Pedal Points: safe riding on the roads

  • May. 11, 2011 4:00 p.m.

l in most municipalities (Sooke included), many people ride their bicycles on the sidewalk, either for convenience or fear of traffic on the road. However, by riding on the sidewalk, cyclists can make themselves more vulnerable to an accident than might be readily apparent. Many collisions between cyclists and motor vehicles occur at intersections of sidewalks and parking lots, driveways and cross streets.

Often people ride the sidewalk going the opposite direction to the normal traffic flow, which presents a problem for vehicles pulling out of driveways or coming up to intersections.

As car drivers, what direction do we first look when approaching a cross road? Usually to the left. That is where we expect vehicles to be coming from. We don’t expect a cyclist to be approaching from our right side, so we might not see them until it is too late, particularly if they are moving with any speed. Even with same direction traffic, a cyclist on the sidewalk is out of a motorist’s normal field of view and vulnerable to collision when the car turns onto a cross street and the cyclist enters that street. (no matter which direction they are riding). See diagrams.

There have been studies done showing that it can be twice as dangerous riding on the sidewalk than riding on the road.

The other reason for not riding on a sidewalk is for pedestrian safety and comfort. Don’t underestimate the potential to harm a pedestrian with a bicycle. Even if you have complete control of your bicycle and don’t hit anyone, it makes some pedestrians (particularly the elderly) nervous having to share a sidewalk with a bike.

One of the challenges that many communities have (Sooke is certainly no exception) is that the roads are not safe for cyclists due to a lack of bike lanes or wide shoulders, debris, poor pavement and high speed motor traffic, so people elect to use the sidewalk.

Some municipalities have bylaws that allow cyclists with wheel diameters of 24” or less to use the sidewalk (i.e.; children’s bikes).  Even with good bike lanes or shoulders it might not be a good idea to let your child ride on the road due to traffic volume, speed etc.

There are also times when a cyclist wants to ride a very short distance down the road, but in order to follow traffic flow they would have to cross the line of traffic, only to cross back again a very short distance later. This puts them in much more danger than simply staying on the sidewalk to go against the traffic flow and getting to their destination in a much more direct line. I certainly do this at times. After all, it is a bicycle and should have some more flexibility and advantage over driving a car!

 

So, here we see some reasons people riding bikes might want to use the sidewalk. In this case there are a few things we can do to make it as safe as possible, for everyone. First, and often the best option is to get off and walk your bike, particularly if there are pedestrians using the sidewalk. Did you know it is also illegal to ride your bike across a pedestrian crosswalk? If you feel the need to stay on your bike, move slowly and under control with due regard to intersections, driveways and other sidewalk users. Remember that pedestrians often stop or turn suddenly and can turn right into a cyclist. If somebody gets hurt you can count on the cyclists being the one held responsible in this case.

I have seen many instances where pedestrians and cyclists can use the same piece of pavement safely and efficiently, but that involves using common sense and courtesy. Nowadays we often see mobility scooters using the sidewalks, and in my mind they are vulnerable to the same dangers as a cyclist on the sidewalk, so these same procedures should apply to them. We also have to remember that even though we are riding in a safe and courteous manner we might upset some pedestrians by our presence on the sidewalk with a bicycle, because legally, we shouldn’t be there. Unfortunately there are also some people who believe people on bicycles shouldn’t be travelling on the road either! This is not true. A bicycle has the right to be on all roads except some highways posted as such.

To sum it all up, it is usually much safer to ride on the road than on the sidewalk, but don’t do anything your instincts tell you is not safe. Take a course on safe cycling to help give you confidence riding on the road if you are uncomfortable with it.

If you feel you must ride on the sidewalk, use common sense, courtesy and beware of the traps that this can lead you into, and be prepared to defend your actions to law enforcement officials if need be.

Remember to:

Think ahead;

Use common sense;

Be aware of your surroundings;

Make yourself visible and act like you are invisible;

Make your intentions known, be predictable and make eye contact with drivers;

Be courteous, smile and have fun!

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