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Old 06-03-11, 08:03 PM   #1
bawolf88
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Sidewalk or side of the road?

I'm new to the commuting scene. You guys riding on the road or sidewalk? The road is way smoother, but I don't want my face to get way smoother.

Some of the roads in my town have bike lanes and some don't. An EMT friend of mine always tells me stories of cars veering into bike lanes and taking out bikers. But, riding on the sidewalk is rough and annoying.

Lately I've been doing a bit of both. I ride on the road in my small neighborhood, on the sidewalk on the big roads and then hop onto the road to cross the street when there is a gap in the cars or if something is blocking the sidewalk.

What to do?
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Old 06-03-11, 08:24 PM   #2
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Aside from generally being against the law, riding on the sidewalk is very dangerous, especially if you just ride from the sidewalks into the multitude of intersections you will have to cross. Since the buildings and whatnot obscure you from view, your entry into intersections will be far more sudden from a drivers perspective than if you were on the road, and you will be much more likely to get T-boned (especially since many drivers don't come to a stop until they are already well into/slightly past the crosswalk markings).

While it can initially be unnerving to ride in traffic, you get used to it and before long it won't be an issue. It also helps to get a helmet mounted mirror to help keep track of what traffic around you is doing, that way you can better react if someone tries to veer into you.

Edit: Also, as a side note, just riding in the bike lanes/in traffic in general, I cannot think of one time I've nearly had someone just drift/veer into me. In fact, I've come closer to veering into cars (on account of not realizing my helmet mirror has a blind spot) than they have into me. All the same, it's good to pay attention to what cars are doing around you, because stuff can happen (but stuff can also happen on the sidewalk, in your car, on the bus, in planes, walking, etc).
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Old 06-03-11, 08:26 PM   #3
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I do a little bit of both, but since I just got a hybrid, I plan to spend more time on the road.
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Old 06-03-11, 08:32 PM   #4
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I should also clarify that most of my riding is best described as suburban. The sidewalk intersects things like parking lots for grocery stores and other roads. But the streets aren't lined with buildings or anything.
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Old 06-03-11, 08:33 PM   #5
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The only time I'm on the sidewalk is when I'm riding with my son and he's on his balance bike. In those circumstances we're moving at the pace of a fast walk, so we have time to move out of the way for pedestrians and/or vehicles exiting/entering their driveways. Otherwise I'm on the road, even when hauling my son on his Trail-a-Bike. In those circumstances, of course, blinkies are blinking and safety flags are waving.

When I'm on my own, active lighting is paramount... even in daylight. I don't want to give motorists the opportunity to say they can't see me. I use an Airzound air horn to make myself heard as well. Most importantly, I ride defensively... assuming at all times that motorists can neither see nor hear me.
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Old 06-03-11, 08:34 PM   #6
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In my city it's legal to ride on either, but laws vary based on location and riding on the sidewalk can be against the law depending on your location. I personally ride where I feel it is safest. If the road has no shoulder and 50mph traffic, I'm going to ride the sidewalk. If it's a back road without too much traffic, or the road has a good shoulder, then I'll ride on the road.
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Old 06-03-11, 08:42 PM   #7
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so many good reasons not to ride on sidewalks that I can't list them..............................................
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Old 06-03-11, 09:01 PM   #8
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This accident was 5 miles outside of my city. http://www.gainesville.com/article/2...9903?p=1&tc=pg
The basic rundown: There was a huge bike even with lots of riders from around the country. They were riding on the shoulder of a country road. I young guy in a puck-up truck veered into the shoulder and hit a biker. He died right away. Initial reports thought that the driver was distracted by his phone. Last I heard was that they checked his phone records and there was no phone activity at the time of the accident (certainly he could have still been distracted by the phone if he was going to make a call or text and didn't get to it yet...etc.).

I am not trying to be argumentative, but this type of incident is the biggest risk that is on my mind. I try to be very defensive and assume people don't see me whether I'm on the sidewalk or the road. I'm just not seeing the huge downfall (safety wise) of being on the sidewalk.

I've been commuting for about two weeks now. The only bad experience on the road I personally have had is that coming up to an intersection there was a car to my left and a curb on my right. The driver was looking left to look for cars as he approached the intersection, he was going to make a right on red. We weren't quite to the intersection yet and he started moving to the right and got real close to the curb before making his turn. I had to hit the brakes and fall in behind him.

However, riding on the sidewalk is annoying.

