Transportation

Sacramento ponders: Where should sidewalk cycling be banned?

A bicycle rider mixes with pedestrians on a L Street sidewalk alongside Capitol Park in downtown Sacramento last year. Under a preliminary proposal reviewed Tuesday by a City Council legal committee, cyclists would likely be banned from riding on sidewalks in the core downtown and along some midtown corridors with lots of pedestrians, such as J Street, but would be allowed to ride on sidewalks in most of the city.
A bicycle rider mixes with pedestrians on a L Street sidewalk alongside Capitol Park in downtown Sacramento last year. Under a preliminary proposal reviewed Tuesday by a City Council legal committee, cyclists would likely be banned from riding on sidewalks in the core downtown and along some midtown corridors with lots of pedestrians, such as J Street, but would be allowed to ride on sidewalks in most of the city. Sacramento Bee file

Sacramento officials are formulating a new rule that would allow bicyclists to ride on city sidewalks except in busy pedestrian areas where signs would be posted banning bikes. Repeat violators of the ordinance could pay a $250 fine.

A proposal discussed Tuesday by the City Council’s legal committee would prohibit cyclists from riding on sidewalks in the downtown core and along some midtown corridors.

The plan, still a work in progress, represents an attempt to overhaul the city’s archaic and confusing bike rules. The existing ordinance bans bikes from sidewalks, but offers the confusing exception for cyclists in “residence areas.” The ordinance carries a fine of only $5.

Hilary Abramson, a central city resident who was seriously injured when hit from behind by a cyclist on a 15th Street sidewalk last year, said she appreciates the city’s efforts to make its rules clear, but pointed out that cyclists and pedestrians don’t mix. She said she wants to see a day when bicycles are banned from any sidewalk in the central city.

“This is a first step,” she said after a City Hall hearing. She challenged the city to look more broadly than just the downtown core for high-pedestrian areas where cyclists may be a danger to walkers. “I can see it going all the way to Broadway.”

Bicycling advocates, conversely, argue that the city should be careful about kicking cyclists off the sidewalks until it has done a much better job of creating safe cycling lanes and zones on central city streets.

Sacramento downtown planner Fedolia Harris said he will bring a draft ordinance to the City Council for potential approval by the end of the year.

Harris said he has not defined a no-biking area, but is considering sidewalks from Third to 16th streets and J to N streets, with extensions that would include the J Street corridor beyond 16th Street and perhaps other midtown areas, such as R Street. He said he will ask stakeholders and interested parties in the coming weeks to offer ideas about where else cyclists should be banned.

Harris and Councilman Jay Schenirer said the ordinance could be written in a way that allows residents in the future to nominate areas for consideration for a ban, and the zone could be expanded if city officials see conflicts between cyclists and walkers.

“It allows us to be flexible,” Schenirer said. “It’s not one-size-fits-all.”

The proposed ordinance would increase the fine for cyclists to $25 for a first offense, $100 for a second and $250 for a third.

Council members are uncertain about whether they should establish a speed limit for sidewalk cycling. Councilman Rick Jennings said the city should consider the idea and asked whether 5 miles per hour would be considered safe. Schenirer said he doesn’t believe a speed limit could be enforced.

As proposed, the ordinance states that cyclists must cede the right-of-way to pedestrians on sidewalks by slowing, stopping and at times walking their bikes. They also must give an audible warning when approaching a pedestrian from behind.

Council members also asked whether children on bikes should be exempt from the proposed rule. Police officers on bicycles would be exempt.

The city has been pushing in recent years to encourage cycling, including in downtown. But as the city’s cycling population increases, officials have been under pressure to deal with complaints about sidewalk conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians.

City officials have launched a new bicycling master plan process, which will include adding bike routes and bike lanes on more city streets. The city also is conducting a separate analysis of ways to get more people in the central city walking, biking and taking transit. Local officials also are working on introducing a community bike sharing program to allow people who don’t own bikes to get around the central area more easily without cars.

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