Cycling on the sidewalk

Cycling on the streets of Toronto is at best stressful, at worst dangerous. Not everyone wants to subject themselves to the risks you’re exposed to when you share our streets with cars. So cycling on the sidewalk seems to be a good alternative. You could even say that in the car-dominated city it’s a rational choice. Particularly in parts of our city that were designed and continue to be maintained as if cycling were not an option. Unfortunately, these are often the poorer areas, where cycling is an important means of transport.

There’s just one small problem, pedestrians. The sidewalks were made for them, and they include the frail, elderly and children.

It is in the interests of all cyclists to keep the sidewalks safe and enjoyable for pedestrians. The more people walk, the more liveable our city becomes. Walking needs its own advocates. It slows down life, it opens the senses to the world, it creates social encounters, no matter how fleeting. Michel de Certeau put it so beautifully in 1980 when he called the walkers the “ordinary practitioners of the city.” In his view, walkers write the text of urban life. “Their knowledge of space is as blind as that of lovers in each others arms,” and their movements are like poems, “in which each body is an element signed by many others.”

It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally a pedestrian will be injured, even killed by a cyclist. In New York City, the estimate is that between 500 and 1,000 pedestrians are injured by cyclists annually. I couldn’t find statistics for Toronto, but it could be between 150 and 250, going on population alone. Over the past several years, there have been some high profile cases of pedestrian fatalities caused by cyclists riding on the sidewalk.

Last year, Nobu Okamoto, a 74 year old man died after being struck by a cyclist on a sidewalk in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood. But cyclists are afraid to go onto the streets.

Sidewalk Cyclist

You can legally cycle on the sidewalk if your wheel size is less than 24 inches. A City bylaw allows cyclists with a tire size of 61cm (24 inches) or less to ride on the sidewalk. The intent of this bylaw is to allow young children to cycle on the sidewalk while they learn to ride. But the spin-off is that if you ride a folding bike, you’re OK.

I stay off the sidewalks at all times. As far as I’m concerned, sidewalks are pedestrian spaces. Well, there’s one exception. If I’m pulling my daughter in the bike trailer (which I do twice daily, between home and day care), I take the sidewalk. Then, I stick to a few simple rules, which are rather nicely formulated at Commute by Bike.


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