Last edited by bawolf88; 06-03-11 at 09:11 PM. Reason: ***Sorry, this was the story where the driver dropped his phone on the floor board and bent down to pick it up.
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Old 06-03-11, 09:01 PM   #9
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so many good reasons not to ride on sidewalks that I can't list them..............................................
And lots of good reasons to ride on sidewalks if the situation calls for it. Even in the bike friendly city I live in there are streets I do not ride on the road. It's not a black and white issue. Depends on the situation. To have an ideology to never ride on the sidewalk is indeed foolish.
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Old 06-03-11, 09:32 PM   #10
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Don't be afraid. Develop cycling skills.
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Old 06-03-11, 09:37 PM   #11
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I ride in the roads, my town doesn't have too many sidewalks unless you go down town. Even then you have to be careful, some of the sidewalks have a 2 foot drop down to the curb, then another drop down to the street. The city has been installing sidewalks in the area of town that is expanding.
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Old 06-03-11, 09:44 PM   #12
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I ride in the roads, my town doesn't have too many sidewalks unless you go down town. Even then you have to be careful, some of the sidewalks have a 2 foot drop down to the curb, then another drop down to the street. The city has been installing sidewalks in the area of town that is expanding.
2 feet?! That sounds crazy, even by Texas standards.
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Old 06-03-11, 10:15 PM   #13
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Some people will insist you have to ride in the road at all times, but in downtown San Jose, it's safer imo to mix sidewalk and road riding, depending on the street, time of day and level of traffic. ideally you should find a route which allows you to stay on the road as much as possible, simply because roads are smoother and you can go faster

When riding on the sidewalk, you have to think and act more like a fast moving pedestrian than a bike rider.. ie stop/slow down at intersections to ensure no cars are turning, watch out for cars coming down driveways, etc

When riding in the road, don't be afraid to "take the lane" and act like a car when you have to. If you ride predictably and with the speed of traffic, most car drivers will give you your space.
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Old 06-03-11, 10:24 PM   #14
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I don't like riding on the shoulder with heavy traffic that exceeds 40MPH, but I would rather do it instead of riding on sidewalks. There is a 400 foot section of sidewalk that I use simply because there is never any foot traffic, and it is safer than the road for that length.
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Old 06-03-11, 10:29 PM   #15
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Sidewalk riding is illegal in my town except for children. I cringe when I see adults zoom on their bikes along the rather narrow sidewalk on my usual route. The sidewalks here always have people on them and I've seen several near misses and they make me twitch. My commute follows a common bike route so there are also lots of cyclists on the road. Sidewalk cycling looks like no fun whatsoever from all of the people-baby stroller-dog walkers with dogs who use the sidewalk. I'll guess that some of the sidewalk cyclists are new to bike commuting and don't yet feel comfortable finding their places on the streets. Doesn't explain the high speeds... I just hope no one gets hurt.
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Old 06-03-11, 10:51 PM   #16
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The road. Despite the rare horror story, it is much safer than the sidewalk.
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Old 06-03-11, 11:15 PM   #17
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This accident was 5 miles outside of my city. http://www.gainesville.com/article/2...9903?p=1&tc=pg
The basic rundown: There was a huge bike even with lots of riders from around the country. They were riding on the shoulder of a country road. I young guy in a puck-up truck veered into the shoulder and hit a biker. He died right away. Initial reports thought that the driver was distracted by his phone. Last I heard was that they checked his phone records and there was no phone activity at the time of the accident (certainly he could have still been distracted by the phone if he was going to make a call or text and didn't get to it yet...etc.).

I am not trying to be argumentative, but this type of incident is the biggest risk that is on my mind. I try to be very defensive and assume people don't see me whether I'm on the sidewalk or the road. I'm just not seeing the huge downfall (safety wise) of being on the sidewalk.

I've been commuting for about two weeks now. The only bad experience on the road I personally have had is that coming up to an intersection there was a car to my left and a curb on my right. The driver was looking left to look for cars as he approached the intersection, he was going to make a right on red. We weren't quite to the intersection yet and he started moving to the right and got real close to the curb before making his turn. I had to hit the brakes and fall in behind him.

However, riding on the sidewalk is annoying.
This could just as (if not more) easily have been "cyclist riding on sidewalk, car looking down road doesn't see him/her, pulls out in front and cyclist dies". Drivers simply do not look farther than the curb. If a pedestrian is not right there about to step out, in their mind it is safe to go. There doesn't need to be any building in the way to see, as their eyes are focused further out looking for vehicular traffic (where you would be if you were riding in the road). This doesn't even begin to consider traffic turning right that won't see you on the sidewalk, traffic turning left from the oncoming lane that wont see you... these are the type of accidents that account for almost all cycling-related accidents, and the best way to prevent them is by riding assertively (but not recklessly!) where drivers can see you, using lights and reflectors to make yourself more visible, and wearing a mirror so you can see what cars are doing around you. The once in a blue moon "hit from behind at 70mph, instant death" accident makes for some sensational reporting, but frankly doesn't happen that much.

