Greater Greater Washington

Some are pushing to limit sidewalk cycling

People riding bicycles often feel threatened by the minority of rude drivers who get impatient at having to wait behind a slow vehicle and pass too closely, honk, or turn without looking. People walking also feel threatened by a rude minority of bicycle riders who ride quickly on a sidewalk without regard for pedestrians. What should we do?


Photo by Karl-Ludwig G. Poggemann on Flickr.

Some residents are trying to push for new laws that limit bicycling on sidewalks, an InTowner editorial reports. In DC, it's not legal to ride on sidewalks south of Massachusetts Avenue in the central business district; some cities outlaw riding on sidewalks entirely.

Truly, a few people are behaving badly. Someone on a bike was riding fairly quickly past my pregnant wife and myself as we were crossing through Dupont Circle; he suddenly swerved and very nearly hit her. Perhaps something must be done. On the other hand, any cyclist can recount experiences almost being hit by an inattentive driver. If the driver does hit the cyclist, very little is done.

The InTowner is concerned about people:

zooming along sidewalks and not giving warning or careening around a corner into a one-way street but going in opposite direction so that pedestrians who are crossing and looking in the direction of on-coming traffic are blindsided by a speeding cyclist coming from the unexpected, wrong direction.
I would have few objections to a measure that specifically stops these behaviors. The bigger question is, how can we differentiate them from times that sidewalk cycling is not hurting anyone?

There are many places in the city that simply feel too inhospitable, especially to a less experienced cyclist. More cycle tracks and bike lanes can fix that. In the meantime, a ban on sidewalk riding even in these harrowing areas will simply push more people to drive.

The Logan Circle ANC passed a resolution asking the District Department of Transportation to analyze potential changes to the law, like:

a. Expanding the area in which riding bicycles on sidewalks is prohibited to streets where (i) population density or infrastructure limitations make it unsafe for pedestrians, (ii) bike lanes are already available for bicyclists, (iii) other factors that, in DDOT's view, support extending the prohibition and that (iv) recommends limited exemptions for the public's safety, such as bicyclists 12 yrs old and under;

b. Reducing the speed limit for bikes traveling on sidewalks;

c. Whether existing penalties encourage compliance with the law.

To the ANC's credit, these are pretty narrow requests; they're not pushing for a blanket ban. Where sidewalks are particularly crowded, and also there are bike lanes, it's particularly nonsensical to ride on the sidewalk. (The other day, I saw someone riding on the sidewalk on L Street, on the same side of the street as the cycle track, in the same direction. What the heck?)

However, there are many legitimate reasons at times to ride slowly along sidewalks, give pedestrians a wide berth, and only carefully edge around corners. The biggest justifiable reason, in my experience, is one-way streets. In past decades, we've made streets one way to speed motor vehicle traffic, but that presents large obstacles to cyclists, especially when the routes in the other direction are especially bike-unfriendly.

Contraflow lanes, like the ones DDOT is planning next to H Street NE, can address many of these problems. There need to be many more of these to make people feel safe while cycling, however. We could use them on 17th Street in Dupont, a one-way street with very narrow and crowded sidewalks and at best poor alternatives.

Two years ago, I suggested a common-sense rule for sidewalk riding:

Ride on the sidewalk if you don't feel comfortable on the street, or if it's one-way the wrong way, but NOT if the sidewalk is crowded.

If you do ride on the sidewalk, assume that all pedestrians are inviolate. It's their sidewalk, not yours; you are a guest. You can use it as long as you don't get in their way.

Treat them like they are...say...zombies. Pedestrians move slowly, and you can't make them change direction, but you absolutely don't want to touch them.

Is there any way to put this into law? Probably not. Is there any law that would curb the worst behaviors without making okay behavior illegal?

Meanwhile, if we're talking about ways the law doesn't reflect our expectations, cyclists can give plenty of examples. If we're trying to make the laws of our streets prescribe reasonable rules for all modes, then let's not just make more cycling illegal, but actually fix the laws to not shoehorn cycling into the same box as driving.

Pedestrians want to feel safe on the sidewalks. That's reasonable. Cyclists want to have a way to get around and feel safe, too. Both are worthwhile motivations. We need to find solutions that to ensure everyone feels safe, not just have one group of vulnerable road users try to attack the rights of another, different group. Is there a solution?

David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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The effectiveness of laws on sidewalk cycling are limited while we do little to protect cyclists and pedestrians from bad drivers. As if to make this point, we had a large number of pedestrians seriously injured by a van near Union Station this morning.

by SJE on Jun 19, 2013 2:57 pm • linkreport

There are a number of streets in DC where even I, a very experienced vehicular cylist, will often use the sidewlk instead of the street because of a particular confluence of factors: streets that are two lanes in each direction, with no parking lane and no shoulder, and a speed limit in excess of 25 mph. Those roads tend to create big speed mismatches and have inadequate traffic calming, so that drivers are unprepared and unwilling to accomodate cyclists. 16th Street and Mass. Ave. to the east of Wisconsin have those attributes.

by Crickey7 on Jun 19, 2013 2:57 pm • linkreport

"More cycle tracks and bike lanes can fix that."

Ack. Not so fast. Why the focus on more more more, without looking at the police? If you do not bring the police and their behavior and tendencies into the equation you will not solve this, or improve it.

"In the meantime, a ban on sidewalk riding even in these harrowing areas will simply push more people to drive."

I think that is a huge leap, and I do not agree. Not that I necessarily agree with a ban on sidewalk riding but I don't agree with your reasoning.

It's the streets that are unsafe that force cyclists onto sidewalks. There is the first problem. Solve that first.

Don't antagonize unnecessarily with more more more. I'm not against more cycle zones, but without enforcement of laws, you won't fix the problem of dangerous street riding, with or without cycle zones. And, again (100th time) public eduction.

by Jazzy on Jun 19, 2013 3:05 pm • linkreport

(The other day, I saw someone riding on the sidewalk on L Street, on the same side of the street as the cycle track, in the same direction. What the heck?)

