Sacramento will ban bikes on some sidewalks, but details undetermined

Sacramento will soon ban bicycle riding on some city sidewalks under a vague plan passed by the Sacramento City Council late Tuesday.

The council adopted new rules and stricter penalties for bike riders sharing space on pedestrian walkways. Many details remain unresolved, however, including locations of the ban and what criteria will determine where bikes are allowed.

Current city code states that bicycle riding is prohibited on sidewalks except in “residence” areas. The ordinance fails to define what a residence area is, making it difficult to understand or enforce the law.

Under the new plan, streets where bikes are not allowed on sidewalks will have signage. Walkways without the signs will be legal to ride on.

The city manager will make those decisions. Criteria for determining where bikes are banned may include looking at how many pedestrians use the sidewalk, what level of conflict might occur and whether the street is safe for cyclists, said Fedolia Harris, a city planner who presented the plan to the council.

The ordinance says any sidewalk chosen for a bike ban must be adjacent to a road with a “low-stress bikeway.” Harris said that there is no current agreed-upon definition for a low-stress bikeway, but the city would work on crafting one.

Council members also stressed the need to make streets safer for bicyclists by creating more bike lanes and routes. The city of Sacramento is in the process of creating a bike master plan, which is expected to go to the council by August. It is also working on a transportation plan for the midtown grid area that will increase bike and pedestrian options.

“You can’t get people out of cars if it’s not safe to ride bicycles or walk on the sidewalk,” said Councilman Jeff Harris. “We really need to move forward with safe bike lanes.”

Councilman Jay Schenirer asked city staff to include more bike-centric infrastructure programs in next year’s budget.

Staff pointed out in its council report that cyclists crash with cars about 200 times a year. There is no firm data on how many times cyclists and pedestrians collide.

The new ordinance also says cyclists on sidewalks must yield the right of way to pedestrians by slowing, stopping or dismounting. They must also give pedestrians an audible warning when passing while headed in the same direction as the pedestrian.

Cyclists in violation of the ordinance would be fined $25 for a first offense and up to $100 for each additional violation in a year. Offenders would have the option of attending a bike traffic school in lieu of paying the fine. Details of the diversion program must still be worked out.

“Fines only get us so far and penalizing people doesn’t necessarily teach them how to do better,” said Councilman Steve Hansen, who suggested the diversion program.

The ordinance does make an exception for children under 18 years old to ride on the sidewalk, whether posted or not, with an accompanying adult.

Hansen said that while the new ordinance was necessary, the larger discussion was about changing attitudes as more people trade cars for alternate transportation.

“You can’t legislate courtesy,” he said. “We have to have a certain amount of respect for each other when we get in our cars, when we get on our bikes, when we are out walking.”

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa

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