Bringing order to the grid, one sidewalk at a time

Bicyclists ride on 25th and G streets in midtown.
Bicyclists ride on 25th and G streets in midtown. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Until I moved to Sacramento, I had never considered walking on the sidewalk to be a dangerous activity. But then it happened.

No, not the stumbles on my late-night “Pokémon Go” strolls, but the encounter I had last summer with a man on a speeding bicycle in broad daylight.

I was on 21st Street, leaving The Sacramento Bee when something told me to look over my shoulder before drifting across the sidewalk.

And there he was. Glazed-over eyes and filthy clothes, his stench stung my nose as he shot by – insult to almost injury.

Since then, I’ve had a few other near misses as a pedestrian, all on sidewalks, all involving careless cyclists.

But I’ve also scared the bejesus out of pedestrians myself, riding on midtown’s sidewalks to get to bike racks, avoid traffic lights and escape dicey road conditions.

So, I have mixed feelings about the City Council’s recent crackdown on sidewalk-riding scofflaws.

On Tuesday, members approved a vague plan to ban bikes from sidewalks on certain streets, require riders to yield to pedestrians on sidewalks and give them an audible warning when passing by. (I certainly would appreciate a “watch out” from time to time.)

Overall, this is a good thing. The old ordinance clearly wasn’t working.

The new ordinance has yet to take shape, though. We don’t know which sidewalks will have bans. That’s up to the city manager. But chances are, many of them will be in midtown and downtown – a knot of streets where pedestrians, bikes and cars often clash in disastrous ways.

So, as someone who walks and bikes a lot, here’s a bit of unsolicited advice for the city manager: Think about this ordinance not just as a way to protect pedestrians, but as an opportunity to start building a more efficient and structured way to move people around midtown and downtown.

If bikes must be banned for pedestrian safety on sidewalks, start with J, K and I streets on certain days, during certain hours. Also consider parts of Capitol, P, L, R, 15th, 16th, 21st and 19th streets.

Anyone crazy enough to ride down these thoroughfares usually ends up on a sidewalk to avoid the crush of speeding cars. That’s hazardous for pedestrians, dangerous for cyclists and annoying for drivers.

But cyclists, like pedestrians, have to get to the bars and restaurants in these popular districts somehow. So, instead of just banning bikes, the city should work harder to reroute riders to safer parallel and cross streets.

More signs would help. So would more bike lanes, as several City Council members said at Tuesday’s meeting. Not talked about enough is erecting more bike racks at the ends of blocks, not in the middle of them, so cyclists won’t be as tempted to coast down a sidewalk to a rack.

Understand, people ride their bikes on sidewalks not just because the streets are unsafe, but because they’re trying to get to a specific destination on one of Sacramento’s many one-way streets.

Often it’s just easier to ride a half-block on the sidewalk, going the opposite direction of traffic, than it is to go all the way around the block in a bike lane. That so many traffic lights aren’t timed – for bikes or for cars – is just another incentive to take shortcuts.

Golden 1 Center is almost done. Time is running out to bring order to the chaos that is getting around the grid.