People do this on E Street in Penn Quarter--where it's already illegal--with some frequency, riding on the sidewalk instead of in the bike lane. It's infuriating and dangerous.

by worthing on Jun 19, 2013 3:13 pm • linkreport

Personally I don't think there is a solution that fits everyone's needs, but practicing common sense and respect for others really goes a long way. I question the need for more laws (in an already bloated vehicle code) that are difficult if not impossible to enforce.

by Scoot on Jun 19, 2013 3:14 pm • linkreport

Probably need a speed limit, a 2-foot safe passing buffer when passing pedestrians, and a requirement to ride with the flow of traffic.

Since the existing law is not really enforced, I see little harm with extending where it applies--the law mainly establishes norms. A requirement to ride with the flow even while on a sidewalk might be a useful education tool.

by JimT on Jun 19, 2013 3:16 pm • linkreport

E = MC[2]

This is why cycling on sidewalks should be controlled. Even though bicycles don't travel as fast as cars, they do travel significantly faster than pedestrians. They create a significant hazard for pedestrians.

I like the Logan Circle ANC approach. If a cyclist wants to bike on the sidewalk, the cyclist should slow his/her velocity to a point where it is less dangerous for pedestrians. If that means the cyclist *walks* his/her bike for a short period (quelle horreur!), so be it.

Also - and this is an easy fix - if a cyclist is coming up on a pedestrian on a sidewalk, said cyclist should make some noise! Even without headphones, which I rarely wear anyway for other safety reasons, in the general din of city noise, I cannot always hear an approaching cyclist. Use a bell, call out "on your left" - there are many very simple ways to address the problem.

The bottom line is that the onus to ensure is on the cyclist on the sidewalk, because the cyclist is the source of the potential danger.

by Sebastian Townview on Jun 19, 2013 3:19 pm • linkreport

Agreed that better facilities and better enforcement (Jazzy's point) goes a long way to simply eliminating the problem. The rest relies on courtesy.

Broader point that I've noticed recently is how people view cyclists who ride past them. I've started to wonder how many people I've rode by seamlessly, noting where they were and their movement (or lack thereof, say they're waiting on a signal change) and they perceived it as me whooshing by them without a care for their safety. Now obviously I don't want to challege David's story of the guy flying by his wife because I wasn't there and I've certainly felt like a Slalom obstacle before as well.

I say all this because people bring up the harrowing nature of cyclists on sidewalks but instances of actual collisions seem rare, though I'm welcome to numbers that would prove me wrong. But at the moment my sense is that the feeling of close calls is more of a feeling than what you could actually measure and define as a close call.

by drumz on Jun 19, 2013 3:20 pm • linkreport

The other day, I saw someone riding on the sidewalk on L Street, on the same side of the street as the cycle track, in the same direction. What the heck?)

Person on bike just unlocked bike from spot on sidewalk and was riding to end of block where s/he could then enter the bike lane at the intersection? I've don't this...

by Tina on Jun 19, 2013 3:23 pm • linkreport

^^I've DONE this..."^^

by Tina on Jun 19, 2013 3:25 pm • linkreport

Also I find it interesting that downtown is where the sidewalks are widest yet cycling is illegal there. Yet in many DC neighborhoods where its difficult to walk 2 abreast on the sidewalk it's open season for riding.

by drumz on Jun 19, 2013 3:26 pm • linkreport

Tina: I should have clarified that I saw him ride across an intersection along the L Street sidewalk. In other words, he was on one block of L, and I saw him stay on the sidewalk onto a 2nd block, in the direction of the cycle track.

If he'd just unlocked his bike, it would make sense to ride to the next driveway entrance or corner on the sidewalk, sure, but he clearly didn't. I guess it's possible he was just going to park his bike again on that block for some reason - maybe he worked on one block and was eating on the next? But it didn't seem that way.

by David Alpert on Jun 19, 2013 3:31 pm • linkreport

What is the legal passing distance for a cyclists on a sidewalk?

Drivers have a legally defined passing requirement for cyclists to ensure cyclists safety.

What is the cyclists passing requirement to ensure the pedestrians safety?

Bikes on sidewalks should have a speed limit that is much lower than the road. The fact that a cyclist has the same speed limit on 2 very different travelways is repulsive.

by anonanon on Jun 19, 2013 3:32 pm • linkreport

Is Georgetown considered part of the Central Business district? I saw a police officer order a biker off the sidewalk and told him he needed to ride in the street (it was on M Street). Incidentally, it was the guy (who many may have seen) that rode a really-really souped-up bike extremely fast down M everyday - so maybe the cop just got tired of him or had many complaints.

by Shipsa01 on Jun 19, 2013 3:32 pm • linkreport

Scoot, my point is that the mindset of our police force is one of the biggest factors that we have up to now been trying to act like is unimportant. It is not. Imagine, just imagine, if we felt like police were on the side of pedestrians and cyclists as much as car drivers. I do not feel that way now. But imagine if I did.

What a beautiful world it would be.

by Jazzy on Jun 19, 2013 3:33 pm • linkreport

Well it can be quite annoying but in general I haven't found sidewalk cycling to be that problematic for me as a ped. The issue is that some roads (16th St/ Mass/ etc) are still pretty inhospitable for anyone but bold cyclists. It annoys me though when I see people do it on a side street or minor arterial where you could easily ride in the travel lanes even when there isnt a bike lane. I don't really support a ban though since I don't feel it actually deals with the underlying issue which is that many roads continue to be unsafe for cycling.

by Alan B. on Jun 19, 2013 3:34 pm • linkreport

I say all this because people bring up the harrowing nature of cyclists on sidewalks but instances of actual collisions seem rare, though I'm welcome to numbers that would prove me wrong. But at the moment my sense is that the feeling of close calls is more of a feeling than what you could actually measure and define as a close call.

