Thursday, October 30, 2014

Walk, Don't Ride: Dismounting Ordinances for Bicycles

In the state of Colorado, it is legal to ride a bicycle on sidewalks unless it's posted otherwise (or local law indicates something to the contrary). While I think many would agree that riding on sidewalks can be dangerous - both for pedestrians and cyclists - there are times when I find myself riding a sidewalk because it is the lesser of two evils. Sometimes, it truly is safer to ride slowly on a sidewalk than to attempt to fit on the road with speeding traffic and no space. While I cannot speak for others on a bike, when on a sidewalk, I try to be hyper-aware of those on foot so that I don't scare or potentially injure someone.

Our local downtown (Old Town) areas' main thoroughfare is also part of a highway that runs through many cities. Although the maximum speed slows significantly through this area to 25 mph, many motorists drive faster and there isn't a lot of room to ride on the road between a line of parallel parked cars and the two lanes traveling each direction.

Because I frequent this area, I find myself riding side streets until I have to cross over to Main Street and then I ride the sidewalk very, very slowly (ridiculously so, truth be told - as in, I could probably get off and walk faster, but I'm lazy and don't want to do that).
There are a few of these signs that appeared magically over the last few months.
A few months ago, I noticed suddenly that there were large circles that had been painted on the sidewalk just outside of a local restaurant like the one pictured above. It appears quite large and obvious in the photo, but when walking (or riding) down the sidewalk, it seems that it could very easily go unseen, as it did for me. The first time I realized the sign was there was actually on my return trip via the same path.
Find the dismount sign painted on the sidewalk.
The photo above shows how easily this sign could be overlooked (and often is, in my experience over the last few months), by those on bicycles. In case you were unable to locate the sign on the sidewalk, which does pretty well blend in with the surroundings when walking or sitting atop a bicycle, I'll point it out in the photo below.
The red arrow marks the spot on the pavement with the large, painted circle and its instructions.
It's not impossible to see, but if a rider isn't aware that this ordinance exists, is s/he even looking for it? The first time I spotted the circle I mentioned to Sam that I'd never noticed it before and that it must be new. I also added that it would be nice if there were signs placed up on the poles, more at eye level, to help reinforce this and so that all traveling through the area could see the signs. Little did I realize that these signs were already in place.
Lo and behold, signs WERE placed at eye level announcing the ordinance.
You see the sign in the photo above, right? Yes, neither did I until about two weeks after my initial spotting of the painted circle. As I was walking back through this area, I just so happened to spot one of the small blue signs (of which there are a few, but they're all just as [in]visible). The one in the photo above is on the first light pole, just to the right side of the photo.
This is what the signs look like up close, but they're not as easy to spot when a person is just rolling through, even at slow speeds. I'll point out this particular sign with a red arrow below.
I couldn't help but think this all seemed a bit crazy. Not that there was a pedestrian zone in this area of town (I understand why it would be a great thing), but I couldn't recall ever seeing any news about such a law being enacted, and certainly there hadn't been any chatter about it to my knowledge. So, I went on a hunt to see what I could find out.

It turns out that there was a news article released locally about a dismount zone in the summer of 2013! How could I have gone so long and never noticed these signs?! As it turned out, an ordinance was enacted to help prevent collisions or near-misses through several blocks of the downtown area of Main Street. Apparently, there are no fines for not following the ordinance, but there is hope that it will cause more people to dismount their bicycles (or skateboards) when traveling through these few blocks.

Because I travel through this area very frequently, I can say with certainty that I almost never see anyone walking their bicycles on the sidewalk (In fact, just while taking these few photos in the middle of the week, in the middle of the day, I spotted a handful of cyclists who just rolled right through). If I had the time, I'd actually stop all of the riders and ask if they are even aware of the ordinance because I suspect that the majority (like myself) are (or in my case, were) unaware that this exists. True, it just makes sense to walk a bike in this type of area, but because it's been used by cyclists, I think there needs to be a better way of getting the news out to those on two wheels because I am not convinced the signs are doing the trick.

On another city webpage, I noted that the ordinance is a "voluntary" action, which would explain why there are no fines currently in place for violating the rule. I am really interested to see what comes from all of this and if fines will eventually be imposed to those who choose to disregard the signs.

Are you permitted to ride on sidewalks in your community? If there are signs that ask cyclists to dismount, are they more visible/obvious than these signs are? Are there fines for disobeying the signs/ordinances/etc? I am very curious as to what others across the nation and abroad have in place for highly pedestrian areas.

In the meantime, I've done my best to walk my bike through these few blocks. It's not the end of the world to jump to my feet for a bit, but I do wish that the spread of information was a little more accessible. Learning about this ordinance almost a year and a half after the fact seems a little much.

10 comments:

  1. I sometimes cycle on the pavement ( sidewalk) here in London, but only if the road is a really busy one and there are no pedestrians using it. I don't enjoy being overtaken by enormous buses, trucks etc and the road camber here is too pronounced for me to feel safe riding in the gutter. The problem is, riding on pavements is illegal in London ... I have never been fined yet though!
    G.E., I remember you saying once that you feel awkward when people are watching you as you get on your bike and start pedalling off. Has that improved? I feel the same and it drives me crazy. Surely after nearly a year of cycling I should be more confident at this most basic of skills?? I have never fallen off when starting to pedal yet, but it seems like I am always tense about the possibility of this happening. Talk about demons in your head! I am also a little afraid of taking a hand off the handlebars to signal, even though I have never fallen offs while doing so. Any advice? Thanks!

