No, it's not OK for them to ride on the sidewalks
I just came back from the 22 division's police station. I went there to have my complaint heard. Staff sergeant Glen Dewling (#2704) was good enough to listen to my complaint. He was prepared with his paperwork to hear my complaint about a specific officer. After reading my letter, he realized that it wasn't a specific officer I was complaining about, but the "we" in the officer's comment, as you'll see in the letter I wrote to them.
Glen Dewling was impressed with the letter. He did not know that sidewalk cycling was a factor in about 30% of crashes and collisions. He also did not know some other facts I presented. As he had no pre-set process or procedure or forms for handling this complaint he offered to copy and share the letter both with the Traffic Sergeant and his boss. I hope that it helps, but it is likely not enough.
My hope in publishing the letter here, I can inspire you to be better a better cyclist, a better mentor and teacher, and a better cycling advocate. And I hope that you can also share some ideas with us here to further the cause.
The letter I wrote is this:
To Everyone, as it likely concerns you too;
Yesterday my daughters had their swimming lessons after school. We rode our bicycles there as it's not too far. The roads were still wet from the recent rain, and we were getting strong "skunk stripes" up our backs, but the threat of more rain had passed.
Our route, from Mimico, takes us along quiet residential roads to Royal York, where we ride on the bike lane down to Symons, across to Dwight, down to Birmingham, and across Birmingham's bike lane to Gus Ryder Pool at Kipling. This route is really Ideal for us, as my daughters only have a bit more than two riding seasons under their belt, and they are still quite young. My eldest is 6, and the other is 4, but she'll be turning 5 this weekend.
We have done this route many times last year. They swim at Gus Ryder pool quite a lot, just not so much during the summer. We just started again, and yesterday was the second week's lessons.
Our ride was going well, but the younger one noticed that her bell was bit out of alignment, making it difficult for to ring it while keeping hands on the grips. She wanted to stop and fix it. We were approaching the lights at Islington, and they were turning red which would give the opportunity to correct the bell's alignment. She did so, and while we are waiting car pulled in on either side of us, the one's on the right were in the right hand turn lane, the ones on our left were going to proceed straight along Birmingham, as we also intended to do. The bike lane, in which we were sitting, cuts between these two lanes. It's about 5:15p, and the lessons start at 5:30p.We weren't running late, but nor did we have any spare time.
One of the cars that happens to pull up on our right is a police car. The officer in the police car open his window, and informs me that "We're ok with them using the sidewalks".
I reply, "Thank you, we're fine on this bike lane."
He insists "No really, we're ok with them on the sidewalks. Many people feel it's safer, you know. We don't mind them using the sidewalks." and he persisted with his argument "It's an option. just wanted you to know that we're ok with it." The tone (even though it initially sounded friendly), and the persistence with which this last part was being delivered, it sounded to me much more like a warning, or almost a threat.
I was stunned.
No, it's NOT OK to be riding on the sidewalk.
Just then the light turns green, and we all proceed. I was so stunned that I did not get the vehicle number/plate number or any other identifying feature of the cop car that had been beside us. I doubt that it would matter, as most police I've met seem to have this attitude.
The rest of my ride, which wasn't occupied with my shepherding of my daughters, was filled with the many reasons why it's NOT OK to ride on the sidewalks. And why it's not OK for the police to be encouraging sidewalk riding at anytime, and especially why it's not OK for the police to be doing this where there is a bike lane.
I am only going to have to assume that you don't ride a bike, or teach bike riding, as to understand why this is so wrong. I have to assume that because so many of the police that I have met don't. I am a CAN-BIKE instructor, and I ride my own bike quite a bit, and I have been riding a bike for over thirty years. So I'll do my best to explain why sidewalk riding is wrong, and why it's promotion by the police is so wrong.
Sidewalk riding for kids is allowed only because kids need a place to learn and master the basics of balancing a bike, and learning to ride in straight line, and to gain strength and endurance. My kids have done that. Now they are on to learning how to drive in traffic safely. Seeing young kids on bike you might not know that.
