Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.
Now that I have a baby, I’ve been pushing a stroller around DC sidewalks quite a lot. Our neighborhoods are great for walking and give our baby plenty to look at and experience. The only drawbacks are too-narrow sidewalks in some places (I’m looking at you, 17th Street in Dupont) and the occasional impolite operator of some kind of vehicle.
A few drivers come a little too close for comfort, though most take a little extra care when they see the baby carriage. Likewise, most people on bicycles give us plenty of room, except for a small minority who think that squeezing right next to a parent and baby at high speed is a totally peachy idea.
Most likely, if you are reading this, you are not one of those people, but just in case: knock it off. There are times when cyclists need to be on the sidewalk, and if you pay attention, everyone can get where they’re going safely.
This comes up most often on curb ramps, which you need to get something with wheels on and off the sidewalk. Those of us pushing strollers need them, and it’s annoying when, sometimes, whoever built a street put the ramps awkwardly off to the side. (I’m looking at you, New Hampshire Avenue.)
If someone is riding a bicycle on the sidewalk, they will also use the ramps. And that’s okay by me. Sometimes people need to ride on the sidewalk because they’re about to dismount or the street is one-way and there’s no other good alternative. Some people just feel too uncomfortable riding in the street, and while I hope they will gain confidence, DC also needs to do more to make the street bike-friendly. Sometimes there just seems to be no good reason and it’s probably not a smart idea.
We shouldn’t ban sidewalk riding. There are too many reasonable times to be riding, and there’s no way to craft a good rule that distinguishes the okay times and the not-okay ones. But just as drivers need to drive with courtesy and care toward more vulnerable road users, so must people riding bikes give the same deference to walkers, whether with babies or not.
I still like the “zombie rule”:
Ride on the sidewalk if you don’t feel comfortable on the street, or if it’s one-way the wrong way, but NOT if the sidewalk is crowded.
If you do ride on the sidewalk, assume that all pedestrians are inviolate. It’s their sidewalk, not yours; you are a guest. You can use it as long as you don’t get in their way.
Treat them like they are…say…zombies. Pedestrians move slowly, and you can’t make them change direction, but you absolutely don’t want to touch them.
Anyone on a bike knows that sometimes you suddenly have to swerve a bit. Coming within inches of a pedestrian, adult or baby, means that in that unlikely chance, you’ll hit them. That’s never okay, and especially not okay for babies.
So if you’re riding on the sidewalk, come close enough to a person that they could reach out and touch you or your bike, and are moving faster than a slow walking pace at the time, you’re being a jerk or, worse, putting someone in danger. If you brush by someone other than me, you might well contribute to the stream of silly letters to people like Dr. Gridlock saying things like “we shouldn’t build a bike lane anywhere until every cyclist obeys every traffic law all the time.”
You also give ammunition to those who want to ban sidewalk cycling. They have a valid point that sidewalks should be primarily for people walking and strollering. They point out very real bad behavior by a small number of cyclists.
I disagree with their proposed solution, but that doesn’t mean there’s no problem. So please help keep sidewalks safe and sidewalk cycling legal at the same time. Give me, my baby, and every other person on the sidewalk a wide berth, or go slow, or ride in the road.
If you aren’t that comfortable riding in the road, consider taking one of WABA’s Confident City Cycling classes or the Bike League’s online module, and join WABA so they can more effectively push to make the roads safe for everyone.