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    1. Stephanie,

      I'm glad you've managed to escape fines for your sidewalk rides thus far. I wonder how frequently others are fined? Do you notice many others on the sidewalks on bicycles? In the city of Denver (which is about a 40 minute drive from home, so I don't frequent the city very often), it is illegal to ride the city sidewalks, unless the rider is a newspaper delivery person, the rider is preparing to dismount the bicycle - as in front of a shop - and then must slow to 6 mph, or the sidewalk is part of a cycling route - such as a multi-use path. However, when I'm in the city, I frequently notice cyclists on the sidewalk. I don't know how often fines are actually doled out, but I have never noticed one being given, nor have I seen pedestrians outraged at someone riding on a sidewalk (unless the rider was obviously being neglectful or unnecessarily dangerous).

      Yes, you are very correct. I have a severe paranoia of others watching me mount a bicycle for some reason. It's yet another irrational phobia of mine (the list is growing, it seems). I am fine in a group of cyclists, but I have some kind of fear of others standing around watching me ride off. It's odd, I do realize this. I think the best suggestion I can offer to you is simply to keep riding. The more experience gained, the less important the fear becomes. For me, having a bicycle that I am comfortable riding also helps. I've test ridden (and owned) bicycles that didn't feel stable to me when first mounting and pedaling. I think this added to my fear of possibly taking a tumble right at the start. It's never happened, but the thought always runs through my head when the bike feels unstable. I'm wondering if your fear of removing even one hand from the handlebars to signal has to do with some instability of your bicycle?

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    2. It is quite common to see cyclists on the sidewalk alongside busy roads, and I do not know anyone who got fined. However, I know a couple of people who were asked to dismount and walk by the police. Re fear of signalling, I think it is my poor handling skills and not the bike. My pashley poppy is very stable, the giant escape feels less solid but is also a stable bike as it is more of a touring / commuting bike than a road bike. My children have no trouble signalling, it looks like I am the wimp of the family :(

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    3. I'm sure you will get there. Sometimes, it really is just a matter of practicing to build the skill. I do know a couple of people who have balance issues (just generally in life) and they can, at times, struggle with tasks that seem second nature to other folks. For me, I'm just clumsy/klutzy. I think either way it's just a matter of gaining confidence. Keep practicing and it will be come second-nature, I have no doubt. :O)

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  2. I often ride the sidewalk when I feel it's necessary in traffic back ups or when the road seems too dangerous. I request that my children make their own decisions as to what's safe, allowing pedestrians the right of way. In our downtown there is a 6 x 3 block zone where the sidewalk is off limits to riding bicycles. There are white stencils on the sidewalks without signage on poles. For the most part it works here. Pedestrians fill the walks to the extent that riding is an obvious hazard.

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    1. I think that makes perfect sense. I think the scariest moments are when cyclists are completely unaware of pedestrians. Just as it can be intimidating to ride out in motorized traffic and we can have concerns about safety, I think a sidewalk is very similar for pedestrians when cyclists come roaring by. I think it's so great that you've left it up to your kids to make the judgment call too.

      I would think in more populated cities, downtown area sidewalks would probably be much more bustling than in a relatively small community. We definitely have pedestrians, but they seem to arrive in waves and are headed to specific locations (like coffee shops, restaurants, and so on).

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  3. It is legal to ride on the sidewalk in Tennessee except in specially marked areas. Like most cyclists, though, I generally avoid riding on the sidewalk unless the road is unsafe for me. And in those places, like you, I go very slowly. If there are more than just a few pedestrians, I go ahead and dismount.

    There are a few places I've ridden around here where I've found it necessary to get on the sidewalk, usually for just half a block or so. Some of our sidewalks are in such awful condition that you'd be hard-pressed to ride them and have to dismount for safety's sake anyway!

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    1. Yes... some of the sidewalks seem more dangerous than the roads, so I can definitely empathize with that situation.

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  4. In D.C., there is an area downtown (the Golden Triangle, basically), where it is illegal to ride on the sidewalks. I actually don't think people should ride on the sidewalks in these areas b/c they are heavily trafficked by pedestrians. The best thing to do is walk. Sometimes people hop onto a corner (by bike) and ride the sidewalk a little bit to access their work building or to drop of a Bikeshare. That doesn't really bother me, as long as people keep in mind that they are on a SIDEWALK. Every once in a while a person rides their bike down the sidewalk, trying to maintain the speed they would if they were on the street and, frankly, I think that is just ridiculous and unsafe to do on a sidewalk. Whether it's legal or not to ride on the sidewalk, we as bicyclists should always give deference to the pedestrian traffic flow.

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    1. I agree. I think those are the scary situations (and the reason that this corridor in our town has been designated as a dismount zone). I've seen many continue through at full speed and I always wonder, "What happens if someone walks out of one of those doors?" It could be scary for both parties, and potentially end in someone getting injured.

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