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Unless You’re a Kid, Don’t Cycle on Sidewalks

By Sheila Ascroft

Child riding on sidewalk

I’m calling this a pedalling peeve, that as polite as I can manage. I’m sure I’ll have other peeves as we cyclists try to share the road….

Okay. It really bugs me when I see a grown cyclist riding on the sidewalk. It used to be just kids who did that, but now everybody and his grandmother are pedalling on the sidewalk, which is for walkers. Pedestrian does not mean people who pedal, it means people who perambulate, i.e. move on foot. Sidewalks are for them. Period.

Most city by-laws allow cyclists with a tire size of 24 inches or less to ride on the sidewalk. This makes sense as it enables young children* to cycle on the sidewalk while they are learning to ride. Using a wheel size rather than a child’s size or age, makes enforcement easier. How many four-year-olds do you know who carry IDs?

However, a bike with a larger wheel size is prohibited from riding on the sidewalk. It belongs on the road and is consider a vehicle under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. So that’s the legalese. Note that, if enforced, you could pay a big fine for riding on the sidewalk.

What’s so wrong with riding on the sidewalk? Besides being illegal? Plenty. If a cyclist hits a pedestrian, there could be injuries to both parties. The faster you are riding, the greater the chance for more severe injuries. Even if you, as a cyclist, don’t hit anyone, you could still startle people (seniors, visually impaired or iPod impaired) and they might trip on the curb or unintentionally stumble into you. And there’s always a chance that a dog on a leash will zig instead of zag and then whammo.

I do know why cyclists ride on the sidewalk—they are afraid of being hit by cars. There are more vehicles on the road and also more bike commuters. Trying to avoid the road though is simply avoiding the reality. We all must LEARN to share the road. The fear of being hit exists only because sidewalk cyclists have not bothered to learn to ride safely. With a little self-education about the rules of the road, they would know how to better co-exist with city traffic. Riding on the sidewalk gives a false sense of safety anyway. It does not eliminate the risk of a car and bike collision. In fact, according to the City of Toronto, cycling on the sidewalk is a contributing factor in 30% of car and bike collisions!

In Canada, you can check to see if any certified CAN-BIKE cycling courses are offered in your area. If so, take a class. If not, check with adult continuing education programs or download Ontario’s Guide to Safe Cycling. In the United States, the League of American Bicyclists recently posted its first online course, TS101 (Traffic Skills). This is just the in-class part of the course and takes about four hours. Then, it is recommended that you locate a TS101 instructor in your area and attend the five-hour, on-the-bike skills course. The League also has a Traffic Safety 201 course for more advanced riders, as well as courses in commuting, cycling safety for kids, and a motorist education class.

*If you do have young children, here’s what to teach them about cycling safely on a sidewalk:

  • Always yield to pedestrians. Get off and walk your bike or put your foot down.
  • Ride slowly.
  • Always walk your bike through a crosswalk or crossover (fines apply if not followed).
  • Use a bell or horn to let pedestrians know that you are there.
  • Make eye contact with drivers. Assume that drivers don’t see you.
  • Look for cars in driveways, laneways and at intersections and be prepared to stop.
  • Expect pedestrians to exit from stores.

The only way to share the road is to share the learning. Please pass this on.

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