Let Them Yell: Biking on Sidewalks Is Still Illegal

“The other people I hate are the people that get on the moving walkway and then just stand there like it’s a ride. Excuse me, there’s no animated pirates or bears along the way here. Do your legs work at all?”
– Jerry Seinfeld

On a sunny April afternoon in 2016, I turned down Water Street in Kent, OH, on my way home, taking a 15-mile route instead of the standard six miles.  Water Street is four lanes across with no shoulder heading straight through town and my bright blue backpack,  vibrant green shirt, and flashing red tail light were all doing a fine job of indicating my very deserving and not at all incorrect presence on the road.

bike-on-sidewalk-signNow, as a driver behind me, you have two options: The first is to move over to the other lane or at least cross partly into that lane as you go around me.  That option, of course, depends on the current traffic pattern.  If traffic is heavy and you cannot move over, you have to choose the second option, which is to slow down until you can successfully and safely pass. You obviously may not move without clearance, causing another car to have to slam on their brakes, and, although a perfectly safe option, you also may not roll down your window at the upcoming red light just to yell at me in a sarcastic tone, “You know there’s a sidewalk right over there!?”

More often than not, I tend to get yelled at by drivers who are unaware of the Doppler Effect, yelling something indecipherable as they speed past or even yelling at me through their completely rolled up window. I don’t know sign language, sir, but I’m pretty sure that’s not a word you want to be using with your kid in the back.

I remember one time biking along Route 59 in Kent in a downpour and being yelled at by a driver to “get off the f**king road.”  My anger at them was mitigated by the fact that they were at least smart enough to slow down before yelling at a complete stranger biking with every legal right on the road.

Anyway, back to the red light on Water Street.   I hear the woman yell at me, questioning my understanding of spatial and object recognition.  I usually do not respond to any form of road rage while biking because a response will produce no beneficial effect and could serve as a catalyst to make the situation even worse.  However, in this particular circumstance, I couldn’t hold my tongue and merely responded,“It’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk.”  She went off and said a bunch of other stuff that I didn’t quite hear because the light had changed and she was already moving #dopplereffectstrikesagain.

I wasn’t wrong. biking on the sidewalk really is illegal in most places (If you are curious about the laws in your state, check out The League of American Bicycles’ incredibly helpful webpage). Not only is sidewalk riding illegal, it carries with it a new set of risks.

  • Getting hit by cars turning onto cross streets or into shopping centers. Sidewalks are almost always regressed from the road, so when turning, a driver now needs to look past their normal line of sight to notice a cyclist streaking down the sidewalk. When cruising on the sidewalk on a busy street lined with restaurants and shops, you are taking a massive risk that the inflow and outflow of traffic are going to see you as you cross each intersection.
  • Cars turning right or left from a side street in front of you are almost always going to pull up past the stop sign or sidewalk before turning.  This means you’ll have to weave out in front of them or behind them while biking on the sidewalk.  If you go in front of them, you better hope they see you as you are about to cross their path because otherwise you are going to get smacked.  If you go behind them, you better hope they don’t move and another takes their place.
  • Cyclists on sidewalks also pose a strong threat to pedestrians sharing the walkway.  Even if sidewalk riding is legal where you live, the rule will require the cyclist to yield to pedestrians.  Too often, you see close calls with cyclists on sidewalks whizzing past pedestrians.  For those of you who have spent a significant amount of time on hiking and biking trails, you will know that even in those situations, not communicating well with pedestrians can be problematic.

Regardless of the fact that sidewalk riding is almost exclusively illegal, I know some people will attempt to ‘logic’ their way to explaining how riding on the sidewalk  is inherently safer than biking on the road because it “guarantees your safety” from the cars on the road.  However, to engage in that argument, you need to understand that the risks of sidewalk riding are real and legitimate.  Cycling is a dangerous endeavor.  In essence, you are trusting that drivers on the road are taking their responsibilities seriously and are looking out for other vehicles on the road (yes, a bicycle is a vehicle even if it does not share much in terms of resemblance to a car).

Imagine one bad driver texting their friends about how they “can’t even right now” with that dude from their class because he is “like, so annoying” and while writing that, they veer slightly off the road over the line that I am straddling as I pedal home.  It does not matter how safe and responsible I am in that moment.  That’s the risk you take every time you hop on the saddle and enter the stream of traffic and I accept that risk.

Biking on the road is risky, but that does not automatically make not biking on the road safer.

I have been hit by a car while on a bike path that has the same issue as a standard sidewalk by being inset from the road.  The driver was not watching where she should be, did not stop at the stop sign like she should have and went without looking both ways.  Now imagine a constant presence on the sidewalk, passing numerous intersections where each and every car can do the same thing.  Aside: Biking in Iowa City is very confusing because the majority of the ‘bike trails’ within the city look like sidewalks or devolve from larger, bike friendly paths to standard sidewalks with almost no warning. End Aside.

Experienced cyclists will know to only ride on the sidewalk when a situation is dire or unsafe on the road, so the moral of the story is this:  If you feel the need to yell at a cyclist who is following the law and doing everything correctly up to and including wearing highly visible clothing and lighting, at least be smart enough to slow down so they can hear your pointless drivel.  I am sure they will appreciate the opinion of someone so ill-informed and unaware of the law.

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One response to “Let Them Yell: Biking on Sidewalks Is Still Illegal

  1. Pingback: Weekend Training:”Flipping the Bird” and Other Notable Gestures | Doctor of Cycology·

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