“Get on the sidewalk!” I don’t think there’s anyone who has ridden a bike on a city street or country road that hasn’t heard this one before. Most of the time the harasser is out of earshot if you yell back, “I have a right to the road.” And in all states in the US you do have the right to ride in the roadway just like vehicles with few exceptions, namely controlled-access highways, also known as freeways, interstates or motorways.
Of course, if you ride on the sidewalk, you’re just as likely get scolded with “Get OFF the sidewalk!” by people walking there, feeding yet again into the scofflaw cyclist image. You can’t win.
Claim: Scofflaw cyclists ride on sidewalks!
Whether it’s legal to ride on the sidewalk is not so clear. Most states, including California, Texas and New York, leave the decision to local jurisdictions. In San Francisco, it’s illegal for adults everywhere with a few notable exceptions. In my home city of Mountain View, it’s illegal for adults only in business districts. And in San Jose, it’s legal everywhere for all ages. So this man riding on the sidewalk in downtown San Jose is riding legally.
To those who are ready to scroll down to the comment section and give me a keyboardful about the dangers of sidewalk cycling: please wait. Yes, bicycling on the sidewalk can be dangerous, both for the person on the bike and for people walking or standing on the sidewalk. But much of the danger comes with speed.
Drivers are looking for people moving at walking speed, not faster than running speeds. (That’s one reason why young children are usually allowed to bike on sidewalks) Ditto for people walking along the sidewalk or stepping out of buildings. Let’s hope our sidewalk-cycling guy only rides this close to storefronts that are boarded up.
Why do people ride on the sidewalk? Sometimes it’s for convenience or out of habit, but much of the time it’s because the sidewalk feels safer than the roadway. This man was riding along Santa Clara Street, which has four lanes of car traffic and parked cars on either side. I ride it occasionally, but it’s very stressful. There’s a bike lane on a parallel street 1/0 of a mile away, but the one-way streets leading there don’t have bike lanes either.
Assessment: The sidewalk-biking guy is not a scofflaw; he’s riding legally even if arguably unsafely.
As someone who has the choice to ride a bike or drive a car, I’m not going to judge people who may not have that choice. He was riding slowly and I saw him give a woman ample room when he passed. Besides, there are several places I ride on the sidewalk in San Jose. With roads like the one below, can you really blame me?
Have you been called a scofflaw for riding on a sidewalk? Were you riding legally? Are you sure?
The City of San Jose is hosting a public meeting on Wednesday, September 17, 2014 at 6pm at City Hall that includes discussion of a ban on sidewalk riding. If you live or work in San Jose, I encourage you to attend. All I ask is that you consider the needs of everyone who rides a bicycle, not just those with the skill, speed and courage to ride comfortably on any road, or the option to hop in the car where the roads are unforgiving.