Some might say that this blog is only updated sporadically. Others might think that I’ve run out of things to say. I prefer to think of this blog as a “limited release” or “carefully curated.” No matter, dear reader(s) we have a good topic in front of us today.
If you ride a bike for any length of time with any proximity to motor vehicles in any sort of climate where the drivers of said motor vehicles may have their windows down, you have no doubt been subjected to someone yelling this at you. If this type of motorist was capable of putting together a sentence, they would say, “You should be riding that bicycle on the sidewalk.” The subtext of this is, “I’m driving a car in the street, therefore I am more important than you who ride what is equivalent to a child’s toy and should therefore be riding it on the sidewalk. Get out of MY way.”
Spouse received the “SIDEWALK” yell from someone recently. Here’s how she relayed it in a tweet:
Me (on bike): Were you just honking at me? He: Yeah. Me: Any special reason? He: Sidewalk! [i.e. I should be on it] Me: Check the law [WTF]
I agree with Spouse’s sentiment, so I retweeted to my many followers, one of whom replied to Spouse with this gem:
talked about this w/bikers & drivers alike; they all agree the root of hostility is mostly when bikers DON’T obey traffic laws
Well that’s one way to respond, I guess. A law-abiding cyclist is verbally harassed by a motorist, and this particular tweeter’s response is to say that the source of such hostility is when cyclists break the law.
The source of the hostility is this motorist’s sense of privilege. He’s driving a vehicle that he paid a lot of money for. He has encountered a cyclist in “his” way. Because of this cyclist, he is going to have to 1) pay more attention to piloting his 3,000 pound vehicle. 2) Endure a slight delay in his travel on a 25 mph city street (I’d say as much as 15 seconds). 3) Turn his wheel slightly to the left in order to pass the cyclist. 4) Turn it back to the right to return to his lane. 5) Get really annoyed when he sees the cyclist in his rear view mirror because she caught up to him at the next light.
I know, I know. It’s a tough life driving a car with all of these cyclists around. But maybe this motorist is right, maybe we should be riding our bikes on the sidewalk. I certainly see lots of people doing it, what could be so bad about it? Maybe I’ve just been reading too much propaganda (and state laws) that say that cyclists are entitled to the rights and responsibilities of using the roads of our great little state (and every other state). Maybe I should give up on the streets and take to the sidewalks like so many motorists love to suggest.
So I did just that.
For my commute home last Monday, I resolved to ride only on sidewalks. I started out from Kennedy Plaza, riding on the sidewalk along the south side of Burnside park. It was a lovely day, so there were many people walking along, not really paying much attention. I had to keep it pretty slow. I made my way over to what I call the “RISD Riviera” – that part of the campus that is right next to the Providence River. I made my way down to Water Street and crossed over to the wide walkway between the street and the water. Some maps designate this as a bike path, but I never ride on it – too many desultory pedestrians. On this afternoon, there was this:
This required me to slow down to about 3 MPH and weave between the barriers and the parking meter where there was just enough room for my shoulders. I headed up to Wickenden, passing many people out on the sidewalks who were just trying to get to a shop or restaurant. I turned up Brook St., a normal part of my commute (aka, the Providence Wiggle, aka the Pwiggle), but I had to make a detour. I just couldn’t allow myself to ride on the sidewalk as I passed my local bike shop – the shame! Instead, I encountered obstacles like these:
Recycling bins, and pedestrians! (I ducked into the street for a second to pass the pedestrians).
I’ll stop boring you with a turn-by-turn account of my commute, let’s just say that it sucked, it was slow, and it was more dangerous than if I had ridden on the street like I always do. How did it suck? While I hate the pothole-encrusted streets of Providence, the sidewalks make for a much rougher riding experience. Expansion joints out of whack, bumps, uneven pavement, and the lack of curb cuts made for a bumpy ride. Why was it slow? I couldn’t get much over 10 MPH with the rough pavement and pedestrians in my way. In fact, I was usually riding about 8 MPH. How was it less safe? I was constantly crossing driveways where a car could pull into the sidewalk, and I was crossing streets at a place where drivers do not expect to see a cyclist. And oh yeah, it wasn’t particularly safe for the people who were using the sidewalk to, you know, walk. In fact, I passed 40 pedestrians in my 2.6 mile commute home that day – all of whom I inconvenienced in some way or another. 5 of the pedestrians were children aged 6 or younger. A block away from my home, I saw a mother with two small children walking towards me on the sidewalk. I pulled into a driveway to let them pass and the mother apologized to me as she passed. There was no need for her to apologize – I was the one doing it wrong!
“Well sure,” you may be saying to yourself, “you inconvenienced a few pedestrians, but how many motorists do you slow down when you insist on riding in the street?” I’m glad you asked. I had never really counted before, so the next day, on my way home, I counted the number of cars who passed me. There were 17. However, 5 of them passed me on Waterman Ave where there are two lanes headed in the same direction – the drivers merely had to change lanes in order to pass me. Another 10 passed me on Water Street – also two lanes wide. Of those 10 that passed me on Water Street, 6 of them passed me while I was riding about 23-26 MPH in a 25 MPH zone. That is, they were exceeding the speed limit when they passed me. I caught up to 5 of those cars at the next light. That leaves 2 motorists who passed me on two way streets where there was only one lane in each direction. I delayed each driver by about 5 seconds.
There are some rare occasions where I might consider riding on the sidewalk. In fact, I used to do it on a regular basis (for a very short distance). There are some more suburban areas of the country where it might be occasionally appropriate to ride on the sidewalk. And I can understand how a timid cyclist may feel safer on the sidewalk – but most of the time, you are going to be safer in the street.
So, the next time a motorist tells you to get on the sidewalk, tell them to go drive on the interstate. Or just wave and smile – that might be more productive.