Being pro-bike isn’t anti-pedestrian

Readers of this column know the basis of what I write pertains to street safety for all road users.

Or so I thought.

After my last column, I got an email from someone — I’m going to call him Jody — claiming I don’t consider the rights of pedestrians.

“Randy does not think that pedestrians have legal or any rights,” said Jody, among other things.

I don’t know where that’s coming from, Jody. I don’t think that at all! In fact, as soon as I park my bicycle, I become a pedestrian, and I sure hope I have legal rights then.

But either way, it’s worth noting that bicyclist safety and pedestrian safety are one and the same. You can’t have one without the other.

As explained in his email, Jody is often angered by cyclists who (illegally) choose the sidewalk instead of the street. I agree that’s a thing that shouldn’t happen. But you’re not going to stop sidewalk riding completely if the street isn’t deemed safe.

In a recent online survey of 18,000 people, researcher Wesley Marshall found what most of us already know: Virtually every road user breaks the law. One-hundred percent of drivers who took the survey said they exceed the speed limit; 98 percent of pedestrians said they disregard signals; 96 percent of people who bike said they disregard traffic lights and stop signs.

Other than the brutal honesty of it all, that’s not much of a surprise. But the reasons for doing so are what differentiated the survey takers. Drivers and pedestrians said they break the law out of convenience for themselves. Only people on bikes cited personal safety as a reason for breaking the law.

Which means when you see someone riding down the sidewalk, they’re probably just not comfortable riding in the street with people driving motor vehicles at illegal speeds.

But there is a way to help them, and help yourself, Jody. The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia recently finished its bike count reports for 2016. In those reports, the organization looks at key intersections throughout the city and counts how many cyclists are using them on a given day. The South Street Bridge sees about 400 bikes per hour during rush hour, according to the report.

And there’s good reason for that: The bicycle infrastructure is pretty good. It’s painted green, has a buffer for some length, bollards for a small section, and is orderly.

And when the infrastructure is just pretty good, like it is there, you rarely see any sidewalk riding. The Coalition’s counts found sidewalk riding has dropped on the South Street Bridge by 35 percent between 2012 and 2016. Wrong-way riding dropped 50 percent over the same period.

Generally speaking, sidewalk riding drops with the implementation of good infrastructure. The problem, of course, is that cycling infrastructure, unfortunately, is often deemed unworthy by residents based on the anecdotal behavior of cyclists.

Everyone’s goal should be to make this a nonissue. So, if you want cyclists off your sidewalk for good, Jody, get involved civically and work to give cyclists adequate space on the road. 

More from our Sister Sites