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Experts Say Riding a Bike on a Sidewalk is Dangerous

On Sunday, a man riding his bike on a sidewalk along West Republic Road was struck by a vehicle. This raises the question as to whether riding on the sidewalk protects bikers or endangers them. KSMU’s Samuel Crowe reports.

As Springfield moves forward in becoming a more biker friendly city, it’s becoming more and more important to understand and respect the safety issues that come with two-wheeled transportation.

One issue is riding on a sidewalk: it’s legal throughout Springfield, except in business districts. However, Sergeant Carl Schwartze, a bike patrol officer with the Springfield Police Department, says biking on a sidewalk will only harm drivers on the street.

“It confuses drivers, because they don’t know whether to treat them like a vehicle or a pedestrian. Who has right of way when you’re on a bicycle that’s moving three or four times faster than a pedestrian can move? Do you wait for them to go? It’s really confusing,” Schwartze said.

Chris Nuccio is also a bike patrol officer with the department. He said bikers put themselves in harm’s way when they ride on sidewalks because drivers assume they’re going to be on the roads.

“When a cyclist is predictable, they are much less likely to get struck. And the problem when the cyclists are on the sidewalks is that motorists aren’t expecting them to be on the sidewalks,” said Nuccio.

Dr. Andy Cline is a traffic cyclist instructor with Cycling Savvy, a program that teaches bikers how to maneuver public roadways. He himself rarely drives a car—he bikes pretty much everywhere. When we asked him which was safer for bike riders—the sidewalk or road—he said the road is much safer, and it’s not even debatable.

“The danger isn’t behind you, it’s in front of you. And when you’re on a sidewalk, you’ve increased that danger. So riding on a sidewalk is nerve-wracking, and uncomfortable. I’d rather be in the street where the pavement is smooth and traffic is predictable, and you know, I don’t have to worry about kids’ toys and trash and people walking around,” he said.

Cline said many bikers don’t understand the proper safety measures they are supposed to take, and that’s why they feel forced to ride on sidewalks. For example, many bikers will hug the curb on busy roads, and that encourages cars and trucks in the same lane to pass them. This puts both driver and biker at risk. He also said that fear has a lot to do with why so many people bike on sidewalks.

“There’s the assumption that people driving cars don’t want you there and are going to be angry. First of all, you have the right to be there. Second of all, even if they are angry, most people don’t show it. Nobody’s going to run you down on purpose. And, if you are positioned properly in a lane, people will see you. You can also see them,” he said.

Cline noted that Springfield is a very bike friendly town, and that its grid system makes it easy to travel long distances primarily along residential streets. The key, he said, is that bikers need to learn to ride safely and assertively. For KSMU news, I’m Samuel Crowe.