That's certainly possible, but if people don't feel safe, they don't feel safe. I've lost count of how many times I've been riding a bicycle and passed too closely by a driver ... they've never hit me, so does that mean what they're doing is not dangerous or doesn't deserve to be prohibited?

Collisions between pedestrians and drivers are very rare as well, but that doesn't seem to stop the very reasonable calls for more enforcement on bad driver behavior.

by Scoot on Jun 19, 2013 3:34 pm • linkreport

I'd agree w/ Jazzy that not mentioning police enforcement is a major oversight. It's non-existent unless you're hit, and even then it's like pulling teeth (Evan Wilder anyone?? That's as blatant as it gets as far as motorists assaulting cyclists). Get some serious enforcement, and you'll get more cyclists comfortable cycling on road.

Also this paragraph: The other day, I saw someone riding on the sidewalk on L Street, on the same side of the street as the cycle track, in the same direction. What the heck?

The heck is that, while L has undoubtedly become safer for cyclists, it's still incredibly hostile. DDOT has done an atrocious job of maintaining it. Most of the bollards at each block entrance are still (again?) missing. The vast majority of bollards after the mixing zones are gone (there are 2! at 16 and L) and green paint aint protection and drivers routinely can't be bothered to stay off even that, leaving very little room to get by and often forcing cyclists to the right (and closer to traffic proceeding straight)! The bollards that are in place on the rest of the block are too far apart and do nothing to keep cars from merging into the lane if traffic is backed up. Drivers make the decision to enter bike lanes on the spur of the moment, when they realize they can't make it into the mixing zone, and don't signal intent. There is still rampant speeding and rampant hand-held cell phone use and lots of lane changing and hard acceleration to make the lane changes. Let's not forget the constant parking and standing issues that are well documented. It's still not a place for anyone other than hard(er) core cyclists. So um..yeah...that's what the heck.

by thump on Jun 19, 2013 3:37 pm • linkreport

"Pedestrian pace in a pedestrian space."

by Matt O'Toole on Jun 19, 2013 3:38 pm • linkreport

Drivers have a legally defined passing requirement for cyclists to ensure cyclists safety.

...which is never enforced, even when it happens in sight of an officer or when MPD is presented w/ clear video evidence. If it was, more people would choose the road.

by thump on Jun 19, 2013 3:39 pm • linkreport

"Pedestrian pace in a pedestrian space."

Matt O'Toole FTW!

by Sebastian Townview on Jun 19, 2013 3:40 pm • linkreport

There is no speed limit for bikes on the sidewalk, nor is there a speed limit for joggers or segways, skateboarders or rollerbladers. The only rule is that you operate with deference to other users.

Honestly I don't think this problem will be helped with more rules. The current rules are barely enforced and rules on the books already allow police to give you a ticket for biking like a jackass on the sidewalk.

by MLD on Jun 19, 2013 3:41 pm • linkreport

AMEN @Matt O'Toole! I think all but the "F-U, I'm on a bike" crowd can get behind that.

by thump on Jun 19, 2013 3:42 pm • linkreport

Drumz says: "...I find it interesting that downtown is where the sidewalks are widest yet cycling is illegal there. Yet in many DC neighborhoods where its difficult to walk 2 abreast on the sidewalk it's open season for riding."

The width of the sidewalk should not equate with where sidewalk cycling is permitted. Just because you're north of Mass doesn't make sidewalk cycling automatic. 17th Street between Q and R? Hell to the no.

While we're at it, if cyclists want to ride on the streets then obey the rules of the road, like stopping at red lights while pedestrians have the green light instead of blowing right through. This is NOT uncommon.

by daveb59 on Jun 19, 2013 3:48 pm • linkreport

"Pedestrian pace in a pedestrian space."

This. Really all the instruction anyone needs.

While we're at it, if cyclists want to ride on the streets then obey the rules of the road, like stopping at red lights while pedestrians have the green light instead of blowing right through. This is NOT uncommon.

You must be new here.

by MLD on Jun 19, 2013 3:49 pm • linkreport

scoot,

Fair enough, perception is perception. But as was noted we at least have a legal definition of safe distance between a bike and car that we don't have for bike/ped. I guess the problem is how do we define and then enforce that.

by drumz on Jun 19, 2013 3:51 pm • linkreport

"Drivers have a legally defined passing requirement for cyclists to ensure cyclists safety.
...which is never enforced, even when it happens in sight of an officer or when MPD is presented w/ clear video evidence. If it was, more people would choose the road.
"

So what? You're complaint then is with MPD. The law gives you coverage. Where is the coverage for pedestrians?

Cyclists get to choose sidewalk or road, depending on their "safety". Pedestrians cannot chose.

by anonanon on Jun 19, 2013 3:56 pm • linkreport

E = MC[2]

I think you mean F=Ma[2]. Sorry, the former physics teacher in me had to butt in.

by David C on Jun 19, 2013 4:06 pm • linkreport

People bicycling on the sidewalk really, really get on my nerves. They're taking up more space than they're entitled to.

On the other hand, I do frequently hop onto the sidewalk on my bicycle to ride the remaining 20 feet between the curb and my front door. I'd like to think that I hop off my bike the instant I see an oncoming pedestrian, and I probably do 90% of the time, but there may be a couple times when I bike past them.

by JustMe on Jun 19, 2013 4:07 pm • linkreport

The Mayor has the power to ban cycling on any block as long as it is signed. Probably many things are needed.

