07 November 2012

Cycling On Pavement--Or Sidewalks

Photo by Richard Drdul on Flickr

"Luv 2 Cycle"'s most recent post raises a very interesting issue.

Its author, Zandranna, is a pensioner who lives in the Dorset countryside and uses her bicycle as her only means of transportation.  In the post in question, she discusses Rule 64 of Britain's  1931 highway code, which forbids cyclists from cycling on pavement.

Being a Yank, I wondered, "Why would they keep cyclists off the roads?"  Then I remembered that in Albion, "pavement" refers to what most Americans call a "sidewalk."

As she points out, the rule made sense in 1931: Nearly everybody walked, and they used their bicycles for distances that were too great to walk.  Hence, pavements were full of couples and families out for a stroll or to shop, people going to work or school on foot, and children playing.  There was little automobile traffic, and it traveled at much slower speeds than today's vehicular throngs.  Moreover, she says, drivers were more conscious of cyclists, as most were, or had recently been, cyclists themselves.

On the other hand, she says, there is far less pedestrian traffic--in some places, practically none--today.  And for cyclists--especially older and less athletic ones--riding with fast-paced automobile traffic can be dangerous.

As I read her post, I thought about some of my experiences cycling in Florida.  As in Zandranna's Dorset, there is little pedestrian traffic outside of the downtown shopping districts of larger cities like St. Augustine or Daytona Beach.  Nearly everyone relies on motorized vehicles for transportation as well as recreation (sometimes to carry a bike to a trail!), and drivers routinely exceed speed limits. 

Interestingly, some of the concrete ribbons that would be sidewalks or pavement in other areas are designated as bike lanes.  Many of them cross driveways of houses, some of which are set a considerable distance from the road.  And, of course, they cross intersections, which is not an ideal situation for the cyclist or driver.  The latter is anticipating, if anything, a pedestrian who will, of course, cross at a lower speed and in front of stopped traffic.   And, in Florida, pedestrians--particularly senior citizens--pause at intersections, even when they have the green light.

In addition, in Florida (at least the parts I've cycled), drivers are allowed to make right turns at red lights.  This is particularly dangerous for cyclists who are crossing from a sidewalk as a pedestrian would.  When a light turns as a cyclist crosses a traffic lane and motor vehicles begin to make right turns on red, at least the cyclist and motorists can merge safely.  A cyclist who begins to cross from a sidewalk or pedestrian lane runs a much greater risk of getting clipped if the light turns and motorists begin to make right turns.

I've noticed the same hazard on poorly-designed bike lanes that are separate from traffic lanes or sidewalks.  They often end in, or cross, intersections in the same way as a sidewalk or crosswalk would.  The Dutch, Danes and Swiss--and, to a lesser degree, the Germans and French--seem to have eliminated such hazardous crossings from most of their bike lanes.  At least, I don't recall encountering so many such crossing as I have in Florida or even here in New York.


  1. Like many things, as people design and use more cycling-specific infrastructure, they get better at it. The Dutch and Danes have a lot of practice designing for their cycling environment. Those that would simply transplant such to the US will learn the lesson that our environment differs from that in Holland or Denmark. Just as Florida is not New York, Portland - or Texas.

  2. Steve, you make great points. And I think you touched upon one of the reasons why so many poorly-designed and -constructed bike lanes are built. I have never been to Portland, but I can tell you that topography, traffic patterns, the routing and construction of existing roadways, and a host of other things (including the demographics of cycling) are very different in New York from what they are in Florida, Texas, the Netherlands or Denmark, which are all, in turn, different from each other.