Sidewalk Riders: Accept the Risk

I turn onto Maguire Blvd. from Woodcock or Lawton on a daily basis. Both intersections have obstructed sight lines such that you can’t see the much of the sidewalk or road from behind the stop bar. I’ve learned to stop first where I can see the sidewalk and look for cyclists before pulling forward to where I can see the road. This is self-preservation more than anything. I don’t want to be injured by a sidewalk cyclist blowing into the crosswalk. I’ve had enough close calls with sidewalk cyclists at both intersections that I’m sure I would have hit one already if it wasn’t for my vigilance.

Most people do not stop twice at a stop sign. They drive until the point they can see the road and stop there. Crosswalks and stop bars have become visual noise, many drivers don’t even see them. Part of that is general lack of driver education and awareness, but it’s also a natural response to ubiquitous sight line obstructions.

If you’re not accustomed to stopping at stop bars, take a ride around the city and make a conscious point of doing so at every stop sign. Notice how much mental energy it takes to deliberately stop ten or more feet from where you can actually see the cross street traffic. Also, take note of how often you have to block the crosswalk (or unmarked extension of the sidewalk) in order to see far enough down the street, and how far you have to pull into some crosswalks just to see down the sidewalk (you don’t need to look way down the sidewalk for a pedestrian, but you do for an insouciant bicyclist).

This morning I rode down to Target. The traffic light at Maguire and Woodcock was in blinky mode, so it was technically a stop sign. The SUV driver in front of me (who had passed me courteously) was turning right.

He rolled through the stop bar and stopped just ahead of the crosswalk, where he was able to see southbound traffic on Maguire. As I pulled up to the stop bar, a sidewalk cyclist (on a road bike, with her hands on the drops) rode into view and crossed behind the SUV. She looked at the vehicle, with its rear bumper protruding into the crosswalk, and muttered, “jerk.”

Since she only became visible to me as she was a few feet from the crosswalk, I don’t know how fast she had been going or if she had to slow down as the SUV crossed. The photo on the right shows the view I had of the sidewalk as I approached the stop bar. I was at this point when she became visible to me. The SUV had arrived a few seconds before and was already across the crosswalk. Because he was making a right, he was focused on the southbound lanes and may not have looked to the right at all. There was also a car waiting to turn left out of the mall.

The middle photo on the right is a northbound sidewalk rider’s view of the intersection. The bottom one is a driver’s view (or lack thereof) of the Maguire southbound lanes from the stop bar on Woodcock.

The grumbling sidewalk rider wasn’t unique. I’ve heard many a sidewalk rider complain bitterly about how oblivious motorists are and how they’re always pulling through the crosswalk or turning in front of them. Yet they’ll aggressively argue for their use of the sidewalk vs the road.

The complaint about motorists ignoring crosswalks is legitimate. It’s a problem. But it’s a more legitimate complaint for pedestrians to make than sidewalk bicyclists. Pedestrians are usually standing on the curb waiting to cross, while bicyclists are approaching the crosswalk at many times the speed of a pedestrian. It takes only a little bit of mindfulness to detect and yield to a pedestrian. It takes a conscious effort to search for and assess the speed of a sidewalk cyclist.

To follow the letter of the law, we should all stop at the stop bar and look both ways before inching forward to where we can see. I try to do it when driving my car and my bike and I find it takes quite a bit of mindfulness (a state that is easier to maintain on the bike than in the car). Do you do that at every intersection when you drive a car? Do you on a bicycle?

Part of coexisting on the roadway is understanding the physical and perceptual limitations of other drivers. Motorists are unlikely to give you comfortable passing clearance if you hug the curb and invite them to squeeze past in a narrow lane. And they’re unlikely to stop and look for you approaching on the sidewalk at ten times the speed of a pedestrian. Especially if you’re northbound on a southbound sidewalk and their focus area is the southbound travel lanes. Choosing to ride in a way that significantly increases risk and conflict by making yourself invisible or irrelevant and then getting mad at motorists is a like banging your head against a concrete wall and getting mad at the wall. If you’re going to ride on the sidewalk, know how the limitations of other drivers affect your safety and accept the risk.

Please don’t interpret this as an admonition against ever using the sidewalk. I will use a sidewalk once in a while if circumstances make it significantly more convenient. I accept the risk when I do it. I ride slowly, give way to any peds and approach driveways and intersections with extreme caution, prepared to stop (if I need to use a sidewalk downtown, I walk the bike). This isn’t a convenient way to travel significant distances, but it’s sometimes more convenient for a block or two than, say, turning left onto a busy multi-lane road and then left again off it 1,000 feet later. Especially if one or both left turns is lacking a traffic signal to facilitate the turn.

69 replies
  1. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    Too bad the police officer that ordered me off the road and onto the sidewalk doesn’t read this blog. Ditto for the sidewalk rider I occasionally see on my way to work.

    • Brian
      Brian says:

      Hi Steve,

      I’ve been ordered off the road, as well. It’s not legal for an officer to do this in any state, and most officers know this. The ones who do it are willfully ignorant or simply don’t care. These are the enemies of our justice system. It doesn’t help that cyclists reinforce the practice with their own ignorance and fear.

  2. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    I’ve avoided sidewalks via bicycle for as long as I can remember. It feels foreign and even unlawful to be on a sidewalk, even though in most of this area it is permitted. The one time I can recall doing so, I had to ride counter-traffic and nearly collided with another person on a bike on the sidewalk.

    Recently, my frequent use of an electric self-balancing unicycle has necessitated riding on the sidewalk, at approximately twice the speed of a pedestrian. I can attest to the behavior of motorists approaching red lights, especially those in dedicated right-turn only lanes blowing the stop-bar and often enough the entire crosswalk, at speeds many times that of safe operation. In one incident, not in a dedicated turn lane, the motorist approached well after I entered the intersection and I slammed into the side of the vehicle during extreme braking. No damage, no injuries, but she blamed me for hitting her and expressed no recognition of either the stop bar or the crosswalk.

