With Kids, Sometimes We Ride on the Sidewalk

Sometimes We take the SidewalkBike to School Month is in full swing. The racks have been full this past week despite the rainy weather. This hardy group of riders doesn’t mind biking in the rain. Way to go.

The increased number of pedalers around the school means a few biker, non-biker conflicts. We’re learning from each other and need to keep an open dialog so we can live harmoniously on the shared streets and sidewalks.

One recent conflict surrounded whether or not bikes belong on the sidewalk.  In King County, bikes are allowed on the sidewalk as long as they follow the rules of the road and the sidewalk.

Because the car traffic and bus traffic is thick in the morning and afternoon, our Bike to School team recommends that kid and parent cyclists jump up on the sidewalk and ride the last half block to the bike racks in the school yard. It’s the safest place for bikes. Unlocking in the Rain

Recently, a non-biker parent had some words with a biker family about riding on the sidewalk. She is adamant that bikes don’t belong on the sidewalk ever, to the point of instructing her children to stretch out holding hands and block the sidewalk when bikes are coming. Even though most riders are extremely polite, give pedestrians the right of way and use voice or a bell when passing, non-biker thinks bikes belong in the road, period!

These conflicts happen. I’ve found the best way to diffuse them is to be positive and friendly. Sometimes it’s hard to be nice, but I really try. Nobody is perfect though, and I can’t pretend that I don’t ever get irritated and I’m sure others do with me as well.

Bike to School Month is about encouraging more parents to try biking with their kids and hopefully to make it a habit. If more parents join us, our biker numbers will increase thus reducing car traffic. That’s the idea anyway.

My kids mostly ride in the road. We do have a few busy streets close to our house that I prefer to avoid on my bike when solo. Since these busy roads are the direct way to less trafficked ones, I take them anyway. I especially don’t want my kids riding on these streets. When we can’t avoid a busy road, we simply hop on the the sidewalk for a few blocks until we reach a non-busy road. We’re always polite and friendly and gracious and so far have avoided conflict.

How about you? Had any problems with riding on the sidewalk with kids?

I hope the moms out there had a nice Mother’s Day.

– Anne

15 responses to “With Kids, Sometimes We Ride on the Sidewalk

  1. Here in B.C., cyclists are by law prohibited from riding on any sidewalk or in any crosswalk, unless otherwise instructed by signage (on bridges for example). My opinion is that if must ride on a sidewalk, when you pass a pedestrian, you should not be going any faster than a motorized wheelchair. My younger kids still ride on the sidewalk since they have training wheels, but I never do, and my older one hasn’t since she upgraded to 24″ wheels. Some jurisdictions restrict bikes on sidewalks by wheel size, which I think makes sense.

  2. “to the point of instructing her children to stretch out holding hands and block the sidewalk when bikes are coming.”

    Sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen.

  3. Children under the age of ten (in UK) are not considered to have reached an age where they can be held responsible for their crimes, so the kiddy in the picture would hardly be regarded as a problem.

    The very fact that some cyclists feel it necessary to ride on the sidewalk/footway is simply an indictment of the lack of cycle-friendly facilities and the unwarranted priority given to motorized transport. So the only way to stop sidewalk cycling is to change things to make it unnecessary.

  4. In most of DC, I don’t sidewalk, but actually out in our neck of the Northeast, the main bike route on Michigan and Irving says specifically that the route is on the sidewalk. Both streets are multi-lane in each direction, and I have no love for riding streets that are wannabe freeways, so that’s where we ride to get out of our neighborhood.

    But, we do slow down to about 6mph when overtaking pedestrians, we ring our bells (and keep ringing until there’s a visible sign of acknowledgement, lotta earbuds out there), we act like big, clumsy apologetic guests that we are, and we’re super-ultra-careful about crossing intersections (I won’t do it until I’ve made eye-contact with a motorist if there’s one there).

    One of the local bike bloggers made the analogy that scuba diving is more dangerous than just swimming, so you take greater precautions when diving. Similarly, sidewalks and intersections are statistically much more dangerous places for us to be than on the street when there’s cars around, but they can be navigated safely with greater awareness of the dangers and proper precautions.

  5. We are blessed with big, well marked bike lanes in our city. But the traffic moves FAST (most of the main streets are 3-4 lanes, 50mph speed limit), so I am not comfortable with the kids riding in the street, even in the bike lane.

    When I’m by myself, I ride in the bike lane/street. With the kids, I normally have the 4yr old on the Xtracycle and the nearly 7yr old rides his own bike. We will ride in the street in our subdivision, but once we hit the ‘big road’, it’s the sidewalk all the way. I lead and 7yr old follows. There are actually very few pedestrians on our sidewalks, but when we come upon one, I always RING RING RING with my big brass bell, and I often call out to make sure we can pass safely. We also slow waaaay down…

    Our city has no law against riding on the sidewalk (i actually called the PD and checked) as long as it’s done safely. When we are on the sidewalk, I basically try to act as though we are just fast moving pedestrians. So we stop at every crosswalk and press the button (no racing against the light), stop/slow down at driveways, etc..

    The sidewalk is not my first choice when bike riding, but with the kids I’m not comfortable riding in the street.

  6. You have to love the fact that pedestrians want us in the road and motorists want us in the sidewalk and we just want to get where we are going. On our bike. The resolution is simply in responsible cycling. Where I live, too few people know how to ride correctly on either the road or the sidewalk. It just creates chaos, espescially because so many folks see bikes on the sidewalk and think I ought to be there too.