1. Better on-road bicycling facilities
2. More education and social enforcement
3. More actual enforcement on the worst behavior
4. Markings on sidewalks where sidewalk cycling is banned so that cyclists know

That said, I don't mind banning sidewalk cycling during Tuesday afternoon rush hour, but it seems silly to do it on a lazy Saturday morning. Perhaps we ban it all times, but leave it unenforced when that makes sense.

by David C on Jun 19, 2013 4:12 pm • linkreport

Dammit. F=ma. Not F=ma[2]. You made me briefly confused.

by David C on Jun 19, 2013 4:13 pm • linkreport

@David C: I think you mean P=m*v, or perhaps KE = 1/2 M * V^2

by Michael Perkins on Jun 19, 2013 4:17 pm • linkreport

@David C, Michael Perkins: Yeah the speed of light generally won't be an issue unless you're talking about MD commuters on Rock Creek Parkway.

by Steve S. on Jun 19, 2013 4:19 pm • linkreport

No, the energy or momentum don't matter to me. It's the force I'm worried about (look what it did to Annakin).

Steve, good one.

by David C on Jun 19, 2013 4:23 pm • linkreport

Dammit is right David C: are cyclists now scoffing at the laws of physics too?

by SJE on Jun 19, 2013 4:25 pm • linkreport

I think it would be much more productive if the ANC focused on what kind of public campaign could be done to educate cyclists about how to bike safely on the sidewalk rather than trying to come up with new rules that won't be enforced anyway.

by MLD on Jun 19, 2013 4:27 pm • linkreport

Other than to immediately reach a destination for the final portion of a trip, I have never found a need to ride on the sidewalks in DC.

by 202_cyclist on Jun 19, 2013 4:55 pm • linkreport

If cycling can be banned on the sidewalks, then the awful Segways should also be banned. I've certainly seen people ride those on the sidewalks downtown and they are going faster than many cyclists.

Regarding riding on the sidewalks, if you are that uncomfortable on a bike that you need to use a sidewalk (aside from various localized hazards such as cars that are double-parked, etc...), perhaps the cyclist needs some more practice and experience before heading out.

by 202_cyclist on Jun 19, 2013 5:02 pm • linkreport

I agree that we should ban sidewalk cycling due to danger just as soon as we ban roadway motoring.

by JJJ on Jun 19, 2013 5:14 pm • linkreport

We are basically saying it's ok to run over pedestrians and cyclists. And the police in all but the most obvious of cases, tend to bear sympathy - even if residual- with the drivers.

There are some countries where your insurance rate for your car goes up if you hit a cyclist or pedestrian. Just if you hit them. Period. This is the kind of thinking I'm talking about. Why aren't we really challenging the mindset that assents (even implicitly) to striking pedestrians and cyclists?

And of course strong measures should be accompanied by a robust public education campaign, heretofore absolutely lacking. Reedy debate on a blog tributary does not count!

by Jazzy on Jun 19, 2013 5:19 pm • linkreport

@202_cyclist

There are many places where sidewalk cycling is the safer alternative. Biking 10 mph on a street where the motor vehicles are traveling 45+ mph isn't a matter of comfort.

That said, I have never rode my bike on a sidewalk in the Logan Circle area. Most of those sidewalks are narrow, crowded, poorly paved, with intermittent planters. Really aren't too many reasons to find oneself riding on those sidewalks.

by UrbanEngineer on Jun 19, 2013 5:32 pm • linkreport

While cycling on 14th Street NW I've encountered cyclists going the wrong way on the single direction tracks. When you're riding with traffic and trying to pay attention to the cars and pedestrians as they move around, it is surprising and dangerous when someone is coming at you on a bike. I've had a couple near miss bike on bike collisions when people use the cycle tracks in the wrong direction.

by David on Jun 19, 2013 5:37 pm • linkreport

202, I frequently ride on the sidewalk. When going up a steep hill It can be the best option. For example going east on Pennsylvania Avenue east of the river. In addition, DDOT often signs sidewalks as bike routes in Washington DC

by David C on Jun 19, 2013 5:38 pm • linkreport

@UrbanEngineer:

I don't disagree with you and I don't think that other than the most congested places with narrow sidewalks (i.e. Georgetown, U Street) that sidewalk biking should be banned but I've ridden up Massachusts west of Rock Creek Park many times and don't feel uncomfortable riding on the road. Same with both Independence and Constitution Avenues.

Safer roads are important but so is a basic level of competence on a bike.

by 202_cyclist on Jun 19, 2013 5:39 pm • linkreport

"so is a basic level of competence on a bike."

Nothing like a little attempt to goad others. Not playing today, though. I'm plenty comfortable in my riding competence, and even more in my judgment. I can ride on the road on Mass. Ave up the long hill, it's just not fun. And what's the point in that?

by Crickey7 on Jun 19, 2013 6:48 pm • linkreport

Riding on the sidewalk is generally ill-advised.

I think we should outlaw right turn on red as well, like in NYC.

by Sam on Jun 19, 2013 6:54 pm • linkreport

So what? You're complaint then is with MPD. The law gives you coverage. Where is the coverage for pedestrians?

Cyclists get to choose sidewalk or road, depending on their "safety". Pedestrians cannot chose.

Well yeah, I thought I made clear that my complaint was with MPD...and with David Alpert for not mentioning enforcement. The law might give me coverage, but if it's not enforced, than that's not really true in practice.

My very next comment was agreeing w/ "pedestrian space, pedestrian pace."

Not sure what your point was anonanon.

by thump on Jun 19, 2013 8:34 pm • linkreport

Give me a break. Someone has a complaint and now they want to make a law out of it. I can't recall having a problem with bikers on sidewalks.

Maybe we should have carve-outs based on sidewalk width. Or perhaps we should allow biking on sidewalks if people are riding to a rack. (That would protect the people on Columbia Road using the Safeway bike rack.)

So when does it become illegal to ride on a sidewalk?

We don't need any more stupid pointless self-serving ego-stroking laws that are beyond any reasonable enforcement.