    As with Keri’s experience, when I have to operate a motor vehicle, I’m even more aware of the stop bar locations. It’s clearly necessary in many intersections to perform two and sometimes three stops in order to proceed safely, to the inconvenience of the pedestrian, and to the greater risk of the sidewalk person on a bike.

  3. Shannon
    Shannon says:

    I’ve seen a few cyclists in the last few weeks on sidewalks have close calls not only in intersections, but with cars going in and out of driveways. I always cringe when I see it. I also had a close call with a fellow cyclist recently riding the wrong direction in the bike lane. The I ended up having to move into the traffic lane which thankfully was clear at the time.
    Keri, do you ever try to educate people when you see them doing these things? I want to, but I’m always hesitant as I don’t want to look like I’m trying to tell them what to do, when I just want to help them be safer.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      Shannon, Roadside education rarely proves effective. The best you can do to educate people is ride the way you do with confidence and show them it works. If they’re ready to try an easier way of riding, you’ll plant a seed. If they’re not ready, there’s probably nothing you could say that would make a difference.

      An exception is the UCF Bike Bus. I’ve seen them successfully invite people who were riding the same direction on the sidewalk to join them on University.

      Re: your close call. I’m glad you didn’t get hurt. The only time I’ve ever had to use a full-on quick-stop was to avoid a head-on with a bike lane salmon. Salmon are particularly resistant to correction. Many of them even know it’s illegal, they do it anyway.

  4. biker rick
    biker rick says:

    Found some nice pliers 2 weeks ago on my way to work. I pulled off to pick them up and continued to work the remaining 2 blocks on the sidewalk. It only took the first block for someone to turn in front of me as if I were invisible. It was difficult to be angry for too long when I realized it was my fault. Haven’t done it since.

  5. Peter Smith
    Peter Smith says:

    your alleged non-admonition manages to admonish sidewalk riders for getting injured and killed by drivers right in the title of the post — hope that makes you feel good. superior and disingenuous — excellent.

    looking forward to the “Non-Sidewalk Riders: Accept the Risk” post.

    • Shannon
      Shannon says:

      You must be a sidewalk rider, Peter. Like Keri stated, there’s nothing wrong with it, but those who choose to use the sidewalk need to realize that it’s not the safest option most of the time. A cyclist on the sidewalk crossing intersections and driveways are just about invisible to drivers.

      • Peter Smith
        Peter Smith says:

        i’m not much of a sidewalk rider, but not sure how that matters in any case.

        and i’m not sure who is out there perpetuating the myth that sidewalk riding is dangerous — it’s such an outlandish claim that i wouldn’t expect anyone to actually want to own up to it, but then again, we had a good 30+ years of vehicular cycling policy holding back biking in the US.

        one catastrophic idea down, one to go.

        still looking forward to the “Accept the Risk” post for non-sidewalk riders. lots of families of the deceased will be anxiously awaiting it, too.

        • Shannon
          Shannon says:

          The risk is there whenever you leave your house, Peter. Doesn’t matter if you’re in a car or on a bike. The fact is though, you are safer on a bike when you are being a savvy cyclist.

      • Mighk Wilson
        Mighk Wilson says:

        Peter, one might argue whether or not sidewalk cycling is “dangerous,” (note, the word “dangerous” does not appear in Keri’s post), but there are at least three well-done studies showing cycling on the sidewalk against the flow of traffic is at least four times riskier than cycling with the flow. Perhaps a more accurate title would have been “…Accept More Risk.”

        But that doesn’t tell us absolute risk, it just says it’s four times higher.

        No doubt sidewalk riders recognize the risk, because they encounter that conflict routinely. But they likely believe the risk of overtaking traffic to be greater. The value of Keri’s post is not in “admonishing” anyone; it’s in giving experienced cyclists some good explanations they can use to teach other cyclists.

        “Accepting risk” is not the same as “fault.”

        Often I hear from sidewalk riders, “I know I’m _supposed_ to ride on the road…” They think sidewalk cycling is “wrong” because it’s not what they’re “supposed” to do. What they need to understand is that roadway cycling is _safer_ than sidewalk cycling. But with all the fear-mongering out there about cycling (like telling vehicular cyclists to “accept the risk”), it’s hard to get that message through.

      • Sue
        Sue says:

        Just a note: that’s very consistent with the condescending attitude that this site emanates. Peter calls you on your admonishing tone and you heighten it higher and inform him that he MUST be a sidewalk rider.
        Was there even a single, solitary word in his post about whether riding on sidewalks was dangerous?
        This is not the first time that anybody who has anything that could possibly, remotely suggest a differing perspective (not even necessarily a different opinion) about just about anything gets a “you must not know how to ride your bike ” reply.
        Sidewalks are generally more dangerous than street, though as with most things, it varies. It would be nice if the condescending tone of this site varied as often.

        • LisaB
          LisaB says:

          Sue, there’s nothing condescending about this website. If you were a frequent visitor and contributor, this would be apparent. Your accusations are counterproductive and disrespectful to the many contributors who come to this site for meaningful dialogue about real world issues we face on the road.

        • Shannon
          Shannon says:

          Sue, if you look at the tone of Peter’s response, that’s what solicited my response. He basically came out stating that what Keri wrote was wrong and behaved snobbishly about it. If he disagrees, that’s fine, but he started that tone in the conversation. I have no problem with differing opinions, but attacking someone is inappropriate, especially with how much knowledge Keri has on the subject at hand.

