6 Things You Need To Know About Cycling On The Sidewalk

Oct 16, 2016

Bicycles are a type of vehicle so they belong on the road, right?

This is how the wheels turn in places such as New York City and San Francisco, where bicyclists older than age 13 are banned from riding on the sidewalk. Similar laws exist in many cities and towns throughout the country, such as Columbus, Ohio, and Chapel Hill, N.C.

That's not the case everywhere, though. In Boston and Washington, D.C., sidewalk cycling is allowed — with the exception of the downtown areas. But just because bicyclists are allowed to ride on the sidewalk doesn't mean they are welcome there.

So before you don your helmet (safety first!) and hop on your two-wheeler, here are a few things you need to know about sidewalk cycling:

1. Bicyclists feel safer, but pedestrians feel endangered

"It's like a car on the sidewalk," says Lukia Eccleston, a young mom who lives in D.C. and gets around mostly by foot.

"The sidewalk is made for walking and you have them [bicyclists] coming from behind you, almost hitting you."

Bicyclist Sarah Dale says pedestrians make their frustration about sidewalk cyclists clear. But still, she rides on the sidewalk when cars are driving too fast for her comfort.

"You definitely get raised fists from people who are walking on the sidewalk while you're biking," Dale says.

2. Everything is not as it seems

Sidewalks look like the safer option for bicyclists, especially when there are a lot of cars on the road. According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, 29 percent of bicyclist injuries are the result of car collisions.

But riding on a sidewalk doesn't remove the threat of crashing into a car. Rather, sidewalks make bicyclists invisible to motorists who don't expect to see them at driveways and crosswalks.

Timothy Donelson, a 62-year-old lifelong D.C. resident, learned this lesson the hard way when he was sidewalk cycling in 2014.

"I was coming down, about to go into the street from the sidewalk. I went through the crosswalk and this car — I didn't even see him coming — he came out of nowhere," Donelson says. The car hit Donelson and he ended up in the hospital with back injuries.

3. Protected bike lanes are proven to reduce sidewalk cycling

In the past decade, bike infrastructure in cities around the country has expanded significantly. One of the biggest areas of growth is in the number of bike lanes. In D.C. for example, there are now 78 miles of bike lanes; up from three miles in 2001.

But of those 78 miles, only six are protected.

Unlike the standard white line painted on the side of the road, a protected bike lane has a physical barrier that separates bicyclists from traffic. Research from the D.C. Department of Transportation shows that the number of sidewalk bicyclists fell 56 percent where protected bike lanes were installed.

4. Bye bye parallel parking space

In D.C. one mile of conventional bike lane costs $50,000. One mile of protected bike lane costs $180,000.

But cost isn't the only consideration.

"We just don't have room to do them in every street," says Jim Sebastian, transportation planner at DDOT.

In traffic-heavy cities, protected bike lanes come at the expense of parking spaces. Roads need to be completely reformatted in order to make enough room for the protected lane.

Though D.C. has struggled to invest in protected bike lanes, other places in the country are doubling down on building more of these lanes. According to PeopleForBikes, a bicycling advocacy group, the number of protected bike lanes nationwide has doubled since 2011.

5. Protected bike lanes aren't the only solution

"Bike lanes need to be built in a way that takes the road into context," says Colin Browne, a member of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. While protected bike lanes are proven to reduce sidewalk ridership and get more people on bicycles, they aren't needed everywhere.

"If cars aren't moving fast and there's lots of people, a bike lane that's just paint is OK," he said.

Bicycling advocates like Browne say the answer is for cities to create a network of conventional and protected bike lanes along with bike trails.

6. Sidewalk bicycling might just be a growing pain

Nelle Pierson is also a member of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. When she rides on the sidewalk, she tries to overcompensate with kindness.

"I'm a guest on the sidewalk," she says. "Ill pass and say 'Hello, hope you have a good day.'"