This city doesn't even bother with jaywalking. The occasional enforcement efforts are impotent and comedic.

by kob on Jun 19, 2013 8:59 pm • linkreport

This has an easy solution. Prioritize law enforcement in the following order pedestrian > cyclist > motorist.

A human scaled city needs to focus on humans, especially those not going faster than walking speed or transporting anywhere from 40lbs to 4 tons of metal. Each level has a corresponding amount of responsibility for safety of those around them.

Pedestrians should feel safe from cyclists and drivers, and cyclists should feel safe from drivers.

by cmc on Jun 20, 2013 12:58 am • linkreport

Sidewalk cycling is not just dangerous for pedestrians - it's actually more dangerous for cyclists too - even if the cyclists are behaving properly by not going too fast. Studies show that cycling on the sidewalk increases the risk of an intersection collision by a factor of two. A study done in Palo Alto, California in 1994 showed this:

1994 Wachtel: Risk Factors for Bicycle-Motor Vehicle Collisions at Intersections
http://www.bicyclinglife.com/Library/Accident-Study.pdf
"Bicyclists on a sidewalk or bicycle path incur greater risk than those on the roadway (on average 1.8 times as great), most likely because of blind conflicts at intersections... intersections, construed broadly, are the major point of conflict between bicycles and motor vehicles. Separation of bicycles and motor vehicles leads to blind conflicts at these intersections."

More recent studies confirm Wachtel's findings:

1998 Aultman-Hall: Commuter Cyclist On- and Off-Road Incident Rates (Ottawa-Carlton, Canada)
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9542542#
"The relative rates for falls and injuries suggest it is safest to cycle on-road followed by off-road paths and trails, and finally least safe on sidewalks... Results suggest a need to discourage sidewalk cycling, and to further investigate the safety of off-road paths/trails."

1999 Aultman-Hall: Bicycle Commuter Safety Rates (Toronto, Canada)
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001457599000287
"The relative rates for falls and injuries suggest these events are least common on-road followed by off-road paths, and finally most common on sidewalks... These rates suggest a need for detailed analysis of sidewalk and off-road path bicycle safety."

Cyclists who ride on the sidewalk are greatly increasing their risk of an accident. Cycling in the road seems scary, but studies show it is by far the safest place to cycle.

by Ian Brett Cooper on Jun 20, 2013 1:24 am • linkreport

Just this morning I was buzzed by a cyclist on the sidewalk when the cycle track was 10 feet to his left. And this was on that quiet stretch of NH Ave south of U St. What?

MLD: I'm a native Washingtonian who's lived in DC for 20 years now. So, no, I'm not new here.

by daveb59 on Jun 20, 2013 8:29 am • linkreport

I really like that idea of acting as if you are a guest on pedestrian turf if you do have to ride on a sidewalk. I hate riding on the sidewalk, but some places, such as across Key Bridge, I find it bordering on necessary, and I really try to act that way there. Pedestrians may not expect you to be there, and they can move suddenly and unexpectedly into your path if you're not careful.

by DE on Jun 20, 2013 8:33 am • linkreport

MLD: I'm a native Washingtonian who's lived in DC for 20 years now. So, no, I'm not new here.

I was only referring to "here" as this website - we've heard the tired argument about how cyclists must be perfect citizens if they want to get any recognition many times.

by MLD on Jun 20, 2013 8:46 am • linkreport

Let's get joggers off the streets and onto the sidewalks too!

by polo on Jun 20, 2013 8:51 am • linkreport

I'm glad to see this finally come up in an article. As a daily pedestrian, i'm personally growing more and more annoyed by bicyclists on the sidewalks where I am in Silver Spring. I get it, the roads are very hostile to bicyclists, but the sidewalks with few exceptions are only 5 feet wide, and usually have many people on them. Hearing that bike bell or buzzer behind me while on a sidewalk is like nails on a chalkboard to me. I'm often the one having to walk into the grass to let the bicyclists pass me on the sideWALK. If it's an 8 foot sidewalk or other multi-use width trail thats fine, but there really needs to be more respect on general sidewalks.

by Gull on Jun 20, 2013 8:54 am • linkreport

One incident does a crisis not make.
Can you bike on a sidewalk in this city? Yes - in most places. Should you? Probably not.
What is needed are more bike lanes and signs. If there is a bike lane - how hard is it to also put up a now biking sign on the adjacent sidewalks?
There are very few exceptions in this city where the sidewalk is okay for the sake of safety (Embassy Row, Key Bridge, Blandensburg, Eastern Ave and 16th).

The real issue is we need a road infrastructure that works for all three modes of traffic.

As a runner I feel more threatened by drivers who don't look before coming out of a driveway, turning right or doing a California stop.

by andy2 on Jun 20, 2013 8:55 am • linkreport

Can you bike on a sidewalk in this city? Yes - in most places. Should you? Probably not.

Why not? In most of this city the sidewalks are not crowded. You just have to go slower than you can go on the street.

In some other places, people are perfectly happy to step aside for 5 seconds to let someone on a bike go by them:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtv2_-2mHck

by MLD on Jun 20, 2013 8:58 am • linkreport

Greater Greater Washington ought be renamed Whinyville

When it comes to posts about cars/bikes/walkers/joggers there's a perpetual debate about what class is the most aggrieved, threatened, and abused.

by kob on Jun 20, 2013 9:01 am • linkreport

No one ever whined before GGW was created.

In other news. I was a bad pedestrian yesterday. Someone apparently said, "on your left" and I stepped left. She went around on my right and apologized. Neither party was physically harmed.

by drumz on Jun 20, 2013 9:03 am • linkreport

I firmly believe that there's nothing wrong with riding on a sidewalk IF you do it in a safe manner. That includes riding at a slow pace, giving wide berth to pedestrians, and dismounting where there's a . I also won't do it for very long distances.

