Bicyclists: Should They Always Obey the “Rules of the Road”? Are They Safe on Sidewalks?


By Dom Nozzi

October 21, 1999

Should Bicyclists Always Obey the “Rules of the Road”?

While it sounds extremely fair to ask bicyclists to obey the rules of the road if they expect to have the rights/benefits of a motor vehicle, we need to remember that nearly always, the street system is designed for cars only. That means the street system is inherently unfair to bicyclists.2016-04-18-1460992862-2887201-istock_000022162723_small

For example, when I approach a signalized intersection on my bicycle and there is no car around to trigger the sensing device that activates the signal to provide a green light to my cross street, I have two choices:

  1. Wait for a car to come along to trigger the signal light, which, at night, can be several minutes or hours; or
  2. Dismount and walk over to the corner to push the pedestrian button on the sidewalk post (if there is such a button available).

I find both of these options to be degrading, disrespectful, inequitable (we don’t require motorists to do such things), and highly inconvenient. As a result, I occasionally will, in such a situation, wait until there are no cars anywhere nearby, and bicycle through the red light.

Another example (there are hundreds):

One-way streets are not a significant problem for a motorist, because the ease of travelling great distances by car makes extra distance almost irrelevant. However, for a bicyclist or a pedestrian, extra distance can be highly inconvenient. What seems like an insignificant extra distance to get from point A to B to a motorist can be a burden for the non-motorist. As a result, when I am in a low-trafficked area and the one-way street is short, I will ride the wrong way rather than go out of my way to get to the street that legally goes in the direction I am going.

In both of the above examples, I am clearly violating the rules of the road and setting a bad example for other bicyclists (and making motorists understandably angry). But I think that, to a limited extent, such illegal behavior is fairly justifiable as long as our streets are designed only for motorists. It is simply not fair for me to strictly observe all the rules of the road if the road is not designed for the type of travel I do, thereby forcing me to do degrading or burdensome things.

Should Novice Bicyclists Ride on the Sidewalk?

The very good point has been made that when a mis-informed bicyclist is terrified of cars, they typically seek the “safety” of the sidewalk. Then, when they experience a huge number of accidents and/or near

misses on the presumably safe sidewalk (which, in reality, is a very dangerous place for bicycling), they have their fears confirmed. Often, their response is: “If the relatively safe sidewalk is so dangerous, I need to give up bicycling because it is obviously too dangerous, even on the safe sidewalk.”

What is most feared by the novice is getting rear-ended by a car, and the novice believes the safest place to be is the sidewalk. So the novice fears the most unlikely form of accident, and prefers to use the most dangerous riding place.

Sadly, I’m afraid that the majority of people — even educated, well-meaning people — will never “get it” with regard to safe bicycling, which happens to be very counter-intuitive to the novice.




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Filed under Bicycling, Sprawl, Suburbia

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