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Sidewalk or Road?

Old 10-13-15, 10:10 PM
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Sidewalk or Road?

I'm a newbie regular commuter who bikes about 5 miles to and from university four days a week, and I am so scared of riding in the road. It always feels like I'm not going fast enough to be safe, and so I try to stick to the sidewalks when they're available/unobstructed/in good condition. My question is: what speed should I stay above/average to be relatively safe while cycling on the road with cars?

Additional note: My route to school is about 50% on roads where bikes have full lane access. Speed limits on route range from 25 to 35 mph.
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Old 10-13-15, 10:35 PM
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Road 100%. Sidewalks are meant for pedestrians walking, not bikes. Is there a route that you can find that has a bike lane? Try your route on a Sunday afternoon where there might be less traffic, maybe around dinner time. Practice riding in the road/bike lane with cars. Don't give them too much room if you are in the lane as they will try to squeeze by you in the lane, forcing you curbside. You don't want to be there.
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Old 10-13-15, 10:39 PM
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Wear Bright Clothing and get one of these for Day or night riding.

https://www.amazon.com/Cygolite-Hotsh...ywords=dinotte
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Old 10-13-15, 10:53 PM
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Road.
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Old 10-13-15, 11:24 PM
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If you can't decide for yourself............

Take the bus, because taking advice from people on the internet who don't know you, or your route is a bad idea. Its just trading your phobias for theirs.



Stick with what you're comfortable doing, and the rest will come in time.

Last edited by kickstart; 10-13-15 at 11:46 PM.
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Old 10-14-15, 05:16 AM
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Road. Never on Sidewalk...

...but, there are exceptions. I usually reserve these for high speed (>45 mph) roads with zero shoulder, or blocked edges due to construction, or somesuch.

If the road is truly designated as a "share the road" with markings and signage, then drivers should expect you to take the lane fully and ride at your pace. Tough noogies if they have to drive slower behind you.

How fast should you ride? How blue is the sky? Ride your own ride.

Is this the only route to school? Can't identify a longer way through neighborhoods or otherwise parallel to the main traffic path?
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Old 10-14-15, 05:55 AM
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Ride with what's comfortable for you. Ideally you should be on the road, but if that scares the bejeesus out of you, then it's not worth the anxiety. Just slow down and watch out for pedestrians. If you're puttering along slow enough on the sidewalk, it is safer.
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Old 10-14-15, 06:07 AM
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Sidewalks are for walking. I would only use them if the road was really bad and I was only going a short distance. 5 miles is too long on sidewalks. You would have to speed down alot to ride safely on sidewalks and it would take you ages to reach university.

So you should use the road. Can you give a screenshot of the typical road on your route? Like with google map?

Now how should you ride on the road? There are different oppinions on this. Alot of "cycle activists" here will tell you to take the lane. I would strongly advise that you don't. In the real world, most cyclists don't take the lane.

In my experience taking the lane will provoke angry drivers and dangerous driving. Stick to the far side of the road. Try to stay as still as possible and take up as little space as possible to make it easier for faster vehicles to get past you. I think this will make you feel much safer than riding in the middle of traffic surrounded by much larger and much faster vehicles constantly holding up behind you waiting for the slightest opputunity to dangerously accelerate past you.

Maybe also find a different route and stay away from main roads with high levels of traffic. I enjoy cycling the most when I'm on side roads, even if its a longer route.
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Old 10-14-15, 06:22 AM
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On roads where the max speed is 35, there shouldn't be an issue. OP just needs to get out there and get more familiar with riding in traffic. This sounds a lot like my commute actually, just a shorter version.
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Old 10-14-15, 06:24 AM
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I would look carefully at maps to find a route that avoids higher speed roads if at all possible. The rule of thumb that I've given my kids is to avoid roads that have two or more lanes of traffic going in one direction, because the drivers are being controlled by the flow of traffic rather than vice versa. Unless there is a dedicated bike lane.

Once you gain a bit more confidence on the neighborhood streets, you will be a better judge of which of the faster roads you can ride on.

