Advocating for cycling in a city with one of the highest car per capita rates in the country is honestly frustrating, to say the least. Constantly biking on roads made for anything but bikes, with drivers who don’t understand that two feet of space at 45 miles per hour is far from adequate… yeah, that’s enough to make a cyclist angry on a daily basis.
Recently, just for kicks, I started a site advocating for… dare I say it… riding on the sidewalk. This was more of a social experiment than anything, an attempt to see what would happen if I even suggested it.
The idea was, and I actually believe this, our roads are so unmanageable and unsafe by bike that most casual riders would never think to ride with traffic. However, there is such a strong stigma that comes with riding on the sidewalk as an adult that the casual rider feels uncomfortable there as well. My point was that perhaps we have alienated generations of potential bike riders by shunning sidewalk use… maybe we should revisit the idea of welcoming bikes on the sidewalk in our less dense urban areas, thus encouraging an experience that might be more comfortable for the casual cyclist.
The result of this “experiment” was quite predicable. Urbanists, cyclists and pretty much everyone that is usually in “my corner” on cycling issues wondered if I had gone mad. Several cited studies (and they’re right) that riding on the sidewalk is less safe than riding in the road. I even heard from people that believed that riding on the sidewalk was dangerous and disruptive to pedestrians, and that alone should be the reason for riding bikes in the road.
If you ask a bike rider how many times an angry driver has told them to “get on the sidewalk,” we will all answer with some derivative of “more than I can count.” Every day on my simple 10 mile round trip commute, I encounter at least one driver who’s actions reveal he or she cares more about saving 10 seconds on the road than they do about the safety of those around them.
Drivers on the road don’t respect us. Pedestrians on sidewalks think we’re disruptive. Dedicated cyclists believe the only place for bikes is with traffic. What does this mean?
It means we are stuck in between. We feel the wrath of cars approaching behind us, wondering silently if this will be the one that does us in. If we ride on the sidewalk, we face the statistical truth that cars don’t look for cyclists in places built for pedestrians. Furthermore, those on foot loathe the cyclist as a disruptive and hostile force.
I fully appreciate my city’s efforts to create new cycling infrastructure, but where new bike lanes have been created, old bike lanes have faded so badly that they can’t be seen anymore. This, combined with cars and trucks that park in the new bike lanes due to a lack of knowledge that these are not parking spaces further diminishes the legitimacy of the cyclist.
We are not fast moving cars that have dedicated space, nor are we slow moving pedestrians with dedicated space… those of us on two wheels will continue to grovel for legitimacy, caught in between two worlds of speed and priority. Perhaps our cities’ continued appreciation for the importance of cycling for transportation will lead to a future where bikes have their place in our transit world… until then, we are undoubtedly and invariably, stuck in between.