Home > Complete Streets, Safety Issues > Are you a sidewalk rider?

Are you a sidewalk rider?

(Updated August 14th: basic clean-up)

The number of people riding bikes in Traverse City is at an unofficial record high. This summer, the streets are rarely free of them and, unfortunately, the sidewalks also see a large number of them. It’s unfortunate because it signifies that our streets are not perceived safe enough for all users, despite the majority of streets being marked 25-mph or less.

(EXTRA: Going down to 20-MPH would help a lot.)

Bad News: The scene of a crash between a cyclist & a motorist at 8th & Boardman. The cyclist was on the sidewalk, crossing east with a green-light. The motorist was turning right onto 8th at a red light.

It’s also unfortunate, because the sidewalk is statistically the most dangerous place for people on bikes. Despite common-belief, motorists typically do not want to hurt you when you’re on a bike. If reactive motorists, the kind that yell “get on the sidewalk!” as they pass you by understood the issue, they would want you on the street. They might even start advocating for biking infrastructure.

A lot of the rage against cyclists is based on a fear of harming someone. Yet, our public spaces could be a lot safer if there was better understanding of why crashes typically happen and if motorists and cyclists both understood that bikes belong and how to share the road. Biking on the sidewalk adds to the problem between motorists/bicyclists, not to mention makes life for walkers and disabled pedestrians difficult.

In places, it’s breaking the law

I Bike Philly recently posted a list of reasons why sidewalk riding is often illegal. It comes down to visibility issues and the mixing of bikes with pedestrians.

I recently rode to Cadillac and was corrected almost instantly when I was riding on the sidewalk to get to the beach. The group I was with was trying to orientate ourselves and we were mainly coasting on an unobstructed sidewalk next to Lake Cadillac when a group of teenagers yelled from the water, “You can’t ride on the sidewalk. You’re going to get a ticket!

(NOTE: I didn’t find an outright ban in the city ordinances.)

Most of our model biking communities have strict no-bikes-sidewalks ordinances or cultures. In Portland, the Blue Guy may come after you for riding on the sidewalk. Chicago, is one of the models with a no bikes on sidewalk law. They also have a strong & developing bike plan. Chicago Bikes recently released the following lighthearted and well done instructional video explaining why the no bikes on sidewalk law.

Sidewalk Rider gets the Treatment in New York

In another approach, a friend shared with me an educational video of a different sort. Hint, don’t try biking on the sidewalk in New York. Whoa…. (Thanks Abby, video via Jeremy R.)

Sidewalk riding in Traverse City

Crazy people yelling at each other aside, Traverse City doesn’t have the pedestrian traffic to effectively socially discourage sidewalk use and some of our streets are seriously broken & incomplete. No bike plan yet exists to remedy that issue. It also isn’t illegal in Traverse City (downtown has restrictions) for cyclists to ride on the sidewalk, so we will have sidewalk riders for the foreseeable future.

If you do find yourself riding on the sidewalk, remember that you need to yield the right of way to walkers and let someone know if you go to pass, using a bell or a simple “passing”. The same rules apply to the TART trail. It’s not a bike trail, it’s a multi-use trail.

It’s encouraging to see the increased number of people using bikes, yet it’d be nice for us all to feel comfortable enough to use our crosstown bike route (Washington St., a slow neighborhood street) the way it is intended, on the street.

Try repeating this mantra when you’re in a dodgy section & need to take-up your lane:

  • Bikes Belong, I Belong.
  • Bikes Belong, I Belong.
  • Bikes Belong, I Belong.

There won’t be a segregated bike path everywhere you go, so we all need to know how to ride with traffic. Biking Toronto’s 10-part series is a good primer.

10 Secrets to Cycling with Traffic”:

  1. Drivers Don’t Want to Kill You
  2. Ride in a Straight Line
  3. Play by the Rules
  4. Avoid the “Stoplight Squeeze”
  5. Signal Sensibly
  6. Take That Lane
  7. Make Them THINK You’re Unpredictable
  8. Ride With Others
  9. Avoid the Right Hook
  10. Practice Your Route

* NOTE: These secrets are primarily for city riding, not exactly transferable to other cycling education programs that tend to focus on distance riding.


  1. June Thaden
    August 12, 2010 at 10:30 am

    You’ve opened a very important topic with this, and I have time for little more than this statement right now.

    In the 1990s and late 80s there were several important traffic studies that analyzed causes of bike/motor vehicle crashes, and they showed that a high percentage of such crashes happened at intersections when the bike rider was on a sidewalk or “side path” (a bike facility adjacent to the road, but separate from the road by a narrow verge). The motorist is looking for traffic on the road, coming from the EXPECTED directions, and just doesn’t note unexpected traffic. This is also a big reason NOT to bike against motor traffic. Bicycling by pedestrian rules is as dangerous as bicycling on a sidewalk.

  2. August 12, 2010 at 10:43 am

    I almost got wiped out here a couple of weeks ago. Lady turning at 20+ MPH while I had the “Walk”

    It’s really f-in scary on 8th and on Division and I ride the sidewalks for the most part on both of those streets.

  3. August 12, 2010 at 11:01 am

    MDOT’s Division St. is one of our worst streets, Andy. I occasionally ride it but only when my moxie is up. Since MDOT won’t let the city slap a road diet on that beast, I’d like to see some multi-use paths, 10-12 feet wide running along side of it. Of course, they won’t fit everywhere, but I envision one on the west side of 9th/10th and Division, running along the road and also cutting diagonally through the field towards Division St. When we walked it in a group of 10, we noticed first hand how narrow the sidewalk actually is when we encountered the ‘runners rage’. Their isn’t enough room.

    8th Street isn’t as busy as you might think. Often when I ride it between Woodmere Ave. and Lake St. only 4-6 cars actually pass me. Of course, its beat-up to hell and built for speeds above the speed-limit. It needs a re-do, re-think, re-build and many other things that begin with the re- prefix before the majority of riders will use it.

    I’m available for bike-pooling with anyone who wants to cross town on 8th and is in need of a partner; send me an email or message on FBook.

    Safety in numbers.

  4. aastricker
    August 12, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    I’ve been “training” my kids to ride in the street, but there are a few places I’m still not comfortable letting them ride; 8th St. is one of them. However, they know that IF we are on the sidewalk, pedestrians have the right of way.

  5. August 15, 2010 at 11:35 am

    I walk on the sidewalks every day–usually with a stroller–and am an avid bike rider too and I get very annoyed with bikes on sidewalks. They usually seem to appear out of nowhere, too quickly, maybe yelling “on your left!” just as they cruise on by. Grrrrrr.

  1. August 12, 2010 at 11:22 am
  2. December 2, 2010 at 9:24 am

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