        • Diana
          Diana says:

          Sue, I have never found the tone of this site to be condescending, and I have read every single post and comment. There are certainly different perspectives and levels of experience represented, and some lively but usually civil and thoughtful discussions. I particularly appreciate the research and science-based information available here, which sometimes has been at odds with my “feelings.” That primitive fear of being attacked from behind is a powerful one that keeps people riding their bikes on the sidewalks, despite the actual increased risk and conflict. And what do you do when the sidewalk ends? This site has been helpful to me when I have questions about specific road situations. The expertise, advice, and encouragement for me have been the difference between riding frightened, angry and ready to give up, to finding bicycling (on the roads) one of life’s great pleasures.

          • Sue
            Sue says:

            I have also been here more than once… but there tend to be wide gaps.
            You’re absolutely right. THere’s not one single, solitary condescending essence on this site. Of course, if I am concerned about being struck from behind, as my friend was in February and killed, I have a “primitive fear of being attacked.” OH, and Peter was snobbish first, so *that’s* why the response was — oops, I forget, there’s NOTHING condescending about this site.
            The real problem with that is that it rather erodes credibility. Even Keri doesn’t know everything.

          • Diana
            Diana says:

            Sue, I am so very sorry about the death of your friend. That is a terrible thing to experience, and I think it would have an impact on anyone, as it does on me just hearing about it. I couldn’t understand why you sounded so angry and where you were coming from. I didn’t know.

            As I said above, I have never found “the tone of this site” to be condescending, although I’m sure there are instances where someone’s post is sarcastic or condescending or angry or pigheaded. But overall I think you will find intelligent discussions and helpful information, and encouragement. And that “fear of being attacked from behind” is an evolutionary, universal instinct we all have. That was in no way aimed at you. (In my case, on a bicycle, the sound of a Ford F150 engine being revved behind me makes me instinctively look in my rearview mirror every time.)

            Sue, you wouldn’t keep coming to this site and posting if you didn’t need something. You ride your bicycle, and you are one of us. You will find that the people here are kind and willing to help, and that there is a wealth of information and experience to draw from.

    • Brian
      Brian says:

      Peter, put the brakes on. Sidewalk riders ARE largely at fault for being injured and killed. A person riding a bicycle on a sidewalk has no legal right to be there, operating a vehicle on a pedestrian facility, and doing so at speeds many multiples of normal walking speed. They also have no right to speed across side-streets and driveways, as I have seen hundreds do, without yielding the right of way to pedestrians and road traffic. So, if Keri gets the word out about how ridiculous this behavior is, more power to her. And if she refuses to get into a shouting match with individual pedestrians on wheels, who 90% of the time will not listen anyway, well, that’s her choice. But Peter, you seem to be a strident, vocal male. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind talking directly to these misguided peds on wheels in order to prevent them from getting themselves maimed and killed out of misguided fear. Put that energy to good use. And if you’re one of them, consider yourself admonished.

    • John Schubert
      John Schubert says:

      Peter, a lot of people are so afraid of “blaming the victim” that they don’t want to teach people how to ride safely — because any hint of education, in their view, smacks of an excuse to blame victims.
      Your remarks sound like you’re one of those people. Are you?

      • John Schubert
        John Schubert says:

        My 30 years of work in accident reconstruction, and personal tragedies in my own life, have brought me very up close and personal with “families of the deceased.” I don’t much care for being preached to about that. There are ways to offer information without being boorish about it.
        If we refuse to use science to save the next victim, all in the name of not hurting the feelings of relatives of those already dead, we just have decided to have more dead people for no good reason. No, that’s neither ethical nor compassionate.
        Crashes have causes. Preventing future crashes requires understanding the causes. Bicycle and pedestrian deaths are overwhelmingly caused by crappy understanding by the crash participants, including the bicyclists and pedestrians themselves. It’s not compassionate to pretend we don’t need to better inform people.
        Keri’s splendid article and photographs give the sidewalk user / road cyclist the tools to understand how to minimize risk to himself.

  6. Richard C. Moeur
    Richard C. Moeur says:

    If a cyclist is riding at pedestrian speed across intersections and driveways, and is ready to stop or turn quickly, they will reduce their risk – but they will not eliminate it.

    But as anyone who has observed the majority of sidewalk cyclists has seen, sidewalk cyclists typically cross intersections and driveways at ‘cruising’ speed. Even when riding against the flow of traffic.

    I do not recommend sidewalk riding. I recognize it exists, but I also recognize what decades of crash studies have shown about intersection risks. When I make presentations to non-cycling groups or to groups of less-experienced riders, I point out that overtaking crashes are rare, in spite of popular perception, and that intersections & driveways are by far the greatest risks. I tell them that if someone chooses to ride on the sidewalk, then they should minimize their relative risk by riding in the same direction as adjacent traffic, at a slower pace, yielding to all other sidewalk users, and crossing streets and driveways at a pedestrian pace. Don’t know if they do it, though.

    And remember: if a public agency puts up signs calling the sidewalk a “shared-use path”, then that solves all the problems!!! (note: the previous sentence was sarcastic in nature. Please read in the appropriate context.)

    • NE2
      NE2 says:

      I never understood why it’s safer to go the same direction as adjacent traffic. Presumably that makes it more likely that drivers turning out of a driveway will see you, but it’s easy for the cyclist to see that someone’s there and proceed with extreme care. On the other hand, someone turning right into the driveway is more likely to see you if you’re riding against traffic. And if you’re riding against traffic you don’t have to turn your head as much to see the possible conflicts: to your right (left turn), to your left (pulling out of the driveway), and straight ahead (right turn). Going with traffic, you have to look almost directly behind you for right turners.

      • Sue
        Sue says:

        There is much that’s counterintuitive, but oh, *boy* it’s much safer to go with traffic.

        If you were in a motorcycle, would you say the same thing?

        How ’bout a motor scooter?

        Where do you draw the line?

        You’re absolutely right about having to turn the head — that’s what my rear view mirror is for.

