Keep Sacramento sidewalks safe for everyone

A man talks on his cellphone while riding his bicycle past pedestrians along businesses in midtown Sacramento.
A man talks on his cellphone while riding his bicycle past pedestrians along businesses in midtown Sacramento. Sacramento Bee file

It took way too long, but City Hall is about to take some common-sense steps to keep both bicyclists and pedestrians safe on Sacramento’s sidewalks.

Under the plan going before the City Council on Tuesday night, bikes will be banned on sidewalks where foot traffic is too heavy, and signs will be posted. On other sidewalks, cyclists will have to make way for pedestrians and warn them when they’re riding up from behind.

The big unknown, however, is which sidewalks will be covered by the ban. Many are likely to be in midtown and downtown, where anecdotes of mishaps and near-misses appear to be most common.

The proposed ordinance only says the city manager is to come up with a process to designate no-bicycle sidewalks. Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates wants a list of detailed criteria, produced after public input. That makes sense.

City Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents the central city, plans to propose an amendment that would require the city manager to prove there’s a danger and to make sure that if bicycles are banned, the street is safe for bikes. That makes sense, too.

Longer term, if the city wants to get bicycles off sidewalks, it must finally follow through on all its big plans for dedicated bike lanes, not just downtown and midtown but in neighborhoods across the city.

The City Council has been looking at the sidewalk issue since November 2014, after a highly publicized incident in which a midtown resident was run over by a cyclist, was seriously hurt and sued the city.

Under existing city ordinances, bicycles are prohibited on sidewalks except in “residence districts.” But the fine for violations is only $5.

In the proposed ordinance, the fine would be $25, $100 for a second violation within a year and $250 for each additional offense.

Hansen wants to remove the $250 fine and have the city develop a safety course instead. Human nature being what it is, however, we need both carrots and sticks – safety courses, but also the deterrent of fines. So the city should treat sidewalk scofflaws similar to the way traffic violations are handled. When you get a ticket, you pay a fine, but you can avoid costly points on your insurance by completing traffic school.

With competing interests, council members must try to find a balance. With about 200 collisions a year between vehicles and bicycles in the city, it’s understandable that some cyclists want to get out of the street, but some ride on sidewalks even though there’s a bike lane. After hearing from parents, Hansen and bicycle advocates also want to allow children under 13 to ride on sidewalks, accompanied by an adult.

But we don’t want pedestrians forced off sidewalks and into the street, either – not when nearly 400 walkers have been killed in Sacramento County over the past decade.

Sure, Sacramento can be more friendly to bicycles, but it can also be far safer for pedestrians.