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where the bike lane meets the sidewalk

December 1, 2010

Bike on Bridge

I recently wrote about my holiday shopping trip by bike. While I had many cheerful pictures of decorated storefronts and holidays lights to share, I left out another aspect of this shopping trip. Going to Borders, Best Buy, and Aldi meant riding into the ‘business district’ where all the large chain stores and chain restaurants reside. My usual commute is confined to trips from my house, to campus, and to the historic downtown with its quaint neighborhood streets and one street of shops and very limited traffic. The area of town housing the mega chain stores is another beast altogether.

It’s accessible by large (usually four lane) roads that lead to huge parking lots all connected by other parking lots. There are no bikes lanes along these roads. But there are sidewalks! Because there are no bike lanes, it is legal for bikes to use sidewalks in our town (this is not a good thing). But it is good that these sidewalks exist and – having no other option – I was happy to use them. They are generally well lit and well paved and they took me all the way to where I needed to go.

Business district

It’s not an ideal bike situation but it’s a very doable and safe one (you’re removed from cars by an actual barrier). And given that it was between 5-7 pm (already getting dark out) and 35 F, I had no pedestrians competing for that sidewalk space with me.

(Honestly, the worst part was the parking lots. With no sidewalks and with cars potentially coming from all sides, I was on super high alert and constantly checking my sides and behind me to make sure drivers noticed me.)

I had always been somewhat intimidated by that side of town. I knew it to have huge roads with heavy traffic and no bike lanes. I wasn’t sure how much of it was made available by a sidewalk. But I’m really glad I just went out there and attempted to ride to my destinations. And it worked. Sometimes you really don’t need a perfect solution, just a viable one. And I’ll take that sidewalk for now, it’s better than nothing at all.

Business District

15 Comments leave one →
  1. December 1, 2010 18:26

    Sorry, but I had to giggle a littel bit. It’s so recognizable! Altough we don’t have the double lane roads in town, I dó recognize the parking lots problems!

    Anyway.. good job! ;o)

    • December 1, 2010 19:14

      Yeah, gotta love that urban sprawl of Walmart, Target, Best Buy…etc etc. So ugly and only made for cars, I wish city planners would build spaces with people and not only cars in mind.

  2. Melissa S. permalink
    December 1, 2010 18:49

    Why do you say it is not a good thing that it is legal to ride on the sidewalk when there are no bike lanes? We have hardly any bike lanes AND it’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk. This leaves riders that want to ride in areas without bike lanes in limbo. It’s illegal, but you have to do it.
    I wish it was legal to ride on the sidewalk where there weren’t bike lanes. It would make riders feel more valid.

    • December 1, 2010 19:12

      I say it because relegating bikes to the sidewalk is not really a good solution for making a place bike and pedestrian friendly. Pedestrians usually take up all of the sidewalk and feel like you’re taking *their* space when riding by and having to ring a bell to ask them to make room for you. Meanwhile, since drivers here know that bikes can ride on the sidewalks, they expect them there even on roads that have bike lanes and signs saying ‘share the road’. It ends up leaving cyclists neither here nor there – unwanted on both ends.

      It also tends to give drivers the sense of entitlement to the road where they are rude and aggressive when having to share it with cyclists. And this even in parts of town where there are no sidewalks but there are bike lanes and the road should be shared.

      I can understand your frustration, I think NOT being allowed to use sidewalks and NOT having bike lanes is even worse. Where are you supposed to go then? But at least you could make a strong case for the need of bike lanes if you’re not supposed to be on the road.

      Here, it seems like city planners have washed their hands off the whole thing. Bikes can go on sidewalks (despite how narrow and unevenly paved they are, and despite it often forces either bike or pedestrian to hop off the sidewalk to make room for one another) and thus the need for bike lanes is solved.


      • December 1, 2010 21:36

        I agree, biking on the sidewalk is not good for cyclists, but once in awhile there isn’t much choice. I think I would have wound up on the sidewalk were I faced with the choices you had (on a major arterial street in the dark and rain, or on an empty sidewalk).

        I think another point about cycling on the sidewalk is that it can cause some serious safety problems for people on bikes. When you ride on the sidewalk, your visibility to cars is reduced (there are trees, shrubs, etc. between you and the road), drivers don’t expect to see a fast moving vehicle (you!) on the sidewalk, and you may be struck by a car that is trying to turn onto a street or into a driveway. I used to ride my bike on the sidewalk all the time, because it somehow felt safer, but now I do my best to be on the road, where I’m more visible. It’s difficult where there is no bike infrastructure, though!

        This tutorial has more information:

        I also want to say that I really enjoy your blog! Like you, I am spending my first winter cycling for transportation and have been blogging about it. Getting to places that I formerly drove or took the bus to has been on my mind a lot lately, so your post really struck a chord with me. Thanks for writing this great blog!

      • Charlotte permalink
        December 6, 2010 17:38

        Thanks to you guys for having this discussion ! I am probably the only reader here (and one of the very few people in general) to be completely terrified of riding bikes, but I looooove walking, no matter how hard the US is making it for me compared to my native France (Paris)…
        … and I must admit to sometimes getting irritated by bikes riding on the sidewalk. This is giving me another perspective and I will try to remember it next time!

