Where should I ride?
Another question that comes up a lot when talking to people about using the bicycle for transportation is about where to ride.
There have been studies done to address this particular question, so there is no need for me to rattle off some numbers and stats in the hope of persuading you. So I’m gonna just break it down logically… Here are the two rules you should follow:
Ride in the road. And ride with traffic not against traffic.
So, stay off of sidewalks. Usually. I’ll be the first to admit that there are some times when riding on the sidewalk is your only viable option and when those times arise, you should go ahead and do it. But be aware that riding on the sidewalk is actually more dangerous than riding in the street. I know that seems untrue given that the sidewalk keeps you out of traffic while the street puts you right into the thick of traffic, but that’s exactly why it is true.
If you are riding a bike on the sidewalk, you are not being factored into a driver’s thoughts at all. You are, functionally, a pedestrian. And while pedestrians can and will jump into the street with little or no notice, they usually defer to cars and give them the right of way. Because, you know, cars will straight up kill a pedestrian. Well, cars can straight up kill a bicycler too. And when the sidewalk ends (and trust me, it always ends eventually) and you are forced to then take to the road, the drivers around you are forced to immediately re-classify you as part of traffic. And that, unfortunately, takes a few seconds to do. So while you bail into the street because of a pedestrian, or a hot dog cart, or because the sidewalk ends, the cars around you have no idea what you are doing or where you are going. And unlike a pedestrian, you can’t stop immediately and look around to make sure some driver ain’t flipping out at seeing you in the road. So, at that point you are creating a very dangerous situation in which your safety relies entirely in the hands of a driver who may or may not be paying attention.
Riding in the street, however, makes you a part of traffic. You are then something drivers take into consideration, which is safer. I can’t tell you how many bicyclers I’ve seen jump a curb or ride into an intersection from a sidewalk, oblivious to the hiss and squeal of brakes all around them as drivers are suddenly forced to deal with their idiocy. You just can’t reasonably expect drivers to anticipate what you are going to do on a bicycle if you aren’t even in their thoughts at all. Riding in the street makes the driver think about you, and that’s the best way to stay safe on a bicycle.
And hell, being a part of traffic is a good thing for everyone. It’s the only legitimacy bicyclers are almost guaranteed from the perspective of drivers. They may not like you still, but they are forced to deal with you, nonetheless.
And for god’s sake, ride on the correct side of the road. I know you can see cars coming if you ride against the flow of traffic, but you are increasing the possible damage from an accident by a terrifying amount by compounding the speeds heading towards a car, truck, or street sweeper. Ok, maybe not the street sweeper so much, but you get my drift.
If you are pedaling along at 10 mph, and a car is passing you at 30 mph, a collision will basically be a 20 mph collision. But if you are pedaling towards that guy who’s cleaning up his latte that spilled into his lap while avoiding the bicycler that jumped in front of him riding across a crosswalk, your 10 mph gets added to his 30 mph and suddenly you’re looking at a 40 mph collision instead. Ouch. That is a huge difference. That could be the difference between being a pissed off bicycler and being a dead bicycler.
So, ride in the street as you would if you were driving. It’s safer and you become a part of traffic… a cleaner, healthier, freer part of traffic.