I'm an experienced cyclist, but sometimes riding on a sidewalk simply makes sense. For example, where you've locked up your bike midblock and need to ride to a corner to enter the street at a crosswalk. Or where your trip means going 1-2 blocks wrong-way on a one-way street. Or where your trip requires a short distance on a major road during rush hour, and riding on a sidewalk is simply safer.

A blanket ban would do more harm than good. I'd suggest just a law stating that cyclists on sidewalks must give wide berth to peds and at a reasonably slow speed. That's qualitative, but at the same time maybe easier to enforce than a hard-and-fast number like, say, 15 mph, since very few cops on sidewalks will have radar guns trained at cyclists.

It is worth pointing out that there have actually been cases of pedestrians dying after being struck by a bicyclist. (Typically elderly or child pedestrians, but still.) But these are few and far between, FAR less than the # of peds or # of cyclists killed by motorists.

by Marc on Jun 20, 2013 9:07 am • linkreport

Recently while walking west on P, crossing 17th, I was in the cross-walk with the walk signal and just as I step into the middle of the crosswalk a cyclist comes speeding through the red light down 17 and just barely slams on his breaks before riding right through me and another woman. I yelled at him about running the red light and he looks at me like he was completely in the right and how dare I be in the cross walk with the walk signal when he's got somewhere to be. Countless times I've been on a sidewalk and had Ms. Sally Rude Biker dinging her flipping bike bell at me because I'm not moving fast enough for her and she can't get around me. Countless times I've had Mr. Wobbly Ride side swipe me because he never learned how to ride a bike without swerving all over the place. It's these kinds of jerks who cause the problem. Rude, inattentive, completely breaking all of the laws (usually under the assumption that traffic laws and lights don't apply to cyclists)... People need to be pulled over and ticketed for this stuff! I for one would have no problem with a law that bans ANY bikes on ANY street that already has a bike lane! When I'm on Columbia Road (which has bike lanes in both directions) and I'm getting run over by bikes on the sidewalk, I get pissed! Use the damn bike lanes! If the street doesn't have one, chances are another street nearby does!

by Matt on Jun 20, 2013 9:21 am • linkreport

"Countless times I've been on a sidewalk and had Ms. Sally Rude Biker dinging her flipping bike bell"

If someone IS riding on the sidewalk, and is going to pass a ped, shouldn't they ring the bell? Isn't it more dangerous to pass without ringing or calling a pass? Does riding at a pedestrian pace in a pedestrian place mean never passing even the slowest pedestrian?

(note well - I tend to avoid riding the sidewalk in DC but do so ride occasionally in FFX county where the on road alternatives are worse, and the sidewalks often empty - and yeah, Im quite aware of the increased dangers at intersections)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 20, 2013 9:37 am • linkreport

I take the sidewalk all the time between Penn Ave and Constitution along 15th St because the Secrety Service closes the Ellipse all the time. I don't want to and sometimes I take the street, but those gigantic tourist buses often make it very difficult to bike down the street and I've nearly been taken out by them about a dozen times. But the city will NEVER continue the cycle track there or quite frankly anywhere down that way. Imagine if they connected it all the way to Ohio Drive. I'm dreaming, I know, because NPS will never allow it even if it does facilitate a better city for residents, workers and visitors.

I usually ring my bell when passing pedestrians (on the road, trail or sidewalk). Note, I said on the road, because I can't even count the number of times I have had idiots walk in front of me on the cycletrack or on the road when they don't have a crosswalk signal. They're often immersed in headphones and don't even hear my bell. Sometimes I don't ring it with lots of little kids because it seems to have a Pavlov effect with them and they come TO the bell rather than move away or become alert. And I don't even bother half the time by Gravely Point because the planes are so loud no one can hear a thing.

I'm fine saying no sidewalking further out, but only if the city commits to improving the infrastructure and/or cracking down on everyone breaking the law. I'll take enforcement against cyclists too, if and when they ticket cars for blocking the box and pedestrians for jaywalking. I expect none of the above to happen unless someone has a $1 million to run a shadow campaign....

by James on Jun 20, 2013 9:56 am • linkreport

K Street in NW and Mt Vernon Sq. is a COMPLETE construction mess. No one think of cyclists when they do construction. I was biking west under the tracks, and sae that the right lane was closed. I had no way of knowing if the sidewalk was also closed, so stayed in the car lane as I traveled under the tracks. While underneath the tracks, I saw that the sidewalk was indeed open, and would have been a great safe alternative- but there as no signage about where to bike. Further west were many cases of shoulder construction, making it very dangerous for bikes- I had to bike on the sidewalk, apologizing to peds as I weaved around them.

by Tom A. on Jun 20, 2013 10:04 am • linkreport

"I like the Logan Circle ANC approach. If a cyclist wants to bike on the sidewalk, the cyclist should slow his/her velocity to a point where it is less dangerous for pedestrians. If that means the cyclist *walks* his/her bike for a short period (quelle horreur!), so be it.
Also - and this is an easy fix - if a cyclist is coming up on a pedestrian on a sidewalk, said cyclist should make some noise! Even without headphones, which I rarely wear anyway for other safety reasons, in the general din of city noise, I cannot always hear an approaching cyclist. Use a bell, call out "on your left" - there are many very simple ways to address the problem.
The bottom line is that the onus to ensure is on the cyclist on the sidewalk, because the cyclist is the source of the potential danger."

