August 13, 2010
A few days ago, as I was cranking my way home from 25 miles of biking, I caught a snippet of a yell from a car that passed me. “–On the sidewalk!”. Although in 90% of the cases where people try to communicate something to me from the window of a moving car I fail to comprehend them, I can guess what the intent behind this one was.
I have friends who complain about cyclists riding on the streets. To them, the only reason someone would ride in the street when a sidewalk is available is to make the motorists angry, which makes them angry. I understand this. It’s inconvenient to slow down for a bicycle, and often difficult to pass one. However, as an across-town cyclist, I want to explain some of the reasons for riding on the street, even when that street has a sidewalk. So, if you see me riding down the road, this is why.
3. Sidewalks are typically poor conditions for riding. If you’ve ever walked on one, you can probably envision what I mean. Sidewalks are most often composed of concrete squares which, after a few years of weathering and settling typically fall out of alignment, creating a series of steep bumps and drops. While this is not such a huge issue for mountain and bmx bicycles, hybrids and especially road-bikes have a greater difficulty handling them. Furthermore, crossing streets from a sidewalk path often means hopping at least one curb, and a bad curb hop can lead to a flat tire or worse.
2. Technically (and legally), the sidewalk is for pedestrians. When people bike on the sidewalk, not only are they unwelcome, but they are a potential danger to pedestrians. When given the choice between endangering pedestrians and inconveniencing motorists, I tend to choose the latter. There is an exception to this, however. The newer, extremely wide sidewalks (we have many in and around Lee’s Summit) are especially designed to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians. They are wide enough for a cyclist to safely pass a pedestrian, without forcing either off the path. There is still the danger of injuring a pedestrian, but this is reduced as the sidewalk is widened.
1. Finally, the number one reason I ride on the street is this: we need more bicycles on the roads. That’s right. I know it’s inconvenient and sometimes dangerous as a motorist to deal with cyclists, and the same certainly applies to cyclists dealing with motorists. However, the more we mix the two, the better each side will be at dealing with the other. Essentially, the more bicycles on the roads, the safer it will be for cyclists on the roads, because both the motorists and the cyclists will be more experienced at handling the situation.