This is like people who are afraid of flying because they fear crashing so they drive cross-country, which puts them at enormously greater risk of death. It's all about control really. By riding on the sidewalk, you feel more in control of your safety, while the careless driver from behind is out of your control. It's the same with flying/driving, your life is in the hands of the pilots, atc's and mechanics, and that's uncomfortable, while when you are driving you feel more in control. But it truly is an illusion. You are more at risk on the sidewalk of people not seeing you at driveways, parking lots and intersections than you are out on the street.

Does that mean there are never times you should be on the sidewalk? No... but I do think they are the exception to the rule. And if for some reason I am forced onto the sidewalk (shortcut down a one-way, construction, traffic, etc.), I get off an walk it. On the sidewalk, you should always be traveling at the speed of pedestrian traffic (technically the slowest of the pedestrian traffic, at least that's the way the law is written around here), and I know that my bike doesn't handle well at those speeds. So the safe course of action is to get off and walk when I must be on the sidewalk.
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Old 06-03-11, 11:39 PM   #18
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This accident was 5 miles outside of my city. http://www.gainesville.com/article/2...9903?p=1&tc=pg
I am not trying to be argumentative, but this type of incident is the biggest risk that is on my mind. I try to be very defensive and assume people don't see me whether I'm on the sidewalk or the road. I'm just not seeing the huge downfall (safety wise) of being on the sidewalk.
That's a common fear, but it simply isn't justified. It is very rare for cyclists to be hit from behind, and when it does happen, it almost always involves cyclists riding at night without lights. The vast majority of collisions happen at intersections, where you are much safer on the road. The problem with sidewalks is that you are still exposed to cars at every intersection, alley, parking lot entrance, etc, but you are far less likely to be seen. The best way to stay safe is to be visible and predictable, and that means behaving like any other vehicle.

Last edited by IanHelgesen; 06-03-11 at 11:40 PM. Reason: clarity
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Old 06-04-11, 12:44 AM   #19
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The best way to stay safe is to be visible and predictable, and that means behaving like any other vehicle.
And conversely, behave like a pedestrian when on the sidewalks. If you ride your bike into an intersection from the sidewalk without looking, you are just as foolish as if you were to walk into an intersection without looking.

Where I live, there are plenty of stretches of wide sidewalks with few or no driveways. Some of these stretches of sidewalk follow along busy one way streets, cars parallel parked on each shoulder, with speeds hitting 45 mph. I have no problem taking the lane when I think it is the safest move.. but I will also ride on the sidewalk when I think that will get me home in one piece.

obviously, find out and follow your local laws. Last night i went cruising through the bar district on my bike, riding the sidewalk pretty much the whole time. Saw plenty of cops, none said a word to me.

If i had to commute regularly though I would definitely recommend finding a route where you feel safe riding in the road the whole way

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Old 06-04-11, 01:04 AM   #20
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Some people will insist you have to ride in the road at all times, but in downtown San Jose, it's safer imo to mix sidewalk and road riding, depending on the street, time of day and level of traffic. ideally you should find a route which allows you to stay on the road as much as possible, simply because roads are smoother and you can go faster

When riding on the sidewalk, you have to think and act more like a fast moving pedestrian than a bike rider.. ie stop/slow down at intersections to ensure no cars are turning, watch out for cars coming down driveways, etc

When riding in the road, don't be afraid to "take the lane" and act like a car when you have to. If you ride predictably and with the speed of traffic, most car drivers will give you your space.
I agree with all this, from an L.A. point of view. Regardless of what the sidewalk haters think, not everyone's town/situation is the same as theirs. Most places here, it's legal to be on the sidewalk as long as you yield to peds, which is really a non-issue. It's sometimes safer or more convenient to just slow down and ride the sidewalk depending on the situation.
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Old 06-04-11, 03:25 AM   #21
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Road. Sometimes the side, sometimes the middle of the lane.
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Old 06-04-11, 03:51 AM   #22
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This accident was 5 miles outside of my city. http://www.gainesville.com/article/2...9903?p=1&tc=pg
The basic rundown: There was a huge bike even with lots of riders from around the country. They were riding on the shoulder of a country road. I young guy in a puck-up truck veered into the shoulder and hit a biker. He died right away. Initial reports thought that the driver was distracted by his phone. Last I heard was that they checked his phone records and there was no phone activity at the time of the accident (certainly he could have still been distracted by the phone if he was going to make a call or text and didn't get to it yet...etc.).