I think this ped/bicyclists problem exists on both sidewalks and bike paths. Peds are startled by silent bicyclists passing them from behind. Being startled, they may move unpredictably -- perhaps even stepping into the path of the bicyclists. It really boils down to courtesy.

by Tom Robertson on Jun 20, 2013 10:10 am • linkreport

If there is a bike lane and you are on the sidewalk I will say something for example "use the bike lane" after all that is what it is there for, right? Other places where there are not bike lanes and the sidewalks are wide enough with low ped traffic then I don't have a problem.

by Mike on Jun 20, 2013 10:18 am • linkreport

Tom A: Not sure what tracks you're talking about in Mount Vernon Square - maybe the ones further east in NoMa? - but GGW just ran an article about the missed opportunity for bike infrastructure in Mount Vernon Square. You can find it here: http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/19060/k-street-reconstruction-misses-key-ped-and-bike-features/

by Shipsa01 on Jun 20, 2013 10:33 am • linkreport

Sidewalk cycling is not just dangerous for pedestrians - it's actually more dangerous for cyclists too - even if the cyclists are behaving properly by not going too fast.

Ian, that's incorrect. The studies you cite do not show that. They all show that ON AVERAGE sidewalk cycling is less safe - none of them account for the speed of cyclists on the sidewalk. In addition the first study you cite shows that much of that is because of riding against traffic on the sidewalk.

Another study by Aultman-Hall groups people as sidewalk cyclists and non-sidewalk cyclists and then studies their crashes. It notes that sidewalk cyclists are less experienced and get into more crashes on the road, bikepath and on the sidewalk than non-sidewalk ones.

It notes that "It is reasonable to suggest that more experienced cyclists are more comfortable with vehicular traffic or have learned by experience where the hazards exist. Whatever the reasons, sidewalk cyclists should not simply be taught that sidewalk cycling is dangerous and should, therefore, be discontinued."

The study basically makes the point that we make here. Sidewalk cycling is, on average, more dangerous. If choosing it, you should go slower and with more caution (which makes it less advantageous), but there is no reason why a careful cyclist can't safely navigate the sidewalk in those places where the advantages outweigh the risks (like going up a steep hill where fast isn't an option anyway).

by David C on Jun 20, 2013 10:34 am • linkreport

"Sidewalk cycling is, on average, more dangerous."

I think it totally depends on the structure and conditions of both the road and the sidewalk. There is no way I am going cycle on the street on most busy suburban highways.

by Fred on Jun 20, 2013 10:49 am • linkreport

Fred, I agree. There are certainly places where it is safer.

by David C on Jun 20, 2013 11:39 am • linkreport

There's going to be a Greatergreaterbaby?

by Lisa on Jun 20, 2013 12:20 pm • linkreport

I cross the Key Bridge everyday to and from work, and everyday my internal monologue debates the pros and cons of crossing on the sidewalk vs. crossing on the street. When I cross on the street cars honk and cus (and I fear for my life), and when I cross on the sidewalk some pedestrians are indignant about not giving me an inch to pass. As a matter of fact, this morning, as I approached a large group of people I began ringing my bell like crazy. Almost everyone in the group ignored me.

So now what? I'd much prefer never having to ride on the sidewalk, but that means that drivers must be complicit in protecting the safety of cyclists. It starts at driver's ed.

by Rejamaphone on Jun 20, 2013 1:53 pm • linkreport

@Rejamaphone +1

by Tina on Jun 20, 2013 2:14 pm • linkreport

I think if a sidewalk is dense enough it should be required build a shared use path or cycle track but not just a bike lane, however, I do think bike lanes should require a shared use path. If the bike way is sparsely used, For example 1 to 2 user per mile like in my neighborhood then they should require a sidewalk with sidewalk cycling allowed instead of making sidewalk cycling illegal.

by Weatherman on Jun 20, 2013 6:14 pm • linkreport

Rejamaphone, when I defer to pedestrians and act like I am committing an offense by riding on the sidewalks, I generally find that pedestrians go out of their way to let me pass. But I assume an attitude of "sorry people!" and they're like, no worries.

I'd never ring my bell. That's telling them to get the hell out of the way. Nix.

by Jazzy on Jun 20, 2013 8:17 pm • linkreport

Adult bicyclists do not belong on sidewalks where they are a danger to pedestrians. I work on L Street NW and am both appalled and scared by the reckless behavior by some of my fellow riders. I would very much welcome any initiative by the DCPD to start ticketing bicyclist in order to enforce the existing traffic laws.

However, the existing regulations need some (now missing) accommodations for younger riders who should not be riding with car traffic. I would want to have the law permit kids 13 years or younger to ride on all sidewalks.

by Werner on Jun 21, 2013 12:21 am • linkreport

Ok, how about a middle ground (which hopefully won't stir too much ire)? - do not outlaw riding on bikes outside the business district, but implement a mandatory 'dismount and pass' law. So if you're on the sidewalk and no one is around there's no issue. But, if you have to pass someone, then all you would have to do is stop behind the person - no bell, no bouncing up and down, etc - dismount, ask to pass, and then remount and ride along. I'm sure pedestrians can live with that. And if you find yourself constantly dismounting, you probably shouldn't be on THAT sidewalk. Either it's time to go into the street or find another sidewalk.

by Shipsa01 on Jun 21, 2013 8:08 am • linkreport

Adult bicyclists do not belong on sidewalks where they are a danger to pedestrians.

I don't mean to defend bad behavior, but is this true? Are sidewalk cyclists any more of a danger to pedestrians than cyclists in the road? Are they more dangerous than cars in the road? Or more dangerous than other pedestrians? How does the risk compare? As near as I can tell, there is very little data on this.

It's fine if that is your opinion, and I'm sure you're not alone, but my experience is that the risk of being hit by a cyclist is low, being injured and killed is even lower. And research out of New York kind of backs that up. [It also shows that making streets safer for cyclists can decrease cyclist-pedestrian crashes even as cycling increases. It also decreases car-pedestrian crashes].

http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/09/19/study-1000-peds-injured-annually-by-cyclists-statewide-number-is-dropping/

the existing regulations need some (now missing) accommodations for younger riders

The DC MVC defines a bicycle as "a device...which has either one wheel at least twenty inches (20 in.) in diameter or is designed to be ridden on a roadway." Technically this means that a child's bike is not a bicycle if they argue that it was not designed to be ridden on a roadway and is thus allowed on the sidewalk (same as skateboards, skates etc...) but is not allowed in the street. This is a standard definition, and the argument has held up elsewhere, though I don't know if it has been tried here.

by David C on Jun 21, 2013 9:45 am • linkreport

>Are sidewalk cyclists any more of a danger to pedestrians than cyclists in the road?<

As a walker, my closest calls with a bike collision have not been on the sidewalk. They have been on the street from bikers speeding through cross-walk signals.

