SIDEWALK CYCLING TRAGEDY
A couple of weeks ago I was reading the Post and a small article in the Local Digest caught my attention: “Cyclists, 16, fatally struck during a ride.” When I read further I found that, according to police, the young man had been riding on the sidewalk in Gaithersburg and fell from his bicycle, landing in the adjacent street where he was hit by oncoming traffic. A real tragedy. I don’t know Gaithersburg sidewalks, especially in the area of North Summit Avenue where he fell into the street and was hit. But I can’t help but wonder if he would be alive today if he’d learned to ride properly in the street and walk his bike on the sidewalks like I did when I was younger than he.
Athough this tragedy is an an extreme example, it reinforced the point that it is more dangerous for bicyclists to ride on the sidewalks than on the streets (provided they obey traffic rules there). You may remember an early post I did entitled “Ode to Adam” in which my neighbor broke his leg when he was riding on the sidewalk, turned a corner and met an immovable obstacle he hadn’t planned on. Other bicyclists have been injured in similar ways because sidewalks are not designed for bike riding as The Guide for Development of Bicycle Facilities, published by the American Association of State Highway Transportation Facilities, explains:
Sidewalks are typically designed for pedestrian speeds and maneuverability and are not safe for higher speed bicycle use. Conflicts [meaning “accidents”] are common between pedestrians traveling at low speeds (exiting stores, parked cars, etc.) and bicyclists, as are conflicts with fixed objects (e.g. parking meters, utility poles, sign posts, bus benches, trees, fire hydrants, mail boxes, etc.). [in addition] pedestrians often have difficulty predicting the directions an oncoming bicyclist will take.”
WABA IS NOT BEING STRAIGHT WITH DC BICYCLISTS
WABA, the bicyclists’ lobby, used to have a similar warning as above in its booklet, Safe Bicycling in the Washington Area. Under the heading “Sidewalks and Pedestrians” in the chapter “Traffic Basics” the paragraph opened with:
Sidewalks are not suitable places to ride bicycles; sidewalks are designed for the slower speeds of pedestrians, not the faster speeds of bicyclists. In fact sidewalk riding is illegal in many areas…
Unfortunately, as WABA became more and more a lobby for more bike lanes and more rules favoring bicyclists, it became less the helpful member of the community giving good advice to bicyclists, especially new bicyclists. So they did not upload that manual to their website or offer any similar warnings. When I commented to then director Shane Farthing, he answered that they did not have the publisher’s permission, which, of course, would not have stopped WABA from writing up its own warning as part of a brief statement of do’s and don’ts for bicyclists.
Before writing this post, I checked the WABA site again, to see if things had improved. I found instead they’d only got worse. There is on that website a new(Sept. 2015) “Pocket Guide to DC Bike Laws”, co-sponsored amazingly by the MPD and DDOT. Neither of these government agencies must have read or thought through the implications of their endorsement. (More on this in a future post) Don’t get me wrong, there is some good info, like emphasizing in the Q and A’s on Traffic Law that bicyclists have to ride with traffic not against it and must stop at red lights and stop signs.
BUT this “Pocket Guide” does not emphasize bicyclists’ responsibility to yield to pedestrians on the sidewalk and in crosswalks. That responsibility is buried at the end of sections. For example, the answer to the question “Who has the right-of-way in a crosswalk?” begins ” According to DC code Section 1201.11, a bicyclist in a crosswalk has all the rights and responsibilities as a pedestrian in a crosswalk, though cyclists must yield right-of-way to pedestrians…”
As to whether it is legal to ride on the sidewalk , all of the cautionary language regarding dangers from the earlier pamphlet is gone. Instead the answer begins with non-bolded language: “While not recommended safe cycling practice in most instances” The the answer continues with what the entitled group of rogue bicyclists really want to hear: “DC Code states that cyclists are allowed to ride on the sidewalk as long as they are outside the central business district.” There followed a description of CBD boundaries and the added plum that, even within the CBD, bicycling is allowed on lands under National Park Service jurisdiction like Lafayette Park, Farragut Square Park, the National Mall and Dupont Circle. Finally the last sentence of this long paragraph mentions those pesky pedestrians by saying “However, if cyclists do ride on the sidewalk they must yield to pedestrians.” Nothing in the paragraph or elsewhere is there any explanation of the very real dangers to cyclists of riding on the sidewalk.
This new “Pocket Guide” , emphasizing more bicyclists’ rights than their responsibility for themselves as well as others, misleads bicyclists who rely on it and it alone to judge how dangerous certain behaviors might be, especially riding on the sidewalks. As a person who is both a cyclists and a pedestrian and who usually walks to work, I say to bicyclists: Avoid riding on the sidewalks at all costs. Every day that I walk to work, I notice uneven sidewalks, big foot-sized holes in concrete and numerous obstructions that would be a real danger to me if I were riding a bicycle rather than walking because even going slowly, I would be riding too fast to easily avoid these pitfalls–if I saw them in time.
SO, PLEASE, FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY, RIDE YOUR BIKE ONLY ON THE STREET AND WALK YOUR BIKE WHEN YOU MUST USE THE SIDEWALK.
And to all–Have a Happy Fourth of July. And, remember, STAY ALERT, DON’T GET HURT!