Council is considering changing the by-law that prohibits bicycles on sidewalk. Yesterday, the public had an opportunity to weigh in on the issue. Feel free to have your input here, too.
For me, spring marks the beginning of the bicycle season. I don’t get it out too early; I prefer to wait until the city has finished its annual street cleaning programme. The memory of “wiping out” when I hit loose sand along a residential street a few years ago is still fresh and painful.
Unlike many older adult cyclists, I have never been a fan of riding on the sidewalk. I am fairly confident riding on street, claiming my share of the road along with the cars and trucks, although always on the lookout for careless or aggressive drivers of which London has a few. You need to be alert.
When I was a kid, most of my friends had bicycles and used them. Where to ride was not an issue. We lived in the country and there was only one place to travel- on the road- whether on foot, on a bicycle, or by car. Kids rode their bikes to school and nobody had a lock for his bike. I don’t recall anyone having his bike stolen.
Things are different in a city of 360,000 in 2011. There are more strangers, more cars, and more choices. There are also proportionately more seniors and fewer children. Parents are more worried about the safety of their offspring, and children are more scheduled into a host of activities that require travel. Neighbourhood schools are closing in favour of larger schools further away. Computer technology and easy access to “junk” foods has led to a sedentary population and obesity. We want everyone- kids, parents and grandparents- to become more active.
In London, the car is king. It’s difficult to find a home, get to your job, do your shopping, visit your friends, get to medical appointments, volunteer for your favourite non-profit and get the kids to soccer practice without a car. We are a leader in the number of drive throughs for coffee, burgers and drugs.
This year, we will spend $32M maintaining our roadways, and $18M repairing, rebuilding and enlarging our roads. Repairing existing sidewalks will cost us $1.2M and we have set aside another $230,000 for installing new sidewalks. Expanding our network of multi-use pathways will set us back another $175,000.
Given the cost of constantly expanding our road network, the health costs of inactivity, and the environmental costs of automobile dependence, it’s not surprising that the city is looking to alternatives to the reliance on the single-occupancy vehicle for transportation, both public transit and active transportation- walking and bicycling. How do we get more people to choose to get on a bike instead of a car?
A big issue for cyclists is safety. While multi-use pathways are enjoyable for recreational riding, you need to be part of the road network if you use the bicycle as a means of getting places. But where is it safe to ride?
Some areas of the city have dedicated bicycle paths- along Wonderland Road, for example- and for the past few years, the city has added dedicated bicycle lanes as roads are being renovated or widened. But in most parts of the city, you have to ride on the street along with the cars and trucks. Riding on the sidewalks is a violation of the streets by-law.
It’s a by-law that is routinely breached by young and old alike. Parents are not comfortable with their child riding on the street. Many adults are uneasy riding on heavily traveled arterial roads. Every year more than 100 tickets are issued to offenders. Many more could be given out, but police are reluctant to enforce a by-law that results in $140 fines.
That’s why the city is looking at changing the by-law. Last summer, administration provided to council a number of options for dealing with bicycles, the preferred option being to allow persons under the age of 18 on a bicycle with wheels less than 61cm in diameter to ride on the sidewalk. The proposal was to be considered by the Transportation Advisory Committee and the general public for comment. On Tuesday evening I, along with a couple of dozen of other members of the community, attended the public participation meeting.
Unfortunately, only one of the people present would fit the category targeted for the exemption to the ban on bicycles on sidewalks. Most were over 30, including a handful of seniors. If their feedback is anything to go by, it will not be easy to come up with a solution that will be acceptable to all members of the community.
Some seniors were adamant that they did not want any bicycles on sidewalks. “Where are seniors supposed to walk?” demanded an elderly woman, complaining that the students in her neighbourhood routinely ride on the sidewalk and swear at her if reprimanded. Others suggested that younger children, perhaps up to age 10 or 11 should be allowed to use the sidewalks, but “18 is too old.” That sentiment was endorsed by a representative of the Canadian Council for the Blind. Some wondered why bells weren’t standard equipment on bicycles, while others pointed out that riders don’t bother to use them anyway, so what’s the point.
Pedestrians came in for their share of complaints as well. Why bother to ring your bell when people are listening to their iPods and don’t hear you? And if they do, they get confused and run in front of the bicycle. This happens less on multi-use pathways with a median painted on it, but on the sidewalk, there are no painted lines and few conventions about how to avoid running into people or how to avoid being run over.
A number of participants also pointed out that some cyclists have a false sense of safety on the sidewalk; most collisions with cars occur on the sidewalk, especially when vehicles are exiting from a private property onto a roadway. Drivers pull out too far and tend to look to the left for oncoming traffic but forget about looking right until they are already in motion.
Parents expressed concern about not being able to accompany their children on the sidewalk, noting that it is not safe to ride slowly beside the sidewalk on the street. You have to keep up with traffic when riding on the road.
There were a number of things that all agreed with: more dedicated bike lanes and paths, more education about the rules and enforcement of them, the need to develop a “culture of respect” among drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.
Respect is a curious concept. While all present emphasized the importance of it, and most showed it in relation to each other at the meeting, it was clear that at least a few of the participants were much more interested in receiving respect than in showing it. Seniors, in particular, became nostalgic about the good old days when everyone was respectful and everyone was law-abiding.
“We can’t expect kids to have respect,” said one. “We’re talking many years of no respect.”
“Teenagers are disrespectful and aggressive,” was how another senior put it categorically.
Although some of those present seemed uncomfortable with such negative stereotyping, no one objected, no doubt out of “respect” for the seniors. It’s unfortunate that there were no teenagers or university student there to defend themselves and their reputations. It’s easy to generalize when no members of the targeted group are present.
But surely, part of respect is tolerance, tolerance for youthful exuberance and tolerance for seniors’ moments. As long as they don’t collide where roads and sidewalks meet.