There’s plenty of articles and statistics out there damning the practice of riding a bike on a sidewalk.
That’s why I so surprised to come across what’s seen in this photo from Portland, Oregon, the bike capital of the United States. On the Hawthorne bridge, bike traffic is directed on to the sidewalk.
As luck would have it, a Traffic Safety Specialist in Portland noticed I was posted bike photos of Portland on Flickr, and invited me out for a beer while I was visiting.
Greg Raisman was prepared to be questioned about that. He was aware of the same bikes-on-sidewalk-are-evil rhetoric. He explained this was technically a sidepath, and the important difference here is how the traffic is managed in the facility.
A sidewalk typically has many conflict points with motorized traffic– driveways and intersections. Those are the places where accidents to tend to happen on sidewalks and are the source of the danger from riding bikes on them.
On Portland’s Hawthorne bridge sidepath there are zero conflict points between bikes and cars. Cyclists roll up their own ramp to enter the facility from a bike lane. There are no roads or driveways to cross on the bridge while traveling westbound, and cyclists have their own exit ramp at the other end (rather than being dumped at an intersection). Meanwhile, the curb physically separates the bike traffic from the cars, providing extra safety and security compared to a painted stripe on the road.
I think the League of Illinois Bicyclists may have the right idea with their Sidepath Trail Calculator. Rather than being simply for or against bikes on sidepaths, they calculate a rating based a number of factors, such has how many driveway and road crossings there are along the path.
I still believe that there are many cases where riding a bike on sidewalk or sidepath could be more expensive for a city to support and more dangerous for bicyclists. Bridges generally don’t have intersections in the middle of them and strike me as a place where a sidepath could be a safe and effective facility for bicyclists.