  7. I admit I don’t fully know my local laws. I am a newbie myself and I will ride ont eh sidealks if I need to to feel safe. Sadly, in my “walkable” “city” suburb, no one ever walks so the sidewalks are often empty. If I encounter a person I often get off and walk around them or sit on the saddle and walk it instead of pedaling. I also often in busy areas of town walk it across cross walks. I like my townie b/c I can hop on and off easily even while it’s moving and so it doesn’t feel like it slows me down to walk it. I decided that for my safety staying on the bike the whole way through is not important. Getting there, being on a bike and enjoying the say is.

    right now my kids are young and I would not have them in the street at all. At all. They are on push bikes and training wheels. When we bike to the playground they are on the sidewalk. As an adult supervising I am on the sidewalk to with my bike. ( although often I got with someone who is walking and I take the streets)

    So far no issues. Our town if fairly non bikey so I think if ppl see kids on bikes ppl assume they should be on the sidewalk.

    Yesterday I was on foot with stroller in Boston and a cyclist was on the quiet sidewalk. We almost ran into each other but didn’t b/c we both were paying attention. He was overly apologetic and I was overly ” No problem at all” right back. I almost shouted ” Wheels have to unite you know” over my shoulder but decided to just shut up and keep on. So long ramble to say yeah- that parent you mentioned needs to lighten up. I would find it hard to not get angry about that.

  8. Cyclist and pedestrians often run into each other on one of the bridges in my community. There is not a bike lane on this bridge and a concrete barrier with no shoulder that protects the sidewalk. It is a pain because when I am crossing with a stroller either I and the cyclist or both of us have to stop so we don’t hit each other. But this hasn’t really created much conflict, overall cyclist are much more polite then drivers. What really sucks is that previously there was a “walking bridge” that could be used by pedestrians and cyclist only at one point. However half of that bridge collapsed in an ice storm and has never been repaired. Kids cycling on the side walk is never an issue, but it can be less safe, because at crossings drivers may not pay attention to cyclists, where as if a cyclist goes where a car would that is in a drivers line of vision.

  9. Thanks for all of the comments.

    I agree with Westfield Wanderer, if we had proper facilities for cyclists, there would be no need to ride on the sidewalk or even discuss it. 🙂

    chiggins – there are several “bike lanes” in Seattle now that direct cyclists on to the sidewalk. It doesn’t make any sense. I always apologize to pedestrians when I ride through the South Lake Union streetcar stop on my bike, the bike lane goes right through it!

    We bell and whistle and slow down and smile too. I think that’s all we can do.

    When riding with kids, we just have to use our best judgment. I know that rush hour on NE 65th is no place for a 6 year old biker, so on the sidewalk we will travel until we have separated bike lanes!

  10. I had no idea you could ride on the sidewalk in King County! That actually makes me feel so much better. There are some extremely busy intersections near us on the way to the library and so far we either walk or drive because I couldn’t figure out how to bike there in a way where I felt safe. That pesky interstate is in the way! Sidewalk biking though? Totally do-able. Awesome.

  11. In New Haven, it is technically illegal to ride on the sidewalks but I see a number of grown-ups doing it in busier sections of the city so I don’t know how much it is enforced. I never ride on the sidewalk but my six-year-olds ALWAYS do. I actually would not feel comfortable having them ride in the streets even in the few places there are bike lanes because these are still busy and the streets are lined with parked & parking cars (who often forget there IS a bike lane). We always instruct the fellows to ride on the right side when another person is coming along and are overtly friendly (tons of thank yous) and apologetic if there is some unintentional swerving when passing happens. The boys just rode their bikes downtown this weekend for the very first time and we rode ‘parallely’ on the road while the boys pedaled on the sidewalks. It would have been much harder to pull off on a weekday when the traffic is heavier. This is where the boys-in-the- bakfiets’s-box comes in handy on our daily school commute!

    Just wondering if any of the biking parents at your school are at all friendly with this particularly ornery sidewalk-protective (hogging) parent. Sounds like a friendly conversation could be in order but I must admit, I would have a hard time having it myself (the friendly part). GRAND irony though given the drivers shouting out of their cars at us that we need to get ON the sidewalk…

  12. Andy in Germany

    In Germany children are required to ride on the pavement (sidewalk) until they are seven, and then permitted to until they are ten. They also have to pass a test.
    This makes no difference to the standard of cycling.
    Sidewalk cycling is tolerated usually which took a while to get used to after being in the UK. It’s generally understood that if it’s too dangerous on the road you ride on the sidewalk. That said, after years of riding in the UK on the road, German traffic doesn’t bother me that much.

  13. I try and stay off the sidewalk if I can safety ride the road. Most streets I use the bike lane or stay just right of center but one main drag into downtown is not safe for cyclists after 6:30 a.m. Recently, I saw a mom and her 4 young children biking that road and was horrified. No helmets and numerous dangerous bike manuveurs. Frightening.

  14. Hey Anne,
    I’m getting a little off-topic here, but speaking of your kids and cycling, when do we get a post from one of them about car free days, since they do after all have as much a share in this lifestyle as you guys?

    Our kids are too young to have very expressive opinions on the matter, but I’d love to hear what your kiddo’s thoughts.

  15. Hey Anthony,

    I love that idea! And so does my 8 year old.

    She’s fresh off her elementary school’s writers celebration and I’m sure she’d love to write a post. We’ll put her to work. Maybe she’ll interview her brother since he’s not much of a writer yet.

    Thanks for the suggestion.

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