The bicyclist came out of nowhere just after sunrise on a Saturday morning. We were out for a stroll, my husband and I, while the day was cool.
This was in midtown Sacramento, this past weekend. You could smell the grass and hear the birds, that’s how empty the asphalt was of traffic. There we were, just a nice, middle-aged couple, talking and walking, sharing our little go-cup of coffee on the sidewalk along H Street, when – “Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry!”
Down the crosswise sidewalk he came barreling, a strung-out-looking, ragged guy in shades and a ballcap, flying full-tilt from a hedge-covered blind spot at the corner of 17th Street. He slammed on his brakes and screeched out of control as my husband yanked me back from the corner.
Everyone yelled. The coffee went flying. The bicycle tire halted an inch from our sneakers.
“I didn’t see you!” the ragged man babbled. “Are you OK? Do you want money?”
“I want you to get off the #$@&% sidewalk!” my husband retorted.
No one was hurt. And let us give thanks for First World problems.
But, for crying out loud, Sacramento – again with the bikes on the sidewalks? Still?
More than a year has gone by since a truly serious sidewalk-bike encounter turned this city’s most annoying local custom into a policy issue. Last May, former Sacramento Bee reporter Hilary Abramson was hit by a kid on a bike on the 15th Street sidewalk; the crash maimed her leg. Outraged, she blamed the city’s bike laws and lackluster enforcement, and filed a $3.5 million claim.
Well, who can blame her? She was still using a cane when she testified last month before a Sacramento City Council committee. You’d think it would light a fire, a multimillion-dollar claim by a sympathetic, 70-year-old plaintiff. Instead, some at the hearing were arguing that maybe more study was needed before we shoo the bikes from the midtown sidewalks.
The city’s center may once have been a no-man’s land on a Saturday morning, but this incarnation has people. And, as Dustin Hoffman in “Midnight Cowboy” put it, “Hey, we’re walkin’ here!”
Experienced cyclists know this. Though bicycle lobbies have seized on this conversation to push for more and better bike lanes (and who can blame them, either?), the bikers I see weaving down sidewalks are rarely attired in spandex and helmets.
Mostly, they’re drunks or street people, like the poor sorry guy we ran into. But because they’re so often impaired, and because biking on sidewalks also endangers cyclists, it’s doubly important to ban it and make the ban clear.
Instead, the scofflaw situation has been framed as some sort of natural response to a lack of safe space for alternative transportation. Well, roads should be safer, but our sidewalk collision happened next to a marked bike path on a traffic-less street.
Later this summer, the City Council will vote on a preliminary city code amendment that would fine cyclists up to $100 for cycling on the sidewalks in midtown. The ban being discussed would run along J Street from 16th to 29th streets, and between H and N streets from Third to 16th Street.
I think the zone should be just a bit larger. A nice, middle-aged couple shouldn’t have to look both ways just to take their coffee outside on a Saturday morning. The guy who nearly hit us? As he left, he remained for exactly one block on the bike path before pedaling right back up onto the sidewalk again.