    • STL Mom permalink
      December 9, 2010 19:24

      My kids and I do a lot of sidewalk biking in our town. Many of our streets are brick, which are really bumpy and uneven. Many streets are also narrow, so you have to swerve around parked cars. On smaller side streets, if there are cars coming from two directions, one may have to pull over behind a parked car to let the other car through. I wouldn’t trust a car to do that for my bike!
      If we meet cars at an intersection, we get off and walk our bikes across. I’ve also taught my kids that we have to yield to pedestrians, and either wait behind them or bike onto the grass (on the street side only — not on private lawns!) to go around them.
      I know it’s not perfect, but I trust myself not to run into pedestrians more than I trust drivers not to run into me.
      Sadly, it is snow and ice season now, and our bikes have been put away for the winter so we can fit the car into the garage!

  3. December 1, 2010 19:51

    I have to say that our time during the summer in Iowa (albeit only for a couple of days) was actually quite interesting. I didn’t expect to see so many bicyclists riding around town, but they were out and enjoying the gorgeous days. Of course, I was not in your area (most of our time in was spent in Des Moines), but I was surprised that there were so many bike lanes and that they were being used. I suppose my point is more wondering why the powers that be don’t share the wealth of information. I’m not saying things are perfect in Des Moines. I’m sure there are plenty of issues there as well that cyclists deal with, but I was pleasantly happy to see that the bike lanes were incorporated into the road, yet they had their own obvious lane, and cars seemed (from what I saw) to be respectful of those riding in the lanes. I know that doesn’t help your current situation, but I guess I’m curious as to how some cities in a state end up with great lanes, and others have none or unusable ones. It’s really no different here, but I have the same questions as I just don’t understand why planning isn’t taken more seriously, and why the leaders don’t utilize successful plans from other cities.

  4. December 1, 2010 21:24

    My city does not have bike lanes AND it is ilegal to ride on the sidewalk. I am frankly afraid to ride on the street. A couple of weeks ago a cyclist was killed by a car. And people thought it was his fault for getting in front of the car. Actually he was riding as close to the shoulder as possible. But I know what you mean.

    • December 1, 2010 22:52

      Ugh, that’s so sad! I’m sorry to hear that and I hope it doesn’t deter you from riding altogether.

  5. December 2, 2010 00:53

    S, thanks for posting this. When I read your blog about holiday shopping via the bicycle, these same type of roads, that you picture crossed my mind and I thought, how am I going to make shopping possible with these type of roads. There are some sidewalks; which I’ve studied extensively while in the car – to see if it’s possible. So, I was happy and inspired by today’s blog to see that you have actually taken the plunge and ridden these type of roads using the sidewalks. People here in Nashua, NH ride on the sidewalks all the time. I checked to see what the law here states, but there is no mention of sidewalks, unless I’ve missed it. To me it’s a matter of freedom. Do what it takes to keep you safe as long as it does not harm, or impede on the safety of harming others. With that said, I did come across someone recently walking on the shoulder as I was riding on the narrow shoulder. He had a perfect, beautiful sidewalk to walk on, but yet he was taking up my space. I was shocked, and lost my voice, but was able to pass him without getting hit by a car. I just shook my head when I rode passed him, but I should have spoken up.

  6. December 2, 2010 16:54

    I’m grateful that in Portland, there aren’t many places like this until you get way out to the edge of the city where the lines between the city and the suburbs get blurry, and to be honest, if you live in the inner part of the city, there are almost always local alternatives closer and more easily accessible than the big chain stores out on the edge of the city (WalMart, Best Buy, Target, Borders, etc). Occasionally, you’ll even find some of the nicer chain stores in downtown (there is a Borders, and a number of department stores like Macy’s and Nordstrom).

    I totally agree that it’s worth taking to the sidewalk if the street isn’t safe, and in Portland as well, it’s legal to ride on the sidewalks except in downtown. I agree with you, it’s not the best option (of course, safe streets are the best option), but it’s better than riding on a highway.

  7. Dawn permalink
    December 2, 2010 20:11

    My city has bike lanes, only they are poorly designed, covered with glass or combined with bus lanes. The only way for a cyclist to get around is to mingle with the cars and abide by the rules of the road, but unfortunately this isn’t a completely safe way of cycling. I am mostly happy to do this as I am a confident and fast cyclist but it is not safe for children or nervous cyclists. Even then I have been hit twice by cars since taking up cycling. The second time I was hit, my bike was destroyed, my helmet was shattered (did its job though) and I ended up in hospital. I still won’t cycle on sidewalks though as it is not an efficient way of commuting when you have to cross a side street every 500 metres or so.

    Ah, better bike infrastructure please!

  8. December 2, 2010 22:27

    I just find going to the big-box enclaves extremely depressing. The ones in Louisville all have sidewalk but you never see anyone using them. Many are surrounded by huge, fairly new neighborhood that suggest to me that leisure is largely limited to shopping. I suppose if I lived in an area like that I’d ride my bike on the sidewalk, not sure what the other option would be.

  9. December 4, 2010 06:25

    Wow! We don’t grow sidewalks like that in Nashville. :) I wish my Aldi were in a spot that I could get to by bike. I just have to try to limit or consolidate my trips outside the bike-friendly areas of town.

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