        • Shannon
          Shannon says:

          It *is* much safer to ride with traffic, furthermore, it’s the law. I really hope you do shoulder checks for your own safety, Sue. A rear view mirror can only aid you so much.

          • Sue
            Sue says:

            Of course I do shoulder checks. However, many of the people who ride against traffic realize they just don’t feel “right” not knowing where the cars behind them are, and so I bring up that mirror rather often. I certainly wouldn’t be comfortable without it now that I’ve had that frequent source of information (after all, when I’m looking behind me, I’m not seeing what’s in front of me).
            THank you for your kind advice.

        • NE2
          NE2 says:

          Um…I’m talking about riding on the sidewalk against traffic. I most certainly understand why it’s safer to ride in the road with traffic.

      • Keri
        Keri says:

        NE2, It doesn’t look like your question has been answered yet. I’ll try to give you a description here. I’ve been asked by several readers to do an animation for sidewalk crash causes, that will come along at some point in the future.

        This issue mainly has to do with coming from an unexpected direction in an unexpected place.

        The most common sidewalk crash involves the drive-out of a right-turning vehicle. The primary problem is that the driver often never looks to the right, but approaches the intersection focused on the left. Due to sight lines and the other issues I mentioned, sometimes drivers blow through the crosswalk so fast that even a cautious bicyclist can be committed to the crossing and caught off-guard. This is exacerbated by right-turn-on-red because the cyclist (pedestrians, too!) will have a walk-signal and can actually be in the process of crossing when a motorist rolls up and hits them. Of course this is the legal fault of the motorist, it’s also too common and difficult for a bicyclist traveling against traffic to avoid. A pedestrian can jump backwards, a bicyclist can’t.

        The other common crash is from a left-turning vehicle because that driver is focused on the lanes of traffic he needs to cross and is coming from behind the bicyclist. On a multi-lane road, that driver will:

        1) be well removed from the bicyclist’s peripheral vision and on the opposite side of a mirror (where-as a right-hook will typically develop in your peripheral vision or mirror) and

        2) be accelerating through a gap (potential for a high-speed impact).

        I can corroborate these findings with my own experience on sidepaths. For reasons of comfort and destination-convenience, I prefer to use cross-seminole trail to the bike lanes on Aloma. The trail has a segment of sidepath with only a few intersection and driveway crossings. I have seen the potential for both of the above-described crash types develop as I scanned for them on approach to the intersections and driveways. I’ve been trapped at Slavia Rd several times by a stream of right-turning motorists who never even looked in my direction (they had a red light and I had the crosswalk signal). I’ve had the scary moment of crossing while someone zoomed up to the intersection looking the other way there (as Richard says, you can reduce but not eliminate risk).

        Of course, the right-hook problem at Hall road is serious, as well. I know of at least one person who was hit and seriously injured there. (There is a bridge planned for that intersection, some day. It will be a welcome addition.)

        Does that make sense?

        • NE2
          NE2 says:

          Ah, I think I get it. I was thinking more in terms of someone not seeing you approach the crosswalk. But there’s also the case where you’re already in the crosswalk when someone turns into you. I now have a picture of someone turning right from a driveway and looking left for a gap in traffic while someone bikes or walks in front, and he doesn’t look straight ahead before proceeding.

    • Brian
      Brian says:

      Hi Richard, I agree with almost everything you’ve said. But I stop at giving license to any cyclist to ride on a sidewalk. People will operate at the top speed they can comfortably manage and at which they feel safe, whether they are or not; they will also avoid slowing or stopping at much as possible using the same rule–because let’s face it, that’s where most cyclists resent spending their energy: starting from a dead stop or even a serious yield. So, the slippery slope of human behavior all but guarantees that sidewalk cyclists, even those who’ve been cautioned about conflicts and ACTUALLY LISTEN, will speed up to well above walking pace (probably between 8 and 12 mph, though my observations show that many adolescent to young adult males cruise at 15+), while becoming less and less diligent about slowing or stopping at intersections. I have only ever seen one sidewalk cyclist stop at every side-street and none that stopped at every driveway. But perhaps my experience is just too limited. So while I find my own principles lie very close to yours, I would not give anyone the opportunity to read permission into my words.

      • Keri
        Keri says:

        I don’t care for absolutism. It’s not realistic. People have reasons for using the sidewalk. Sometimes it is simply fear, sometimes it’s logistical, sometimes a matter of comfort. The choice may or may not be one I (or you or someone else) would make in the same circumstances. The act itself may or may not be risky, depending on the number of intersections and driveways. We can help people understand the risks associated with it and hope they take responsibility for themselves.

        Yes, it’s true about human nature, but if the behavior produces consequences, people will eventually do something different. Sooner, if they don’t have negative associations with the alternative. To the extent they do, shows us where the work needs to be done.

        • John Schubert
          John Schubert says:

          What’s in danger of getting lost here is that the labels are generalizations for the at-risk behaviors.
          — Entering an intersection from an unexpected direction or from where you can’t be seen is dangerous.
          — Operating in a way that increases risk of colliding with a pedestrian is dangerous (a surprising number of bike/ped collisions are fatalities).
          — Riding over bad pavement on sidewalks increases the risk of a fall.
          — Et Cetera.
          It so happens that sidewalk cycling typically includes these behaviors. That’s why we call sidewalk cycling dangerous.
          An informed person can nearly eliminate these dangers — but part of doing so requires riding at a snail’s pace. Rare is the person who understands enough about cycling, and about the traffic around you, that s/he would be reasonably safe on the sidewalk, and wouldn’t also prefer the speed, convenience and safety of the road. (There can be situations — for example, to get to a store 200 feet away, upstream. In those instances, I usually walk my bike.)