See if cyclists have already found a preferred route through your neighborhood. I live on such a route, and dozens of bikes go by every morning. There's strength in numbers, and the car drivers expect us.
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Old 10-14-15, 06:37 AM
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Originally Posted by mozad655
...Stick to the far side of the road. Try to stay as still as possible and take up as little space as possible to make it easier for faster vehicles to get past you. I think this will make you feel much safer than riding in the middle of traffic surrounded by much larger and much faster vehicles constantly holding up behind you waiting for the slightest opputunity to dangerously accelerate past you.
Be careful about this statement, even though I agree with everything else mozad655 has to say. A pic of a typical stretch of your route would be helpful, because there are so many different circumstances. Perhaps keep to the right if you must, but ride big, not small. If you encourage the driver(s) to think "maybe I can squeeze past him/her..." they will try. And that is much more stressful for you because of the close passes, and you are placing yourself in more danger. If you decide to be on the road, and the lane isn't wide enough to share with the occasional lawn service truck and trailer, bus, or even semi tractor trailer, then either:
1. make it clear that motorists will need to change lanes to go around you (by riding more to the center of the lane) or
2. stay on the sidewalk / find a different route.

My point is that you probably won't feel safer if the lane isn't very wide and you are way over on the right with no wiggle room. You will probably feel more stressed.

Don't go past your comfort zone at first, but try to build it bigger over time. Ride big. Make sure they can see you. You will build up a tolerance to the few other people in cars that honk at you or yell something, because they don't think you have a right to use a public road.
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Old 10-14-15, 06:53 AM
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Road. What gets me are the college kids here that ride on the sidewalk when there is a designated bike lane right next to them! I don't often care about "slowing" motorists. If they don't like me on the road, they can write to their congressperson.
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Old 10-14-15, 07:24 AM
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If there are no bike lanes, then I would say 99% road...but I make a couple of exceptions on my route. There is a bridge I have to go over every morning that has very narrow car lanes, I don't even like driving over it, and it's very busy. Drivers are in such a hurry to get to the next stoplight on the other side of the bridge for whatever reason. A long section of the bridge can be very slippery when wet. There is also a nice wide sidewalk that goes over the bridge as well. I glance ahead, and if there's no one on that sidewalk, I'll take it. Many times I'll come up on a jogger, and if the road is clear, I'll hop out onto the road as a courtesy to the jogger/walker.

There's another section of my route that is a long uphill, and traffic goes fast. If the sidewalk is clear, sometimes I'll get on it just to the top of the hill.

On the flat sections of my route, I average probably 20/21 mph, but honestly I doubt it's any safer than if I was going 17/18. 3 mph just doesn't make that big a difference as far as giving cars time to react. On downhills, I go the speed limit on my route, and take up as much of the lane as I want, given that I'm going the speed limit.
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Old 10-14-15, 07:38 AM
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Originally Posted by kickstart
If you can't decide for yourself............

Take the bus, because taking advice from people on the internet who don't know you, or your route is a bad idea. Its just trading your phobias for theirs.

Stick with what you're comfortable doing, and the rest will come in time.
^^ Bingo! - what kickstart said.

If people don't know you or your riding situation I'd go with what kickstart said, take the bus or find another route. I'm a pretty experienced rider but there are still a few roads in Atlanta that I try to avoid because the streets are very narrow, have many blind bends in the road and in rush hour traffic the streets are very dangerous for a biker.

Also, I believe in some states It's against the law to ride on the sidewalks.
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Old 10-14-15, 07:47 AM
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People don't always perceive danger accurately. Of course, the sidewalk seems safer, but it isn't always. If there are a lot of residential driveways and/or businesses with parking lots along your route, then the sidewalk is likely to be more dangerous than the road, due to all the cars backing out of or turning in to driveways, not expecting you to be there. If there are a lot of intersections along your route, that also makes the sidewalk more dangerous, as most accidents occur at intersections, and drivers may not expect you to ride into the intersection from the sidewalk.
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Old 10-14-15, 07:55 AM
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Realize that sidewalks hold dangers for bikes and might not be the safer option. When on sidewalk you become basically invisible to car drivers who are looking for vehicles on the road. Come to an intersection expect that cars will be turning in front of you. Same at driveways. Kids, dogs, leashes, joggers, trash cans, other stuff on sidewalks. If riding on sidewalk should limit speed to like 10 MPH or less (depends so much on where you are). On the road you have other issues, but can move along as fast as you can peddle most times.

