Friday, March 23, 2012

Riding on the Sidewalk

My friend got hit by a car yesterday, thankfully she got through with a scraped knee and perhaps broken pinky finger. Immediately putting her ordeal on Facebook, her post quickly filled with comments. Besides the usual "Omigod are you ok?" comments you get the other typical comment associated with cycling accidents, "I always ride on the sidewalk..."

No. Just NO.

Riding on the sidewalk is NOT safer than riding on the road. It does not make you smarter than the bloke riding on the road, and if you do it without recognizing the real ways you can get hit by a car, it means you are actually in MORE danger. In your false sense of security and safety, you won't pay as much attention.

Let's walk through a typical scenario. You are on a busy street, let's say N. Lamar near 12th street. Riding on the sidewalk seems preferable to riding with traffic that is moving very, very, fast. Here are 4 points you can get hit by a car:

1. Cars pulling out from driveways and parking lots.

Especially on streets like Lamar with a lot of businesses, you need to pay attention to cars trying to turn onto the main street. Drivers do not expect to see you there, and will pull forward as far as possible to get a good look at oncoming traffic.

2. Cars emerging from cross streets.

Streets like Lamar have a lot of intersections, and for each one you have to look and see if there is a car coming from your right looking to turn onto the main street. Drivers rarely respect those white painted crosswalks, as they are trying to pull as far forward as they can to see traffic, and often their view is obstructed by other vehicles or stupid bushes. (Sorry that happens to me so often here in Austin) Unfortunately, this is exactly the path that you are using and it is up to you to make sure the way is clear. Here, I sympathize with the driver, since you are not expecting something as fast as a bicycle to be there. When coming to an intersection it is very important to slow down and observe.

3. Cars turning left onto a cross street. (Meaning they are turning left into your path)

These drivers are looking at oncoming traffic only. They are not looking on the sidewalk to see if you are there. I know I never did before I started cycling, and still really don't a lot of the time. This one takes perfect timing, but I've had a close call with this very type of situation, so it happens. The best way to avoid this is to ride a little behind a pack of cars, thereby ensuring nobody but someone with a suicide wish would turn left into. Otherwise, check to see if there is someone in a turn lane before crossing.

4. Cars turning right

Technically if you are riding alongside a car, the driver should notice you, but that doesn't always happen. People get distracted, are looking at a billboard, whatever. This type of accident is a big possibility even if you are on the road with them, so imagine how more dangerous it is if you are in an unexpected place, out of their line of sight. Every time you come to an intersection or driveway, you need to look over your shoulder and make sure a car isn't preparing to turn in front of you. And don't trust that just because you don't see any turn signals means you are home free.

So, riding on the sidewalk requires just as much vigilance as riding on the road, if not more. You are in a place where drivers don't expect to find you, and even though many cyclists ride on the sidewalk at some point or another here in Austin, it doesn't mean Austin drivers are aware of it.

In the case of a road like N. Lamar, riding on the sidewalk is the lesser of two evils. I know I would ride on the sidewalk there, but it is also where I almost got hit. Choosing to ride on the sidewalk is more comfortable for me, but I go into it knowing it is not necessarily safer. In some parts of Austin, like Parmer, where there are wide sidewalks and few intersections, it might be a safer choice. It is important to remember that getting hit from behind by a car is the least likely accident, but for some reason is the one that people imagine and fear the most.

Also, in certain parts of Austin, riding on the sidewalk is illegal. Guadalupe in the West Campus area and certain part of downtown (I don't know exactly where, its like the 1600 block of Congress to no one is going to remember that on their bike). So I don't ride on the sidewalk at all downtown just to be safe, and I don't know why you would want to with the pedestrians, benches and other crap in the way.

So, wherever you are be safe, and remember safety is a combination of factors. Once you get used to looking out for these things, you can relax and enjoy the ride. Riding is supposed to be fun.

No comments:

Post a Comment