Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Bicycles Belong On The Road

Road Rage
As I've shared yesterday's story about the Sioux Falls driver who assaulted a bicyclist, other bicyclists I know have shared similar stories.  It seems all the serious riders I know have had run-ins with motorists who refuse to acknowledge their right to the road.

Many of us are fast enough that we come pretty close to riding at the speed limit, so we're not really slowing things down.  Most of our major streets in Sioux Falls are wide enough to permit sharing the lane - giving motorists enough room to obey the three-foot buffer mandated by city law.

Should we bike on the sidewalk?  No!
But even slow cyclists have a right to the roads.  Drivers sometimes tell me to bike on the sidewalk.  If they weren't driving away so fast, I'd take the time to let them know what a stupid idea that is. 

If you're one of those drivers who wonders why I'm not on the sidewalk, here's why:
  • It's more dangerous.  People pulling out of driveways don't look at who is coming down the sidewalk.  Try this sometime and you'll see what I mean.  You probably don't look either.
  • It's more dangerous.   Sidewalks are for walking.  I think that's why they're called sidewalks.  (See that word "walk" in there?)  Which means that they're not engineered for biking.  Telephone poles and guy wires and signposts for motorists jut out of and across sidewalks all over town, making it easy for anyone going at a decent pace to get knocked off their bikes.
  • It's much slower.  Bicyclists on the sidewalk must stop at every intersection, even if there isn't a stop sign.  At every intersection. Ride a bike to work tomorrow and stop completely every few hundred yards if you don't get my point.  You will get it very quickly.
  • In some cases it's illegal.  For instance, in downtown Sioux Falls.  This is because
  • It's more dangerous.  Small children are on the sidewalk.  People walking dogs are on the sidewalk.  Wheelchairs and strollers are on the sidewalk.  People leave things on the sidewalks.  
  • Also, it's more dangerous.  Many sidewalks simply aren't maintained for biking.  Branches are not trimmed well, and if the concrete joints aren't level, they can ruin a wheel.
Biking is better for us
So not only do we have the legal right to be on the road and to occupy the lane, as you can see, biking is our best option.

And no, driving is not our best option.  I will admit that if you're driving a car that weighs several tons, you're safer than I am when I'm straddling a twenty-pound aluminum frame.  But what I'm doing is better for all of us, even for you.  Think about it:
  • Bicycles cause almost no road wear, so we save the city from having to pay for the damage that heavy cars quickly cause;
  • Bicycles use no fossil fuels, at least not directly, so we don't increase dependence on foreign oil.  We're patriots like that.  If you like enriching OPEC, I guess that's your right, but I don't quite get it;
  • Bicycling is better for my health, which means that I am probably decreasing everyone's health care costs and staying healthy and productive.  
  • Bicycling is also better for your health, because bikes don't pollute.  So that clean air you;re breathing?  You're welcome;
  • Bicycles take up less space on the road and in parking lots, which means the road is less congested, and you get a better parking spot.  Again, you're welcome.
Look: most people drive in our town, but that doesn't mean that the roads are only there for cars.  They have come to be dominated by cars, but that's not how it always was.  And, God willing, it's not how it will always be.

You and I have the right to drive on public roads maintained at public expense because we all agree it is worth paying for, and the laws make it possible and safe.  Those same laws, and that same public opinion, supports the right of bicyclists to use those same roads.  

I'm not a member yet, but I've just discovered this organization, Falls Area Bicyclists.  They look like they're up to some good work in our town.  More bikes=better city.  


  1. Once upon a time (my childhood, for instance), it was illegal to ride a bicycle on sidewalks *anywhere* in Sioux Falls. But even then, one was subjected to obnoxious drivers' inexplicable ire.

    1. I wonder if our cars are too good at insulating us from what is outside them, so that we come to view them as extensions of our personal space and everything else as a potential obstacle or limitation of what is ours. This might lead us to think of the road as our own, rather than as shared real estate.