes on the sidewalk. If conditions on the road feel unsafe, I pull over and walk the bike on the sidewalk. I'm never in such a hurry that I would make pedestrians have to deal with me riding a bike on the sidewalk.

  5. I ride on the pavements, as we call them over here. I believe it is our right to be safe when cycling.

    I feel it's ok to pavement cycle as long as......

    1) One rides about the same speed a mobility scooter is allowed to ride on the pavement, which over here is 4mph.

    2) Whenever one feels it is safer to be on the pavement than it is to be on the road.

    3) When there are very few pedestrians around.

    4) As long as one always remembers they are on the pavement as a guest and not a right, and always give way to pedestrians at all times.

    I'd rather break the law and ride on the pavements than end up as a statistic on a slab in the morgue.

  6. I'm with calitexican. Sometimes you just have to take the sidewalk and be extremely deferential to any pedestrians you might encounter.

    For example, I have to pass under a freeway where the feeder road is designed like an extended on-ramp. The sidewalk is wide, pedestrians are few and I have to get on the sidewalk at the end to get on the bike path anyway. So I ride it. Photo here:

  7. I think "ladyfleur" hit it on the head... riding at pedestrian-like speeds and giving them the right-of-way may not make for easy legal rules, but it's a good way for us to cooperate for safety.

    (I used to bike SF, but now walk... and cuss out bikers who zoom up silently in the blindspot.... ;)

  8. I think it requires using good judgement & common sense to determine when, where & how to ride.

    I cycle on the road most of the time, because I believe that is a good way to get cyclists recognised as an equal form of transportation to the car in terms of status. In town centres and very heavily pedestrianised pavements, I walk my bike if I choose not to go on the road because it's not safe.
    Roads here are simply not designed for the shear volume of traffic we have (in just ten years it has become noticeably busier), so often sharing the road-space simply is just too dangerous, so unless a sensible alternative is provided, I think in some cases pavement riding is the only real option we have.

    1. Agreed. Good judgement is always where things should start. Also agreed that sensible alternatives have to be provided if we want people to ride in certain ways.

  9. If you have to use the sidewalk, you have to walk.

    It's easy to justify riding on the sidewalk, but it's no better than a motorist double-parked in the bike lane ("it's only for a minute, not a big deal really"). Nobody should ever block the bike lane and nobody should ride (or drive) on the sidewalk.

    BTW, I ride from TL through the Mission out to SF State frequently and I really prefer Hearst to Monterey. It's much quieter and I've never noticed it to be hillier (I turn left at Gennessee). I have, however, been yelled at by a man on foot for not stopping at a stop sign on my way home on Hearst (downhill/east) after I stopped completely. I guess the point of that story is to just be on your best behavior because even stopping at stop signs isn't always enough for some folks.

    1. I know many people who prefer Hearst, but I suspect greater numbers ride on Monterey. It is also interesting that Monterey Blvd is the bike route east of Acton and west of Ridgewood. Hearst is the in between route, in large part, to appease the neighborhood and because of SRTS. The irony of it is that Hearst between Detroit and Edna, leading right to the school, is too steep for children to climb (I lead bike to school groups and the kids can not ride up that hill) and the lack of north/south traffic control at the intersections has caused many near car on bike collisions.

      As to walking that stretch... It is 3/4 mile between Circular and Detroit. That is a long walk when you are trying to get somewhere. With few pedestrians, triple wide sidewalks and stupid traffic, I can totally see why people chose to get out of the road.

  10. There's a separate state law, CVC 21100(h), regarding bicycling on the sidewalk, and all it does is permit local governments to regulate it. Other states have similar wording.

    San Francisco bans it, for example, with exemptions based on age (and bicycle wheel size) or for police.

    Some places only ban it on their main street, and some don't ban it at all. Groups like the the East Bay Bicycle Coalition and Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition cover dozens of jurisdictions, each of which might have its own sidewalk-riding laws!

  11. Hi, I'm brand new to bike commuting, just started this week after walking to work every day (about 20 minutes) for the past 5 years.

    The only time I will use a sidewalk is on the overpass during the afternoon commute - the overpass is not that wide and is two lanes in each direction, and the direction I happen to be going is busy with people using it to get on the highway. Thankfully the sidewalk is wide enough and I am extremely mindful of pedestrians. Usually there are not that many pedestrians, and if there is, I'll suck it up and ride in the road. So needless to say, my opinion on this subject is that I'll only use a sidewalk if I absolutely have to or if the road is not safe enough.

  12. Ade, I'm really struggling with this right now since we've moved to Phoenix. We are in midtown so it's great in the sense that I'm on a public transit route and have lots of places to bike to but the traffic on 7th Street is horrible most of the time. Travels fast 2 - 3 lanes in both directions and no bike infrastructure. I was advised in advanced that people tend to ride the sidewalk everywhere and it's true and I feel like such a slug doing so myself. I'm trying to find side streets and ones with bike lanes but they are still few and far between compared to Flagstaff. Yesterday I took to rail downtown with my bike and I swear I was the only cyclist using the streets. I asked one of the downtown ambassadors who was on a bike which was preferred by the City, the street or the sidewalk, and he told me that I could do whatever I felt most comfortable with and that he gets chastized by someone no matter where he pedals.

