Biking is an excellent way to get around the city. It’s healthy, sustainable, affordable, fun and often quicker than taking public transportation. Put simply, I would highly recommend biking to anyone. What many people don’t seem to realize, however, is that while you don’t need to take a test, purchase insurance and carry a license to become a cyclist, there still is a correct way and an incorrect way to bike safely and legally.
After spending the past three years living in Montreal, a city innumerable avid cyclists call home, I am continually appalled by how many people I encounter daily biking on Philadelphia sidewalks. There is no shortage of cyclists in our city and a short walk around Temple’s bicycle-littered campus serves as a testament to our school’s penchant for two-wheeled travel. Why, then, don’t people know to bike on the street?
Under Philadelphia law, it is illegal for any person above the age of 12 to bike on the sidewalk. A sidewalk is called what it is for a reason, and although weaving in and out of pedestrians may have been acceptable when we were younger, it is no longer appropriate. In fact, it’s obnoxious. The law also states that cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers when on the road. If we want the respect of drivers, we must adhere to the same rules they do. When traffic is slow, a driver cannot simply decide to roll up on the sidewalk in order to get through that traffic light faster, so why should we be able to?
As someone who bikes to work, class and anywhere else I need to be every day of the week, I understand the temptation. Our vehicles are easier to control and can fit where even the smartest of smart cars can only dream of going. Giving in to such temptations ultimately hurts us as a population more than the convenience is worth. There will always be drivers who refuse to respect the validity of cyclists as commuters and share the road, but as bikers we can at least do our part to improve relations with motorists. Sharing the road is a two-way street — preferably one with bike lanes — and abiding by the rules fosters a safe environment for motorists and cyclists alike. We don’t want to be despised by drivers or pedestrians, and it’s the kind of cyclists who ride on busy city sidewalks who give the rest of us a bad name.
Biking on the sidewalk is not just obnoxious, but dangerous as well. It can be difficult for a driver on the road to see a bicyclist on the sidewalk, and when they do they often don’t know whether to treat such a person as a pedestrian or a vehicle. Predictability is always appreciated by those behind the wheel, and riding in an inappropriate place is nothing like predictability.
Since people in parked cars are often more careful to look before opening their doors street-side than to the sidewalk, you also leave yourself more susceptible to being hit by someone exiting their vehicle, which never ends well.
A safe biker is a happy biker, and our efforts to remain safe don’t always pay off. It’s an unfortunate fact that bikers, especially urban bikers, already have to live with a certain level of risk. I know law-abiding, safety-conscious cyclists who have suffered shattered hipbones, legs, ruptured spleens and brain injuries. Why make your ride more dangerous by disregarding the rules of the road?
Fellow bicyclists: Keep the welfare of cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians in mind next time you’re tempted to take the sidewalk to work. Stick to the roadways, please, and do us all a favor.
Class of 2013