Some good tips on commuting on bike in this link (suggested reading):Bicycle Commuting
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Old 10-14-15, 08:14 AM
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Originally Posted by yooperbiker
Realize that sidewalks hold dangers for bikes and might not be the safer option. When on sidewalk you become basically invisible to car drivers who are looking for vehicles on the road. Come to an intersection expect that cars will be turning in front of you. Same at driveways. Kids, dogs, leashes, joggers, trash cans, other stuff on sidewalks. If riding on sidewalk should limit speed to like 10 MPH or less (depends so much on where you are). On the road you have other issues, but can move along as fast as you can peddle most times.

Some good tips on commuting on bike in this link (suggested reading):Bicycle Commuting
This is soooo very true.

Years ago I actually backed into a guy on his bike while I was coming out of my driveway, he was basically blind to me on the sidewalk and was going so fast that he didn't see me either; fortunately it was just a slight tap and he was fine. Years ago I also had a minor run in with a car when I was coming off the bike path that runs along the highway, they didn't see me when I was coming off the path as it ended but if I had been on the street they would have just gone around me.

I also ride a scooter and a motorcycle so my radar is always on full alert when I'm riding, especially since I ride in an urban area most of the time.
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Old 10-14-15, 08:34 AM
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Originally Posted by fat_liibrariian
My question is: what speed should I stay above/average to be relatively safe while cycling on the road with cars?.
I'm surprised nobody answered this question yet.

I was told by a couple of guys that 20-24 mph would be good on the road, but so much depends on traffic conditions. For example, you don't really need to be pedaling frantically, bursting your lungs and all that if traffic volume has forced cars to go only 10 mph or less.

I find that I only need to ride just fast enough to discourage motorists from trying to cut me off in order to park on the side of the street - or at least go a fair distance ahead of me before turning right or parking.

Originally Posted by fat_liibrariian
Additional note: My route to school is about 50% on roads where bikes have full lane access. Speed limits on route range from 25 to 35 mph.
Sounds like riding only on sidewalk is not a choice for you anyway. To build your confidence riding on the road, try riding with a coworker to/from work and/or find a casual cycling group that does fun social rides. You might also find a "city cycling" class offered by a local nonprofit.

As others have said, riding on the sidewalk can be dangerous wherever driveways and roads intersect with the sidewalk. I recently witnessed a cyclist nearly crash into a car that came out of an underground parking garage. The cyclist was pedaling along leisurely, then the car suddenly materialized seemingly out of nowhere because it was so fast. The cyclist saved himself by putting his hands on the car to stop his fall. Even a responsible driver coming out of a driveway might not spot a cyclist on the sidewalk in time because cyclists move faster than pedestrians.

I also recently saw a cyclist lying on the street injured because she was hit by a car turning left, while riding on a crosswalk. So watch out when you ride on a sidewalk and have to cross a street on a crosswalk to get to the sidewalk on the other side.

Last edited by GovernorSilver; 10-14-15 at 08:39 AM.
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Old 10-14-15, 09:01 AM
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Originally Posted by GovernorSilver
...

I was told by a couple of guys that 20-24 mph would be good on the road, ...
Yes, that would be good.
I would like to be that good.
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Old 10-14-15, 09:08 AM
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Originally Posted by yooperbiker
Yes, that would be good.
I would like to be that good.
I average more like 17 mph when I'm on the road with rush hour traffic - not that close to the 20-24 mph range. I know some guys who ride fast enough to take advantage of the traffic lights when they change from red to green in a wave - I don't have an engine like that.
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Old 10-14-15, 09:36 AM
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Take a road safety class from LAB or the Cycling Savvy class (which I prefer). All questions will be answered there.
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Old 10-14-15, 09:39 AM
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i agree with most of what was said above, as a cyclist the idea is to be seen while riding. the fear of having your back to traffic is legitimate and i understand wanting to ride on the sidewalk. but motorists won't see you coming off the curb as others have said. plus, the last thing you want is to hurt yourself or a pedestrian.

on the road, motorists will see you as part of traffic and go around, but to help them see you, do things to be seen. that means taking the lane when appropriate, you can opt to wear bright clothing, but mostly i would just get the brightest lights you can find (front and back) and use them during the day and at night - they far more increase your visibility. as such, you can ride more confidently that you're being seen.

when motorists honk at me i give them a friendly wave and say thanks for letting me pass! or something similar. remember you have a right to the road. best of luck whatever you decide...
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Old 10-14-15, 10:37 AM
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Assuming you're in the U.S., I highly recommend taking a Traffic Skills course given by a League of American Bicyclists instructor. (www.bikeleague.org) Check the website to find any scheduled in your area.