Local department of transportation officials encourage bicyclists to ride slow and yield to pedestrians when they take the sidewalk. While some pedestrians would rather have no bicyclists on the sidewalk, polite or not, they'll have to get used to sharing the space in places where bike lanes are scarce.

"Nobody wants anybody to be riding on the sidewalk," Browne says. "It's a sensible decision to say it's better to ride on the sidewalk for a couple of blocks, than it is to say if you can't take a lane don't bike."

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All this morning, we're taking you to places where the presidential campaign is unfolding in ways you really might not have expected six months ago. Our next stop is in the southwest - Arizona, traditionally a Republican stronghold, so much so that the Republican nominee has carried the state in 11 of the last 12 presidential elections - the one exception, Bill Clinton. And the question, now - could a Clinton carry Arizona again?

Joseph Garcia is at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University. And he's on the line now from Gilbert, Ariz. Good morning.

JOSEPH GARCIA: Good morning.

KELLY: Start with that fact. Eleven of the last 12 election years, Arizona has tipped Republican. I mean, that sounds like a state where the political landscape has not changed very much in recent decades. Is that the case?

GARCIA: Well, it would sound like that, but actually, Arizona is pretty much a purple state at this point. Although, it has been pretty much in the pocket of Republicans when it comes to presidential race and even statewide offices.

But the political landscape is changing very rapidly due to the young Latinos who are coming up and, through the maturation process, will become eligible to vote.

KELLY: You mentioned the maturation process - meaning people who have lived here, who are maybe second, third-generation Americans at this point.

GARCIA: Yeah, mostly I'm talking about the young Latinos who were born here. Now, maybe one or both parents were not and do not have U.S. citizenship and thereby cannot vote. But their children were almost - virtually all of them were born here and can vote once they reach 18. And that's the big shift - is eligible voters here in Arizona.

KELLY: And how big is the Latino vote in Arizona?

GARCIA: Well, you know, it's changing all the time. In 2010, about 25 percent of the adults in Arizona were Latinos. By 2030, that changes to 35 percent. So it's a big shift. That'd be a 178 percent increase in the number of Latino citizens age 20 and older between - you know, in those 20 years.

2030 also happens to be the year that we project and the census projects that Arizona will become a minority-majority state, which is about 15 years earlier than the nation. So we're experiencing that rapid growth of young Latinos who are coming into voting age very quickly. And it's going to make a change in Arizona.

KELLY: Well, stay with that for a minute because I know research from your center has suggested that Arizona would flip from Republican to Democratic around that date - 2030. How surprising would it be if the tipping point came instead this fall, next month?

GARCIA: Yeah, I think you're going to see an initial wave of that. But again, the big tsunami comes to about 2030 because, you know, it's all - many Latinos aren't old enough to vote yet. You know, they're young, and they're galvanized. And I think they're thoroughly behind the, you know, election process. But many of them just aren't old enough to vote yet. So you're going to see, I think, an initial wave this time. And you'll see it the next election. You'll see it the next election.

KELLY: The other big question mark is, of course, voter turnout, which has sometimes been an issue with Latino voters in Arizona. And a Clinton win would depend on it. Is high turnout something she can count on?

GARCIA: Well, it's something that has been problematic for Latino voters for a long time - turning out at a much lower percentage than the non-Latinos. But it seems this election is different as far as the mobilization of Latinos. One group called One Arizona - it's a coalition of Latinos and immigrant groups...


GARCIA: ...Have registered 140,000 new voters. And they're going to work equally hard to get the vote out.

KELLY: To turn them out. That's Joseph Garcia. He's director of the Latino Public Policy Center at Arizona State University's Morrison Institute. Thanks a lot.

GARCIA: Thank you.

KELLY: Arizona is one of several battleground states we're tracking this morning. Elsewhere in the show, we're hearing from Ohio, Georgia and a key district in Maine. And there's even more of this coming week. The final presidential debate is Wednesday night. That's 9 o'clock Eastern, and our live coverage will be airing on many NPR stations. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.