  7. NE2
    NE2 says:

    I don’t know why, but when I learned to drive (about ten years ago) I knew to always come to a complete stop at the stop line (or stop sign if there’s no line), look both ways (if there’s anything to look at from the stop line), and then proceed. Thus it seems perfectly natural to me to do this.

    As for sidewalk riding, I’ll do it when traffic is heavy on suburban arterials and two-laners with few intersections. Just as when I’m rolling through a stop sign on a bike, I’m observant of all possible conflicts and prepared to stop.

    I wonder if not learning to ride a bike until high school (and riding very little for the next few years) had anything to do with my ease in picking up efficular cycling, since I had few preconceptions.

  8. NE2
    NE2 says:

    By the way, This is where I most commonly ride on the sidewalk (instead of making the two lefts to and from Apopka-Vineland, I’ll use the east sidewalk if there’s heavy traffic).

  9. JT
    JT says:

    I’m glad you posted this. I’ve nearly taken out a cyclist or two who were riding on the sidewalk while I was in an automobile.

    I don’t think it’s such a huge problem for someone who is just tooling around, but on a road bike and in dropped handlebar position, the sidewalk is probably the last place on earth a person should ride. Just take a look at these lovely pedestrian paths in Dallas!

  10. Peter Smith
    Peter Smith says:

    i’ve seen weird posts from this blog pop up in my feed reader every now and again — the usual vehicular cycling stuff — not surprising. i just want to let people know that they shouldn’t let anything deter them from riding — not ‘admonishments’ from the VC crowd, not outlaw drivers — let the haters hate. and i don’t blame people for not riding. and i don’t pile onto the underdog — i stick up for them. too bad all cycling ‘advocates’ don’t feel the same way.

    the idea that society, including all major authorities, local, federal, etc., would advocate that children ride on the sidewalks, where they are 200+% more likely to be injured, maimed, and or/killed — allegedly — is nonsensical. why would the authorities want to endanger our children even more than they already have?

    the idea that cyclists are responsible for ‘getting injured/killed’ instead of drivers being responsible for ‘injuring/killing’ is an outdated, vehicular cycling point of view — it simply lacks credibility among those of us who want to allow more people to ride safely, comfortably, conveniently, with dignity intact.

    trying to force people off sidewalks is no different than trying to force them to wear helmets — it’s only end goal is to deter cycling. if we forced pedestrians and drivers to wear helmets, as they should — if you buy any of the nonsensical arguments to force cyclists to wear helmets — we would effectively deter people from walking and driving, too.

    also, studies of Netherlands cycling data show that drivers are more likely to injure/maim/kill cyclists who use cycletracks/sidepaths, but without the cycletracks/sidepaths, nobody would be riding. The Netherlands is the safest country in the world to ride a bike. Again, you can take the vehicular cycling/Commute Orlando approach, and force everyone into the road, and you will certainly accomplish your goal of massively driving down the number of people who are afforded the opportunity to bike. or you can take the common-sensical approach to cycling policy and human rights, and allow people to bike where they want, where they are safe, where they feel safe, and start holding drivers accountable for injuring/maiming/killing. That’s what The Netherlands has started to do. We should do the same.

    most/all sidewalk studies to date have been seriously flawed and/or misinterpreted, intentionally and otherwise. for instance, bike lane opponents in NYC have used crash/injury data from a one-way street (low incidence) to prevent the creation of a bicycle-friendlier two-way street (high incidence) — the problem is that the study didn’t look at factors which actually matter, like, one-way streets are not welcoming to humans, pedestrians or cyclists, so neither type of road user goes near those roads, thus producing the lower incidence of collisions/injuries/deaths. VC folks love this type of ‘data’.

    and studies have not looked at the severity of injury/death caused by ‘get hit by an outlaw driver not stopping at a stop sign’ vs. ‘outlaw driver running you over from behind/dooring you’ types of incidents. it’s no surprise that 99% of serious cyclist injuries/deaths/murders (including incidents of road rage, harassment, etc.) occur when bikers are riding in the road.

    i don’t claim to know the intentions of this blog or its writers, but if you advocate for policies which deter cycling and keep it dangerous and frightful so that only a select few people will ever try it, then at least one of your potential achievements — intentional or otherwise — will be to deter cycling.

    looking forward to that follow-up post…

    • John Schubert
      John Schubert says:

      Sigh. What angry bile! How hideous a human being I must be, having all those mean-spirited motives Peter attributes to me.
      Lighten up, Peter. And stop telling me what I think, because you get it wrong.
      “Safety in numbers.” Aye, we can encourage people to ride on the wrong side of the road, where people can’t see them, at night, without lights, and just because more of them, the dangers of this kind of riding will disappear.
      I reconstruct accidents like this. I sit where the collision participants sat, and see what they saw. And I have only contempt for the notion that more dangerous behavior will magically make the behavior cease to be dangerous.
      Yes, it _is_ not only possible, but easy, for a cyclist to operate in a way such that he collides with a motorist who, although driving carefully, can’t avoid the collision. You’re not going to prevent that collision without changing the cyclist’s behavior. That’s an inconvenient truth to those who would put all bicycle users on some holy pedestal.

    • Shannon
      Shannon says:

      Commute Orlando is here for nothing but encouragement and education to help folks be safer out there. Nothing about this site is in the negative toward riders. Advocacy is FOR something or someone. Commute Orlando is FOR the cyclist. The authors are merely try to educate those who are willing to listen. No one here is out trying to deter anyone from getting on their bike, just the opposite. There is NOTHING wrong with explaining to someone why one method is safer than another. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found the methods to be educational and informative.

