Hilary Abramson’s recent commentary in The Sacramento Bee ( “On a mission to get bikes of sidewalks”; Forum, Aug. 17) about being struck and injured by a bicyclist on a downtown sidewalk illustrates some potentially deadly disconnects in our street network.
She and others who walk downtown deserve sidewalks that are safe from the hazards of vehicle traffic. That’s why we have sidewalks. Sidewalks are not designed to accommodate bike traffic, and even where sidewalk riding is legally allowed in residential areas, it’s still hazardous for pedestrians as well as the bicyclist.
People who ride bikes downtown are just as vulnerable as pedestrians to moving vehicles. So why don’t they have comparable protection?
The downtown streets with the heaviest traffic – especially 15th, 16th, J and L streets and Broadway – also serve key destinations that attract people on bikes and on foot. But with little or no bike infrastructure, those streets are functionally inaccessible to all but the boldest, strongest bicyclists.
While streets with bike lanes feel safer for the less bold and strong, the downtown bikeway network is riddled with gaps. Not a single bike route crosses downtown from one end to the other. Ride west from midtown on K, L or P streets, for example, and you may feel stranded when the bike lane simply ends at 15th Street. Similar gaps exist on all the bike routes that cross under the freeways into neighborhoods outside the grid.
The lack of continuous, convenient, safe bike routes leaves many bicyclists with a choice: Ride where it feels safer, even if the route doesn’t get me where I need to go. Or try riding with traffic, even if that feels like a bad idea. For too many bicyclists, this dilemma turns sidewalks into a convenient alternative – there’s a sidewalk on both sides of nearly every downtown street.
Education and enforcement can discourage sidewalk riding among those who are teachable and compliant, but these strategies only treat the symptoms of the problem. If our streets don’t feel safe, some people will continue to make whatever choices help them feel safer, even choices that aren’t legal or entirely safe. Forcing people to choose between what’s unsafe and what’s illegal is just bad policy.
Abramson endorses protected bike lanes as a way to help solve the problem of sidewalk riding. This is the best idea in her commentary. When Denver, Washington, D.C., and New York City installed bike lanes that physically separate bikes from moving cars, those streets attracted more bicyclists (including those who won’t ride with traffic) and saw a corresponding decrease in sidewalk riding. There’s growing evidence that protected bike lanes are among the best practices for increasing bicycle usage and preventing collisions.
Sacramento can choose to have the benefits of being a bike-friendly place: healthier, happier residents and the employers eager to hire them, less traffic congestion and air pollution, and more vibrant retail activity. But to get there, we need streets where everyone – people on bikes as well as people on foot – can travel safely and comfortably.
Jim Brown is executive director of Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates