The Skinny on Sidewalk Riding The Skinny on Sidewalk Riding

By Steve Clark, Bicycling and Walking Program Manager

One of the goals of Bike Walk Twin Cities has been to create safer conditions for both pedestrians and bicyclists. We heard loud and clear from people (especially seniors) that one of their greatest fears when using a sidewalk was being struck by a bicyclist. We also heard from people that there were many streets they would like to bike on, but were afraid for their safety, since there was no dedicated space for bicycling. So, early on, we set out to work with communities in addressing this situation by significantly expanding dedicated bicycle facilities for the benefit of both cyclists and pedestrians. Where bike lanes (a preferred treatment) were deemed infeasible, BWTC-funded projects included sharrows or advisory bike lanes.

The investments paid off

The table below includes all BWTC project locations in Minneapolis where we have before-and-after counts of on-street improvements for cyclists. All locations show an increase in number of bicyclists (14 percent total increase). All locations also show a decrease in sidewalk riding, with 6 of 7 locations demonstrating dramatic decreases, and a 58 percent total reduction for all locations.

Counts at on-street locations that have not seen improvements in bicycle infrastructure continue to reveal high amounts of sidewalk riding, especially on roads with high average daily traffic (ADT) and no safe space for cyclists to ride without taking the full lane. Examples include Lyndale Ave. North near Broadway (70 percent riding on sidewalks), University Ave. near Prior (66 percent riding on sidewalks), and Franklin Ave. West near Portland (66 percent riding on sidewalks).

The table below also provides additional support for the contention that share-the-lane markings (sharrows) are less effective in encouraging new riders than bike lanes, and also less effective in converting sidewalk riders to on-street riders. Other studies have seen similar results.

One of the year's big successes is that of the advisory bike lanes on East 14th Street. While bicycling nearly doubled on this street, there was an 81 percent drop in sidewalk use!

Why this is important

 Sidewalk riding has been found to be a leading cause of bike/car crashes in most major cities. A crash analysis conducted for the City of Minneapolis for years 2006-2007 found that 39 percent of all crashes involved a cyclist entering traffic from a sidewalk or sidepath. This is far more crashes than occur from bicyclists riding the wrong way on the street (6 percent) or from blowing through red lights (7.5 percent) or stop signs (3.9 percent).

Equally revealing is that the roadways with the highest crash rates also have the highest percentage of sidewalk riders.

Interestingly, the main reason people give for choosing the sidewalk over the roadway is fear of being struck by an overtaking motorist. Yet, this type of crash (passing error by motorist) represented only 4 percent of all crashes in Minneapolis.


Why sidewalk riding can be unsafe

Though a cyclist might feel safer on a sidewalk, he or she is less visible to drivers. Motorists don't expect to see someone on a sidewalk at faster than a walking speed, and views are often obstructed where sidewalks meet the road by parked cars, bushes, signposts, and other structures. Motorists are generally looking for other motor vehicles as they enter an intersection, and do not turn to look also at what might be leaving the sidewalk.

It is especially unsafe to ride on the sidewalk in what would be considered wrong-way riding (opposite the flow of traffic) if you were on the roadway.

The many benefits of bike lanes

Adding bike lanes to a roadway are a low-cost way to create safer conditions for all road users. In all the examples in the table above, improvements were made without having to widen the road. Widening roads can be cost-prohibitive, environmentally detrimental, and makes crossing distances longer. By narrowing existing travel lanes, or removing a travel lane or parking lane, bike lanes can be added without any major costs. Bike lanes provide a buffer for pedestrians from motorized traffic, and tend to have a traffic-calming influence on motorized traffic in contrast to wider travel lanes.

In a study by Dr. Paul Moritz, bike lanes were found to be twice as safe for bicyclists as a minor street, and ten times safer than sidewalks! The graph below reveals the findings:

Advisory Bike Lanes

More evaluation is being conducted for the new treatment called advisory bike lanes found on East 14th Street in Minneapolis and on Wooddale Ave. in Edina. But, in addition to decreased sidewalk riding, both facilities have also seen a decrease in crashes of all types. This will be covered in greater detail as the in-depth analysis from video recordings is completed. Stay tuned!

Looking forward

In subsequent years, BWTC expects to see significant drops in crashes on all streets where bike lanes have been added (not just on advisory bike lanes). We also anticipate increased volumes of bicyclists on these streets where improvements have been made, with the understanding that many people have yet to discover all the new facilities. As more and more people discover the joys of cycling, Twin Cities cyclists are like to experience an even greater safety benefit known as "safety in numbers." Already this phenomenon is beginning to take effect in Minneapolis. It's a simple but powerful principle backed by international research: the more bicyclists on the road, the safer it is to bike; and the safer bicycling is, the more bicyclists on the road. As BWTC count data shows, this is a win-win for pedestrians too.



I am opposed to sharrows on a

I am opposed to sharrows on a street with a city bus route. In most every case a street parallell to the bus route street would serve better as the bike route. The reason for my opposition to sharrows on bus route streets is simply that sharrows are used on narrow streets without room for bike lanes, and inevitably, the bicyclists slow down the bus service and make it less attractive to ride. This is the last thing that TRANSIT for Livable Communities should support! The worst example of misrouted bicycles via sharrows is Bryant Ave. S. between 50th St. and 31st St. a busy bus route. Aldrich Ave. is where the bikes belong. The City of Minneapolis made a mistake here that should be corrected.

Real bicycle boulevards

I agree with the above comment in some fashion. Aldrich Ave. would serve better as a bicycle boulevard, which is currently used as for slower and family riders. (I live on Aldrich and watch the bike parade- l love it.) But I disagree on one point: bikes belong on every street. I use the Bryant Ave. S route frequently on my bike commute and bus service is rather infrequent. Bicyclists just need to be aware to let buses pass them if they become a bottleneck.

Thank you for your leadership in the upper mid-west


Wonderful to watch Minneapolis/St. Paul area work through its growth of bicycle facilities. Watching from Fargo/Moorhead area and using every ounce of information relating to on-road facilities to improve on-road network of bicycle facilities. Your efforts are greatly appreciated!

Justin Kristan
Fargo, ND
LCI #1147