Today I read a terrible news story about a cyclist being hit by a truck while in a crosswalk. The comments to the article were grimly fascinating. Many of the cyclists, in classic victim-blaming, pointed out that this is the problem with cycling on the sidewalk. You move faster than pedestrians, and thus vehicles don’t look for you at intersections. (Although, they often don’t look for pedestrians, either. I swore never to walk to my bank again, after a car stepped on it to beat me across the crosswalk as the light changed. The driver and I had already made eye contact. Yesterday while walking I was nearly hit by someone who wanted to block the sidewalk to make a right-hand turn out of the grocery store. Except I was *on* that piece of sidewalk.)
While the victim-blaming is uncalled for, however psychologically necessary–i.e. “she did something wrong, which I don’t do, therefore I am safe on my bike”–there’s certainly a valid point here. The other danger of sidewalk riding is accidents caused by the sidewalk itself. That is, an unexpected bump or an unramped curb could cause you to crash into traffic. In both of these cases, you would have been safer riding in traffic, forcing annoyed drivers to pass you in other lanes.
I’ve been mulling this over, because I have never seen a cyclist take the lane in this town. What few of us exist seem to 1) stick to residential streets or 2) ride the sidewalk. (There are no shoulders, so you don’t see cyclists trying to slink around the edges.) Residential streets can’t get you everywhere, however, and the sidewalks are often dangerously uneven. So, what does one do in a heavily-trafficked town where the drivers really, truly, may not have ever seen a cyclist on a main road? Avoiding the busier roads, in effect, has perpetuated the idea that we don’t belong on them. And as long as the cars believe that, can one or two, or even ten, cyclists safely change their mind?