The route we able to use is great because it is relatively low traffic, excessive speeding is uncommon, and most of the route is either in a bike lane, or on quiet residential streets. These are ideal places to learn to ride in traffic. The primary skills like riding in a straight line and placement on the road are made easier by the presence of a bike lane. follow the path. What could be easier? Risk is reduced as drivers rarely place the motor vehicles into the bike lane. The presence of a bike lane both alerts drivers to be aware of cyclists, and improves their tolerance of bicycles on the road. All of this only works in our favour.
Sidewalk cycling is not as safe a it seems. Toronto's coroner did a report about cycling injuries and death and indicated that sidewalk cycling was a factor in about 30% of crashes and collisions. See
Sidewalk cycling can be made safer by dismounting at each intersection and walking one's bike across the street through the crosswalk. But that's really slow, not to mention annoying. I will do this with my daughters, but only under the most inhospitable road conditions, which I usually try to avoid. Such is not the case on Birmingham, the traffic is light, moderately paced, good sight lines, it's a wide road with plenty of room to manage passing a cyclist, and even has a bike lane, and I have rarely seen motor vehicles parked in the bike lane here. With only three lighted intersections along it's length, and no other stops along our path, it's fast, direct, and easy. Riding on the sidewalk would be slower, tedious, and would be discouraging to young cyclists who are not as adept at mounting and dismounting. And it doesn't teach hem anything about riding in traffic, nor give them the opportunity to learn anything.
The most significant problem with riding on the sidewalk, and one of the biggest reasons that I took offence to the officer's insistent suggestion, is that it both sends and re-enforces the message that cyclists don't belong on the road. bicycles are vehicles, as defined in the HTA. Vehicles belong on the road, not on the sidewalk. We don't encourage drivers of motor vehicles to use the sidewalk, not even for 16 year olds learning to drive, why would we want to encourage cyclists to use the sidewalk?
Children (and adults) have to learn to ride on the road safely, and they need practice time to hone their skills. Not all roads are appropriate for this, but many are. Roads with bike lanes, roads with low traffic volumes and lower speeds, roads with lots of room for motorists to pass cyclists-in-training are the best roads on which to learn, in short exactly the roads like those which were on. The same is true for new motorists, which is why we have graduated licensing. Driving any vehicle on the road takes time. There are lot of rules to be learned, and the subtleties of the actual behaviour of road users within this framework of rules is complex. Negotiating with others for right-of-way and for space on the road is not something that can be taught or learned from a book. The same is true for the myriad of other skills required to drive any vehicle on the road, it must be learned by practicing on the roads.
As I ride and drive around this city I see many adults riding their bikes on sidewalks, even where perfectly good bike lanes exists. I keep wondering to myself how and why this happens. I think that this attitude is a very big part of the problem. For kids it's OK to ride on the sidewalk, but then no-one bother to teach them how to ride on the roads. Teenage comes on and these people start driving without ever learning to ride their bike in traffic. As adults they drive, and sometimes they drive a bit carelessly, and think of the others that they have put at risk by doing so. They see other drivers doing the same, and they must think to themselves "Gee, these roads are dangerous", and get scared of riding their bikes there. Ironically, per trip, more risk of for the motorist and their passengers of death or being injured in a collision while in a motor vehicle than riding a bike. And the very presence of more cyclists makes the roads safer for everyone, cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists. Cyclists are constantly reminded to wear their helmets, and so the myth of "dangerous" roads persists. And worse, yesterday it was the police, the very people in charge of keeping our roads safe, who were advocating the wrong way to get our roads safer. More cyclists on the roads will make the roads safer, not cyclists on the sidewalk which will actually increase the risk for the cyclist.
Which means that we must encourage parents, and other adults, to ride with children on the roads, to mentor them, to teach them. Having our police pull up beside a family to encourage sidewalk cycling is not at all helpful. In fact, for the reasons above, it is truly harmful.
I hope that you will include more cycling training for ALL of your officers. Promotion of road cycling will save lives, not endanger us.
Police don't have a good reputation for doing what's right when it comes to cycling and cyclists issues. See: http://www.carectomy.com/index.php/Politics/Right-of-Way-Data-as-Defense
I hope that this letter will help to foster a more encouraging attitude from the police.