  11. Peter Smith
    Peter Smith says:

    i’m not surprised to see the semi-veiled death threat from NE2 on this site. boring, typical VC stuff.

    a more succinct way to argue for The Netherlands Model (the opposite of The Commuter Orlando Model) is to cite the Safety in Numbers studies — if you want to make cycling safer, allow more people to do it. that means, effectively, allow them to ride, among other places, where they feel safe — aka the sidewalks. what’s so compelling about this model is that you not only make cycling much safer for everyone, but you also allow….a lot more people to bike. it’s an automatic win/win, and a virtuous cycle — but it does threaten to make cycling non-exclusive.

      • NE2
        NE2 says:

        I assume that Peter thinks I’m going to go to where he lives and run him down. I can only guess about why he would believe this.

        What I meant by “I didn’t see him” was a terse reference to the fact that motorists do get off with little or no punishment upon saying these magic words. “Yawn” is, of course, the proper response to someone suggesting Netherlands-style sidepaths without Netherlands-style laws to protect their users.

        • John Schubert
          John Schubert says:

          James Mackay, the former bicycle coordinator of the city of Denver, has studied European facilities to a fare-the-well. He likens their implementation to a five-legged stool. Take away any one leg and the stool falls over. The facilities themselves are only one of the legs. Education, cultural attitude, cyclist behavior, laws, and other factors are all essential for their system.
          If you bring in just the facilities, you can’t expect success.
          And even in vaunted Europe, the facilities CAUSE serious personal injury and death. Germany had four right-hook fatalities, caused by the bike lanes / cycle tracks, in a period of about a month recently. Amsterdam had four in one year. Copenhagen, Helsinki and Berlin have all published studies describing in splendid detail the increase in accidents caused by their facilities.

  12. Rodney
    Rodney says:

    “Encouragement, Education & Advocacy for Bicycling in the Real World”

    Take a moment and reread the mission statement you just read. My Own Ignorance sums an empowered riders thirst for knowledge from neophyte to where he is today.

    Empowering cyclists is what is done best here. Being a driver of a vehicle, regardless of your mode of conveyance, requires certain knowledge and skill. If a driver is made aware of the potential risks, then they are equipped to make better and well informed decisions. You then know the potential for conflicts and can act and drive accordingly, regardless of our position….sidewalk, MUP, roadway.

    Humans, by nature, are like eternal teenagers…we think we know it all. We don’t.

    I teach an Alternative Transportation Education class. I peruse the student surveys and the overwhelming responses relate to learning pedestrian and bicycle laws. As drivers of motor vehicles, these students are oblivious to such. Many are appalled to learn a stop bar is a traffic control device. We are responsible for knowing ALL the laws that apply, not just the “Cliff Notes” version in the drivers manual.

    Operating within the dynamics of traffic creates less conflict and reduced stress travels.

    • Mighk
      Mighk says:

      To Peter:
      Rodney’s experience is but one of many. That’s what happens when you give people good information. Your admonishments on our supposed intolerance fall on mostly deaf ears because the voices thanking us for freeing them from conflict and fear are so much louder.

      The link didn’t work in Rodney’s comment; here’s the URL

  13. JT
    JT says:

    One of the other risks of sidewalk riding is that sometimes, especially in an urban environment, it can be a real obstacle course. I used to see sidewalk riders ride through this every day while commuting to East Dallas:,-96.795289&spn=0,0.001206&t=h&z=20&layer=c&cbll=32.788755,-96.795124&panoid=6A_2rjcwOMATUmn6yHx-RA&cbp=12,50.06,,0,-1.6

    And this is when there are no pedestrians around, like during lunch hour or rush hour. Also note phone poles right in the accessible curb flares.

  14. Brian Glover
    Brian Glover says:

    Keri, I just wanted to point out that 1) the “Brian” commenting above is not me, and 2) although I’ve often disagreed with you in the past, I think this post is very reasonable and agree 100%. Nice work!

    Mighk, though — I’m a little put off by this statement:

    “Often I hear from sidewalk riders, “I know I’m _supposed_ to ride on the road…” They think sidewalk cycling is “wrong” because it’s not what they’re “supposed” to do. What they need to understand is that roadway cycling is _safer_ than sidewalk cycling. But with all the fear-mongering out there about cycling (like telling vehicular cyclists to “accept the risk”), it’s hard to get that message through.”

    I’m not sure you’re getting the psychology right here. I think most people who know that they’re “supposed” to ride on the road do understand that that is the case because it’s the safest and most efficient thing to do. They get it. But they still don’t want to do it. The problems are 1) comfort and 2) social conformity. Most people will take the less safe and efficient option — even if they know it’s less safe and efficient — if it seems more comfortable (and mind you, it only needs to “seem” more comfortable). And most people aren’t willing to do anything that the majority of people aren’t willing to do, no matter how logical or effective that course of action might be. It’d be nice if people were rational animals, but my money’s on the herd instinct, every time.

    I really think Keri is right in her final paragraph: since, in most suburban environments, people do prefer to ride on the sidewalk, we’re probably best advised to accept that fact and help them understand that they need to behave like pedestrians in order to stay safe there.

    Ultimately, I do think that “like walking, only a little faster and you can carry more stuff” is more appealing to more people than “like driving a car, only a lot slower and you can’t carry as much stuff.”

    • Mighk Wilson
      Mighk Wilson says:


      I imagine you’re right, and that we both are to some degree. I find that every possible opinion is out there; the question is how many people hold which ones.

      • Mighk Wilson
        Mighk Wilson says:

        And I should add that the primary focus of CyclingSavvy is getting people to move from believing they “should” bike on the roadway, to thinking it’s preferable because it IS more comfortable (as well as safer). We give them the confidence as well as the knowledge to make that shift.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      Thanks Brian. No worries, I knew it wasn’t you. We have a number of Brians who comment here. I can tell ya’ll apart by tone and content, even without email and IP addresses 😉

      I think there is a continuum of reasons why people choose to ride on the sidewalk — ranging from people steadfastly believing they belong on the sidewalk (because road are for cars) to people who know, intellectually, that the road is where they should be, but just feel more comfortable on the sidewalk (in some environments, I can hardly blame them). There are also people who are so averse to confrontation, they will accept all manner of inconvenience to avoid the possibility of it.