Next, check your DMV for any bicycling tips. PA has a very nice booklet describing how bicyclists should behave on the roads.

Finally, find a quieter road where you can practice on the weekends. Riding with cars can be a bit nerve-wracking at first, but the fear disappears as your confidence builds.

The best way to ride your bike on the road is to pretend you're a slow-moving car. Stay to the right when it's safe, but don't be afraid to merge into traffic when needed (avoiding obstacles, turning left, lane too narrow for safe passing, etc.).

Don't worry about your speed. Ride at a pace that is comfortable for you.
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Old 10-14-15, 11:07 AM
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The roads to my work are crowded and have curbs, not shoulders. No bike lanes or MUPs. I can either take the lane in dark 50mph traffic or ride the sidewalk. I have not worked myself up to taking the lane, especially in the mornings when it's dark.

So I have been riding the sidewalks. I am constantly on the lookout for cars pulling out of side streets and driveways, but I do feel more safe than if I was out on the street.

When I take fun rides that are further north, and the roads have shoulders and wider lanes, then I do ride in the lanes.
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Old 10-14-15, 11:50 AM
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Originally Posted by Gresp15C
I would look carefully at maps to find a route that avoids higher speed roads if at all possible. The rule of thumb that I've given my kids is to avoid roads that have two or more lanes of traffic going in one direction, because the drivers are being controlled by the flow of traffic rather than vice versa. Unless there is a dedicated bike lane.

Once you gain a bit more confidence on the neighborhood streets, you will be a better judge of which of the faster roads you can ride on.

See if cyclists have already found a preferred route through your neighborhood. I live on such a route, and dozens of bikes go by every morning. There's strength in numbers, and the car drivers expect us.
Why would you want to avoid roads with multiple lanes in each direction? Those are IMHO the easiest to ride on because there is always at least one lane open for motorists to pass, instead of motorists having to slow down, wait to pass, getting impatient, etc.

OP, either ride in the lane, center or left of center in the right lane, or use the sidewalk with EXTREME caution (read: SLOW!). Please, whatever you do, do not ride in the gutter of the road. You're far more likely to get overlooked and sideswiped by a motorist who either doesn't notice you off at the edge, or thinks he can squeeze by in the lane. And of course there is all the debris near the gutter that is blown over by passing cars.

It may seem counter intuitive at first, but the farther left you get, out from the edge, the better passing you'll get. If you choose to use the sidewalk, you must use great care at all road crossings, but even more so at driveways. Motorists aren't looking for cyclists on sidewalks, and can easily pull out and hit you. It's worse when the sight lines are bad, such as a sidewalk with a retaining wall, shrubs or trees immediately behind it.

I highly recommend CyclingSavvy if you live close enough to a class location. They teach you the tools and techniques to go anywhere by bike, whether there is bike infrastructure or not. They teach things like how to recognize crash hazards, and ways to avoid them. Contrary to what some may believe, CS is NOT anti-infrastructure. But by learning and using the techniques taught in the class and on the road, you can recognize potential conflicts and hazards while riding on a sidewalk or in a bike lane, and learn the best ways to avoid the potential crash hazards. Most people who take CS are beginners, many of them women, and I know personally of many who discover how easy and stress-free it can be to ride on public roads. You don't have to be fast. I ride 10-12 mph on some 40-MPH roads if I have a strong headwind and/or uphill, and very rarely have any problems.

I'm also a big proponent of making yourself as visible as possible. None of this "ride as if you're invisible" nonsense. No, you are there, you exist. Might as well make yourself known, as if you're shouting from the rooftops "HEY, I'm a cyclist and I'm right here! Look at me! See me! Avoid me!". In addition to an assertive lane position, I like to use bright lights at all times day or night - steady (or pulsing) at night, and flashing in daylight hours. I run two 2-watt rear lights (Cygolite Hotshots) for visibility and redundancy.

If the roads you use have plenty of space for motorists to pass (multiple lanes each direction, or center turn lane, and/or wide outside lanes) it should be relatively easy.
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