    Riding the sidewalk really goes against my grain but I can't single handlely change Phoenix's bike culture - at least not in two weeks. All I can do is be respectful of pedestrians and thank them for accommodating me as I pass.

  13. When it's necessary. Ride away from the building side, where people come out of doorways suddenly. Slowly. Covering the brakes.

    Salmoning too -- in certain neighborhoods it is expected as the norm.

    Monterey sucks. I'd ride the sidewalk the entire way frankly.

  14. Please remember that a significant proportion of the people on the sidewalk are extremely fragile: we're old, or we're very young, or we're injured. Perhaps we'd be on a bike or driving if we were less fragile, but we're not, and there is no place for us but the sidewalk. So if you feel you must bike on the sidewalk in violation of city law, please, bike at a walking speed, expect people on the sidewalk not to expect you, i.e., expect us to be unpredictable, and always, always, always yield to people on foot. Doing anything else is inviting severe injury.

  15. Riding on the sidewalk is legal here in Seattle, and I almost *never* do it if I'm riding alone; that said, if I'm towing my two kids on the back of the Dummy, I'll hop up on a curb whenever my instincts tell me to. There are a lot of places I simply could not go to on my bike if I didn't ride on the sidewalk for some stretches, and the city buses aren't equipped to take longtails.

    I ride slowly, ding my bell pleasantly, and try to smile. I don't like to ride on the sidewalk, but all bets are off when I'm responsible for my squishy children in a sea of killing machines. I try to ride slowly and carefully and I always excuse myself and yield to pedestrians. For the most part, people have been extremely nice about it, which I hope is because I have tried to be extremely pleasant and nice about it. I think it's clear when I'm with my kids that I'd rather not be on the sidewalk, but it would be reckless and dangerous to ride in the street where there is simply no infrastructure at all.

  16. I used to ride on the sidewalk, but I feel it's safer on the road. Too many cars turning that have to pass the sidewalk makes it challenging for a cyclist to safely use them here where I live.

    I truly feel safer on the roads now. If I do find myself on the sidewalk, I always give the pedestrians the right of way. They "own" the sidewalk, so to say.

  17. In our household, we disagree over sidewalk riding, though it's less of an issue where we are most of the time, as there are virtually no pedestrians. In addition, there are no sidewalk options on our busiest roads.

    In our, generally older, towns, the sidewalks are in intermittently poor condition, making them an unreliable surface, and frequently littered with obstacles (signs, chairs, decorative electrical poles, things stored by doorways where the walk is already too narrow). This makes for a poor cycling experience.

    Ultimately, though, I agree with raysbiking that I, personally, feel safer on the road. It's not the condition of the sidewalks, or the litter, but that I emerge unexpectedly into traffic where the sidewalk ends. This makes me feel far more vulnerable than if I had simply stayed on the road.

    Predictability seems the best safety measure of all. If I'm already on the road, I've got the best chance of being seen -- and of being aware of the other vehicles with which I'm sharing space.

  18. Greetings from Indiana!
    I live in a college town (Bloomington, home of Indiana University) that has made huge strides on being bike friendly. Changing people's attitudes - esp. here in Indiana - will take decades. Perhaps it's not fair, but I assume that most motorists are hostile to cyclists. They view them as a nuisance.

    That being said, I never use the sidewalk. It's for people who are walking, not cyclists. I take a "use it or lose it" mentality: it is my right to use the roads. If all cyclists use the roads, drivers will be forced to deal with us. It is my understanding that bicyclists are to be treated the same as motorcyclists in our state. I do my best to be a good diplomat. I follow the rules and try to be friendly and polite. But I insist on using the roads - it's where we belong.

  19. What's the first buzzkill instruction you're given from your parents after that wonderous milestone moment of freedom and expansion when you gloriously transition from learning to ride to riding? "Stay on the sidewalk! Don't ride in the street!" they demand.

    We are indoctrinated with that fear from the get-go, and too many of us never shake it.

    Complicating things for those of us who grow up in larger urban areas encompassing multiple municipalities (such as Los Angeles, for example) is the fact that some cities make it illegal to ride on the sidewalk, while some leave it perfectly legal to do so. Some cities go so far as to make only specific and someone nebulous areas (such as business districts) within it off-limits to sidewalk riding.

    For me personally, the ONLY time you'll find me on a sidewalk is if the road ahead is unsafe and/or closed to traffic -- or if while preparing to make a left turn, an intersection is too busy for me to get my bike safely into the left turn lane.

    The bottom line is that however little I'm riding on the sidewalk, I do so responsibly with excessive consideration for those with whom I share it.