      • Sue
        Sue says:

        There are other reasons, too.


        When I turn left on Bradley Ave I just go all the way across the road and left onto the sidewalk. For a quarter mile of conflict-free concrete, I cruise, and then turn right into campus.
        When it’s not plowed, I take the street. It’s four lanes — students striving to get to class on time for that right turn, but they need to pass me … and then there’s the left turns that have people slowing down in the left lane so that they can get rear-ended. Fortunately, if I’m in the road, the weather’s usually crappy enough for people to be moving more slowly.
        Is there a risk I’m not considering? I do have teh inconvenience of not having the right of way to get to the campus perimeter road, but I prefer that inconvenience to the rather real hazards on the street.
        Is there some risk I’m missing about this sidewalk?

        • NE2
          NE2 says:

          The possible risks I can think of:
          *Turning left onto Bradley: if there’s a street straight ahead, make sure nobody’s coming out of there; also make sure nobody’s on the sidewalk
          *(not a risk but an inconvenience) pedestrians have right of way on the sidewalk, and there may not be enough room for two bikes if anyone’s coming the other way
          *Along the sidewalk: if there are any driveways, make sure to slow and look in all directions to see if anyone’s going to cross the sidewalk
          *Along the sidewalk: doesn’t apply here, but on an unfamiliar sidewalk you have to assume it will be ill-maintained
          *Turning right into campus: as you say, you don’t have right of way, and need to watch for conflicts from both ways on Bradley and possibly across Bradley

          If you understand all that and accept the risk, I can see no rational objections to using the sidewalk. I would consider using it in the same situation, depending on how many driveway crossings there are and how busy the sidewalk is.

          One issue with what you say: there aren’t any real hazards on the street if you can legally use the entire right lane, and weather conditions don’t make it hard to see you. For me, whether to use the sidewalk is a question of whether I feel the need to inconvenience a bunch of other traffic, and in certain situations the sidewalk is no worse than the road for me than the road. (I’ll do the same in reverse – going to or from the local park, there’s a wide sidepath that’s more convenient than the entrance roadway, but if I see pedestrians on the path I’ll cut over to the road instead.)

  15. Sue
    Sue says:

    Beauty and condescension are in the eyes of the beholder. Check and see how often your reply to a post is to the tune of “You’re not one of us, then, are you?” in its assorted shapes (I must be a sidewalk rider, I must not really be familiar with controlling my lane… and absolutely zero, zilch nada to support that actually dead wrong assumption). Oh, but me *calling* you on it — that’s nonproductive.
    WHen I first perused assorted boards about cycling, I inferred based on sites like this one that people rode in the road Because THey Had a Right To… with pride in their assertiveness that looked much more like aggression to the uninitiated, and the same “you must do it ALL THE TIME starting NOW!!!! approach. Therefore, I didn’t; but then learned better … from people who respected my experience and input, too. People who weren’t afraid to listen — or afraid to ride on a sidewalk for fear of being excommunicated.
    Your fundamentalism has its place… and inspired me several times this week to use sidewalks and side paths I normally eschew.

    • John Schubert,
      John Schubert, says:

      Sue, here you give a totally unfair description of Keri’s post, her follow-up comments, her supporters’ follow-up comments, and everything else I read on CommuteOrlando.
      Some things are safer than others. Not smoking is safer than smoking. Eating tofu is safer than eating bacon. Wiring your house with modern GFI circuitry is safer than knob-and-tube wiring.
      I’ve replaced some of the wiring in my house, but not all of it. I wouldn’t be offended if you came and showed me wiring problems I’ve overlooked. Why should cycling be any different?
      So you tell me: Keri has set forth an excellent analysis of sight lines and accidents in the making. The more people know that, the better they’ll be at riding safely. Just how do you suggest we present that information without bruising that extremely thin skin of yours?

      • Sue
        Sue says:

        Please read my posts more closely. I was not describing Keri’s post, which has a perfectly reasonable tone. I am not Peter.

        However, Keri’s isn’t the only voice on this site. THe responses to Peter could have gone in many directions, including “what did you find admonishing about it?”

        Oh, what was it you were saying about not minding if people pointed out problems? Did you really mean it? If so, consider:

        As I already mentioned… an extremely common response to anyone with a different perspective is “You must be a sidewalk rider;” I’ve gotten that kind of response and … I’m not. I *love* the videos on this site. I *love* the content and the message.

        I *hate* that people who could be riding more safely aren’t, because they are — not could be, but *are* — turned off by the folks who don’t have Keri’s acceptance of other perspectives.

        I considered the “sampling size error” possibilities and maybe I had a skewed viewpoint based on my first interactions with people on this site… but that sample size as increased and the “Just how do you suggest we present that information without bruising that extremely thin skin of yours?” … but of course, you’re *not* being condescending, EVER. There is NOTHING condescending on this site.

        • Sue
          Sue says:

          Duly note that none of your examples of where you’d listen to others has anything to do with bicycling.
          Duly note that you p;ut out examples of differing dangers thatare extreme. Frankly, it would be condescending of *me* to tell you, as if you didn’t actually know, that the implicit message there is “you obviously just don’t *get* it. Danger. Do you know what it is??” And that is condescending.
          to Keri: Considering the original article, the reason I felt some agreement with Peter’s stand that it was an admonition was that the “this is not an admonition” was set aside, in italics, with the admission that oh, sometimes Keri gets on the sidewalk… when it’s horribly inconvenient. The idea that it might ever, ever, ever actually be safer than the road is not entertained; the implication is that she is surrendering to a bad impulse and exchanging convenience for danger when she does get on the sidewalk… can you tell me how that’s not an admonition? Guess what? Sayhing ‘I don’t mean this as…” doesn’t change what it is. It’s like saying “I’m not making an ethnic slur, but Splonchians sure don’t know anything about hygiene!”