Most bikers on the sidewalk, from what I can tell, are likely motivated by fear of biking on some streets, and tend to be slow and cautious, and more thoughtful. Reckless behavior is the biggest problem, and riding on the sidewalk doesn't automatically equate recklessness.

by kob on Jun 21, 2013 9:53 am • linkreport

" Technically this means that a child's bike is not a bicycle if they argue that it was not designed to be ridden on a roadway and is thus allowed on the sidewalk (same as skateboards, skates etc...) but is not allowed in the street. "

On quiet suburban residential streets, which often have no sidewalks, but also little traffic, and slow traffic, that would be a problematic definition for children wanting to bike off their driveway. Ditto for cul de sac's, where children typically do bike in the street, even when there is a sidewalk.

Just as, on the other hand, sidewalk riding on arterials is often the better choice for most adult riders - since the sidewalks typically have few if any pedestrians, the roads are often traffic sewers only the "1%" of riders will feel comfortable with, and there are no parallel roads (thanks to the typical non-grid road networks.

Ive tried to refrain from this thread, which is really about DC. But generalizations are being made, which if taken too seriously could have very negative implications for bicycling in the very different conditions in the suburbs.

While ultimately the preferred option for adults on suburban arterials is going to be bike lanes (since retrofitting a street grid will be unfeasible in 95% of suburbia - and traffic calming sufficient to make the arterials bikeable to a majority of riders is politically unfeasible) meanwhile sidewalk cycling (with due wariness of driveways and intersection issues) is a necessity for adults.

And riding on slow residential streets is a necessary part of child hood biking in at least the non-sidewalked part of suburbia - whats needed there is education on bike riding in traffic beginning at the age a child begins to bike - even with training wheels.

Universal bike education starting no later than kindergarten would be a good thing.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 21, 2013 10:00 am • linkreport

Agree that this is a very DC-centric discussion and the sidewalk vs. street issue can be very different in the suburbs.

by Fred on Jun 21, 2013 11:38 am • linkreport

This non-car owning lady who walks with a cane is all in favor of this law. Sign me up! I'm tired of being almost killed while just trying to walk on the sidewalk.

by Nancy on Jun 21, 2013 7:47 pm • linkreport

Just coming back to the discussion. The exception for kids riding bikes on sidewalks is driven by our understanding of their experience and decision making abilities which develops more closely with person age more than with the size of one's bicycle wheels. The question should be at what age should the law require a teenager to ride on the road (say M street) instead of on the sidewalk. In my initial post, I suggested that teenager up to 13 years old should be allowed on sidewalks, but some other rules of the road make similarly important distinctions (helmet requirement, permission to operate motorized bicycles) for 15 vs. 16 years old teenager. Many of these teenagers are tall enough to ride full-sized bicycles. In order to make the traffic laws consistent, we should consider permitting riders younger than 16 to ride on all sidewalks.

by Werner on Jun 22, 2013 12:22 am • linkreport

Thanks for writing a post about this issue. I'm the ANC Commissioner who took a resolution that started in ANC 2B and evolved it over a couple of months through community input. Many of the comments are similar to what we heard and I want to address a few of them.

1. Invariably the debate turns into a bikes v. pedestrians v. cars. It's the terrible, inattentive drivers! The streets aren't safe, we need more infrastructure! It's the sideWALK, so stay off of it! The hope was to avoid turning this into a zero-sum game bc solutions have to be multi-modal.
2. Regarding enforcement, there's a sense that if someday a bikes on a sidewalks ban gets expanded, all of sudden the various enforcement authorities will suddenly be writing everyone a ticket. There's is next to zero enforcement now and, like any law, judgement is applied to enforcement. Is every car going 36 in the the 35 MPH zone getting pulled over? Some level of enforcement against the "rude minority of bicyclists" seems warranted in many folks' opinion. I'm personally doubtful that MPD is all of a sudden going to be ticketing 10 year olds riding down their residential street.
3. I like the point about the "common-sense" rule and it's true that it's not one that can be written into law. However, a combination of infrastructure improvements, better enforcement, and more education/outreach, might help evolve the culture among drivers/cyclists/pedestrians as DC grows and there are more transit options.

Part of our goal was to get the conversation started about these issues in parallel to the improving infrastructure, which just addresses one dimension of the issue.

by Chris L on Jun 24, 2013 2:05 pm • linkreport

I commuted to Capitol Hill via the empty sidewalks on Constitution Ave in the morning.

In the evening I rode the one way street on the North Side of the Mall.

by Capt. Hilts on Jun 27, 2013 10:30 am • linkreport

riding on the sidewalk is much safer ,who cares if its illegal,people who make the laws don't ride bikes.
and riding against the traffic is also safer who wants their back to a car that is about to run you over ?

by finemeilive on Oct 6, 2013 7:58 pm • linkreport

the thing about pedestrians being scared of cyclist going to fast is rediculous. i myself use a bell and my loud voice if i am coming up on people near a sidewalk. if every person walking around didnt have earbuds in, or a sense of direction where to walk on a sidewalk or path, they wouldnt get scared so often. DO NOT walk right in the middle of a path or sidewalk. if they have to, just like bike lanes its split btw eachother. put that on sidewalks. tell you which side to walk on and not in the middle. atleast that may help.

by avidcyclist on Nov 14, 2013 11:04 am • linkreport

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