Bikes and cars, sharing the road

Because safety, and also because people often end debating this kind of stuff: The New York Bicycling Coalition has produced a video about the rules for cars -- and bikes! -- when using the road together.

The video is embedded above. It starts out with the section for cars, focusing on how bikes can use travel lanes and how to safely pass them. Then it flips to rules for bikes, focusing on practices such as signaling and (not) riding on the sidewalk. (Each segment is embedded individually below, if you'd like to watch them that way.)

The video was created in conjunction with the Albany Police Department using a grant from the state. You'll recognize a bunch of locations from around Albany.


Are there any exceptions to that rule about not biking on sidewalks -- specifically can children 13 and under bike on sidewalks? I hope there so because I don't think children can navigate traffic. Whenever I see kids in my neighborhood bike on the sidewalk (sometimes accompanied by parents), I'm glad because they are safer there. Certainly kids should be polite and mindful of pedestrians, but I'd rather see them on the sidewalk than in the street.

@chrisck - albany code Article I Chpt 359:
"§ 359-4
Riding on sidewalks prohibited; exceptions.
No person shall ride any bicycle, tricycle, velocipede or other vehicle of propulsion on or over any footpath in any of the parks, or on or over any of the sidewalks of any of the streets or avenues in this City, except if it is to go into a yard, lot or building; provided, however, that the foregoing provision of this section shall not apply to children under 10 years of age; ...."

Thanks, Ed. So it seems an important rite of passage for "tween" bikers is to become educated, adept, and comfortable riding in the street.

You gotta love the jaywalker playing Frogger in the middle of Washington Ave at 1:44 of the first video.

Children are not safe riding bikes on sidewalks, and if they are too young to be able to follow basic rules of the road, they are probably too young to safely ride their bike in the city, unless in a more controlled setting.

There's a good reason why: riding on the sidewalk FEELS safer. But it actually isn't.

Of all the types of people in the world, children are even more vulnerable when riding on the sidewalk - less visible, less predictable, less able to be aware of whats around them. Why endanger them even more?

Don't be fooled by an instinctive belief that sidewalk riding is safe. People also think that SUVs are safer than small cars. Again, the perception of safety and actual safety are not necessarily connected.

@Justin: Of course children aren't 100% safe riding on the sidewalk, but they're a hell of a lot safer there compared to riding in the street. Yes, they're smaller, have a lower bike IQ and can be unpredictable when compared to an adult rider. However, a low speed accident with a pedestrian, tree or bumpy sidewalk has the propensity to be far less fatal than that with a car traveling 30+ mph. How is this even an argument?

Sean is spot on. With the advent of balance bikes, kids are riding at a younger age. I for one would not want my 3 year old out on the street.

@Sean and James

They actually aren't safer than riding in the street. I get it - the idea doesn't feel correct. Of course, a three year old can't ride in the street. But they also shouldn't be on the sidewalk either unless its a very self contained patch. That's because they aren't old enough to safely operate a bicycle on their own. I"m talking about children who are older who have that ability.

The reason you think it's safer is because you aren't considering what type of accident is most likely to occur, which is an incident in which a car collides with a person. Anyone riding on the sidewalk is more susceptible to this condition because there is a vastly reduced ability to notice the potential for a collision and then to avoid the collision.

The example of SUVS vs small cars, which I used before, shows this in perhaps more relatable terms. Surviving a collision between two cars is best achieved through avoiding a more serious collision, not by having a beefy vehicle. A smaller car has a much higher ability to do so than an SUV, but one of the marketing tactics for SUV manufacturers has been to emphasize the perception of safety - riding high, impervious to external factors, etc. But the truth is, what they're selling isn't really what you're buying.

I think there's a difference between what Justin considers "riding on sidewalks" and what Sean and James considers the same.

3 year olds are not commuting anywhere on a bike; if anything, they're practicing how to ride, within control distance of an adult. 8 and 9 year olds, though, might very well be using their bike on a sidewalk to get to school, friends' houses, the corner store, wherever. And this does pose problems, particularly the visibility issue Justin mentions. One of the biggest reasons that biking on a sidewalk is so unsafe is that drivers in the road often can't see them, and collisions happen when the driver turns into the path of the sidewalk -- at an intersection or into a driveway, for example. Especially when cars are parked on the road, the cyclist is practically invisible to the driver, and this is exacerbated with youth cyclists.

So yes, common sense may say that a kid on a bike wiping out on a sidewalk (pedestrian collisions are a separate issue, which can be horrific even at low speeds -- pedestrians are not wearing helmets after all) is low risk compared to a vehicle collision, but we're actually talking about vehicle collisions when we're talking about bikes on sidewalks.

@-B, thanks for clarifying my point. My 10 year old rides on the street and I walk with my 3 year old on his balance bike on the sidewalk.

My 10 year old is a skilled rider - riding since 3, racing BMX racing since 5 but I am still concerned about him riding to school as I see a higher level of driver distraction - 'stoptional' stop sign techniques, cell phone use, etc. Because of this, I would take a run in with a pedestrian any day than a run in with a car. The potential for damage is not comparable.

That's supremely selfish, James. You're fine with bike v.s pedestrian accidents because it's the pedestrian, not your kid, who will get seriously injured or killed.

And if your fear is that cars are not stopping at stop signs, a bike approaching a cross street on the sidewalk -- where both buildings and parked cars obstruct view of them -- is in much greater risk than one approaching from the street, which is where the driver of the car is looking for cross traffic.

Barring specific, cherry picked peculiarities, it's more dangerous to ride on the sidewalk. I don't even know why we're having this discussion, it's not a debate, the information is out there.

@ james

As I tried to explain before, the dangers of riding on the sidewalk do not come from pedestrians. They come from cars. The danger indeed is not comparable. But not in the way you are thinking.

Thanks all, fair points.

It may seem selfish, but a 30 lb metal bike and 60 lb kid will still inflict less overall damage than said kid/bike combo with a full size car. Because physics.

And you're right, I am only going on my observations rather than an overall perspective. Our route to school is down New Scotland Ave to the school, and I have witnessed many cars pulling way out beyond stop signs, slowing down slightly and blasting left hand turns without much looking.

You're all missing something very important. Below age 10, kids are not developmentally ready to be in traffic without supervision. They don't have the depth perception yet to judge vehicle speeds and tell whether an oncoming car is a threat or not.

Kids below that age belong on the sidewalk, or at worst, on a low volume, low speed back street.

That being said, kids today don't get enough free range play time, and it's hurting their development.

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