          • John Schubert,
            John Schubert, says:

            Sue, the people in danger from sidewalk riding are different from me and you.
            They’re people who would NEVER spend as much time as you have, thinking about the topic. (From your discussion of a specific street you ride, it’s obvious that you know this stuff cold. You know where the hazards are and how to avoid them.)
            It’s difficult to get people to pay any attention to bike safety, because it seems like such a dull topic full of self-evident bromides (“Wear your helmet.” “Be careful.”) Since one of those bromides is “stay out of the way,” the sidewalk seems like an excellent way to obey that bromide. But the bromide followers don’t know about intersection conflicts, so they unwittingly put themselves in danger.
            My first priority is to keep them safe. That comes ahead of being their friend, of getting them to like me, or of increasing bicycle mode share. My chosen method of keeping them safe is to inform them of where the dangers are, and how they can make themselves safe.
            No one has the mental energy to learn everything. We all rely on others to do our thinking for us, which is why people hire accountants, carpenters and mechanics to do things we could do for ourselves. But you can’t hire someone to operate your vehicle for you.
            This isn’t a problem for car drivers who follow the vehicle code. The so-called “rules of the road,” although written by mankind, function more like a remarkable set of natural laws that (a) predate the motor vehicle, (b) do a superb job of accounting for human limitations, and (c) accommodate a mix of vehicle types. While the rules of the road don’t promise absolute safety, they function quite well. And rare is the crash that can’t be attributed to a rule violation.
            We all know people who don’t give a lot of thought to sight triangles and intersection conflicts, and who drive their cars accident-free for decades on end. That’s a pretty good record.
            We also know very intelligent cyclists who have died by following bicycle facilities’ bad messages. Amherst graduate Alice Swanson got killed in a coffin corner bike lane. Doctoral candidate Dana rode in a door zone bike lane and was killed in a dooring crash. Kimberly Sparling, a college student, died in a collision much like Swanson’s. My point is that these were all clearly brilliant people, but that they didn’t ‘get’ the mechanics of traffic law. And I mean that as no insult. Some people pick up on this intuitively; some don’t. And whether people do pick up on it intuitively seems to not correlate with any other measure of intelligence or occupation.
            Bicyclists who follow traffic rules have good safety. Unfortunately, in our society, the only cyclists who will get the benefits of following these rules are the ones who, like you and me, study all this stuff.
            Rare is the sidewalk rider who understands all this, or who is interested in learning it. And the sidewalk rider who clings to “other perspectives” and rejects new information is not going to be safe.

    • Sue
      Sue says:

      (Duly note: This site does a better job of addressing this problem than the posts, etc. I’d read that taught me things I had to unlearn… and it could be that it’s the nature of “online posting” that brings out the fundamentalism. It’s clear that many of the articles, etc. *try* — and usually succeed — in getting that “No, I’m not out here because I’m a road warrior!!! It’s safer and even feels a whole lot more comfortable and less stressful!” message out. )

  16. Bob Sutterfield
    Bob Sutterfield says:

    I saw this scenario develop even more fully this morning.

    I was eastbound on Pollard (, approaching the spot where Weldwood intersects from the right. A white van was northbound on Weldwood, waiting to turn westbound on Pollard, stoppped with its front tires well in front of the stop bar so the driver could see traffic in both directions. A car was westbound on Pollard, waiting in the left-turn pocket for a gap in eastbound traffic, so he could turn southbound on Weldwood.

    Approaching the intersection, I was riding far enough left in my lane that no eastbound traffic was overtaking me. The car in the left-turn pocket saw the gap ahead of me, and accelerated to turn left onto Weldwood.

    As he was partway through his turn, a westbound cyclist – apparently riding contra-flow on the sidewalk on the south side of Pollard – appeared from behind the van. He was moving maybe 10mph, about average for sidewalk cyclists. I had a better vantage so I saw the cyclist before the car driver saw him, and I steeled myself for the worst. The motorist braked hard and his passengers’ heads nodded suddenly forward. The cyclist flinched to the left, braked, and paused pedaling, then resumed pedaling and steered around the car’s nose which was by then stopped across his intended path.

    The cyclist shouted some rude curses at the motorist, and went on his way – continuing his pace contra-flow on the sidewalk. I had already moved farther left in my lane, so I continued on my way around the back of the stopped car.

    What happened here? The van screened the contra-flow sidewalk cyclist from the turning motorist, so even if the motorist had been trying to focus some attention to traffic in that location traveling in that direction, he wouldn’t have seen the cyclist. Did the cyclist knowingly accept the risk? Apparently not, since he acted surprised and angry with the turning motorist – directing at least some blame toward him.

  17. Fred Oswald
    Fred Oswald says:

    Hi All,

    In my 24 years of riding to work and to most other moderate-distance destinations in the Cleveland area, all but one of my “close calls” have been with other bicycle users, most of them riding on sidewalks.

    I nearly hit a girl riding with traffic when she was passing in my blind spot as I turned right when a traffic light turned green. I nearly whacked a guy riding counterflow on the sidewalk where my street intersects US 42. And I had a near head-on on a very dark street with a jerk riding wrong-way with no lights. (This last on a quiet residential street with no sidewalk.) In all cases, I was driving a bicycle.

    Sidewalk cyclists put others at risk. And I did not even mention pedestrians above — the people who **belong** on a sidewalk.

    And in case you wonder about the one close call not involving a bicycle user — it was a left cross by a guy turning into a pizza shop who did not notice me (broad daylight and I wear bright clothes). For that one emergency braking came in very handy.

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