I am not trying to be argumentative, but this type of incident is the biggest risk that is on my mind. I try to be very defensive and assume people don't see me whether I'm on the sidewalk or the road. I'm just not seeing the huge downfall (safety wise) of being on the sidewalk.

I've been commuting for about two weeks now. The only bad experience on the road I personally have had is that coming up to an intersection there was a car to my left and a curb on my right. The driver was looking left to look for cars as he approached the intersection, he was going to make a right on red. We weren't quite to the intersection yet and he started moving to the right and got real close to the curb before making his turn. I had to hit the brakes and fall in behind him.

However, riding on the sidewalk is annoying.
These sorts of accidents are statistically rare. The biggest risk in cycling is at intersections, and that's precisely where sidewalk riding exacerbates things. Vehicles on the same road turning right are more likely to right-hook you, and oncoming vehicles making a left onto the road you're crossing (or driveway) are more likely to left-hook you. When you're riding on the sidewalk, especially at speed, drivers aren't looking for fast moving objects there, and so are more likely to not see you or misjudge your speed if they do see you. Also when changing from sidewalk to road and vice-versa, you should be especially careful. Additionally, many driveways don't have as clear sight-lines as you would think. The only accident I've ever been in was when I was driving... I pulled out of a driveway slowly (I knew it had poor line of sight), but still couldn't stop in time to avoid hitting a cyclist who darted out from behind the bushes at full speed (thankfully she was OK).

Because of these reasons, it's almost always far safer to ride on the road (with few exceptions, but exceptions - for example if the sidewalk has few intersections/driveways and it's a road of 45 or 50mph+, I might start eyeing the sidewalk). If I do ride the sidewalk, I act as a pedestrian, including lower speed.

If you are concerned about rear-end collisions while riding on the road, I highly recommend riding with a mirror (glasses or helmet mount if you're OK with the nerd factor). Also, this video was very helpful for me when first learning to ride in traffic. Doesn't cover everything, but it's a good basic video.


Last edited by sudo bike; 06-04-11 at 03:56 AM.
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Old 06-04-11, 03:55 AM   #23
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I agree with all this, from an L.A. point of view. Regardless of what the sidewalk haters think, not everyone's town/situation is the same as theirs. Most places here, it's legal to be on the sidewalk as long as you yield to peds, which is really a non-issue. It's sometimes safer or more convenient to just slow down and ride the sidewalk depending on the situation.
+1 It is very situation specific. While there are some good general rules about where it is best to ride and the general rule that I've personally seen work most places is to ride in the road, not on the sidewalk, but there are places and times where the sidewalk is safer and unless someone knows the specific road and have actually ridden on it themselves multiple times they really shouldn't second guess what other people do. As far as the OP is concerned I would encourage him to find some experienced riders and see if he can spend some time riding with them on the roads in question. There are many roads I used to think were dangerous to ride on and I avoided but with experience I found it actually wasn't so dangerous after all. That said, there are a still some places I absolutely will not ride in the road and always use the sidewalk.
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Old 06-04-11, 04:47 AM   #24
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imo, cyclist are vehicles! Slower moving, but vehicles never the less. I have ridden on sidewalks, but always felt very uncomfortable. Pedestrians are much slower than a bike and are in danger of being scared or hit by a cyclist. And as stated several time above, being in the street on a bike does make you more visible to cars. It does take some time to get used to riding in traffic, take your time and be aware of your surroundings at ALL times. We all have the right to use the roads, just be respectful and safe.
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Old 06-04-11, 06:56 AM   #25
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"By riding on the sidewalk, you feel more in control of your safety"

That's a perfect description of how I feel. I've ridden bicycles for a pretty long time and feel really comfortable on them. But sometimes people in cars are ridiculous. They may not pay attention or drive like idiots or whatever (DUI is big problem here too). I understand that you are more visible in the road than on the sidewalk. But, I normally ride very defensively on the sidewalk and try to identify all places where a car might pull out and not see me, etc.

So, if there is no shoulder/bike lane and the speed limit is 40mph (which means drivers here are going 40-50), you road riding supporters would still just ride the right side of the right lane? This is a big chunk of my commute.

That video was good, but car drivers around here are going to get real pissed if you occupy the whole lane on a 40mph road, even if there is an extra lane to pass. That video seemed great for in town 30mph and below.

I'll probably give this a road riding a shot and see how it goes. I appreciate the debate, everyone.
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