Is it Safer to Ride Your Bike on the Sidewalk in Florida?

Video Transcription:

Jim Dodson: It’s The Florida Bike Guy. So, are you really safer with your bicycle on the sidewalk? In my experience, I would say definitely not. I think it's hard in cycling to lay down a universal rule. Could it be there's certainly situations where you could be safer, but I'll just talk about some of the dangers and some of the problems that we've encountered in the cases we've handled for people who are riding on sidewalks.

Now I think the thing to bear in mind is that drivers are looking for cars, they're not looking for you and I, whether we're in the road or in the sidewalk. And you have to make sure that wherever we're riding, we're doing it in a way to put ourselves in a position to be seen, best position to be seen by a driver of an automobile. So remember that when you're on a sidewalk on a bike, cars don't necessarily, drivers aren't expecting you necessarily to be there. Some sidewalks are right next to the roads, some are separated by wide, grassy median. Where is that driver looking and when are they making the decision to go forward? Those are really two critical factors and kind of evaluating in your own mind whether it's safer for you.

So the first things lets look at is when you're on the sidewalk, you come to an intersection and most residential intersections are not controlled by a traffic light. There's no stop sign for the sidewalk and people tend to roll directly into the road and go across the sidewalk on the other side. We've had a case with that exact back pattern, cars driving in the same direction as the cyclist, turned right at the intersection, which was a small neighborhood road. Cyclist came off the sidewalk right into the path of the car. So, where is the driver looking?

Another thing that we run into is people coming out of driveways. Remember that someone who's exiting their driveway is looking for oncoming traffic, they're not consciously looking for a cyclist. The big issue is that where is the predominate flow of traffic coming for that driver as they exit the driveway or a shopping center. Generally they're looking at traffic coming from their left, so they're generally looking at oncoming traffic from the left because that's the lane that they generally wanna pull into and it presents the greatest danger for them. When you're on a sidewalk and you're closer to them than the roadway, you moved the sight line for them. So if you're on the road riding, you're actually closer to their sight line when you're on the road than when you're on the sidewalk in many situations.

We've had situations of drivers backing out of a driveway, hitting cyclist on the sidewalk. We've had them driving off the street into the driveway, hitting cyclists on the sidewalk. It's just when you're on a sidewalk and you make that choice to go on a sidewalk, you have to be consciously thinking where's the car coming from, where's the car going, when are they making the decision to move, and where are they looking when they make that decision? Just keep that in your mind constantly.

Shopping centers, the same thing. You have a lot of vehicles on a busy road. The driver who's in the road, they may be waiting at a median break. They may have a 25 or 35 or 45 mile an hour speed limit. Driver's wanting to clear traffic, get into the shopping center, they're looking, looking, looking for cars, you're proceeding down the sidewalk, they're never thinking about you, they make the decision to move, they accelerate, they come across the lane, enter the intersection where they're going into the shopping center and oops, where did the cyclist come from? I didn't see that person. So you have to have your head on a swivel, always watching where cars are coming from when they make that decision to go into the shopping center.

One of the big issues with shopping centers is someone who's exiting. Now one of the things I wanted to talk about is that it's, in Florida, it is lawful to ride in either direction on a sidewalk, so you can ride with traffic or against traffic on the sidewalk. I say it's lawful, but in my view, it is not safe to ride against traffic on a sidewalk for the very practical reason that generally, an exiting vehicle from a driveway or a shopping center, they're looking right, if you're coming from their left, excuse me, they're looking left, and if you're coming from their right, they're not looking for you at all. You may assume that they see you because you're in plain view and you're coming up the sidewalk and you may think that you're in plain view. We've had a lot of cases with that fact pattern and the driver's looking off to their left, looking, looking, looking and there's a break in traffic, they go and they don't look right to see if you're coming. They go and it's like, oh, my god, where'd this cyclist come from? So although you can do it in Florida, I do not recommend that you ride against traffic on the sidewalk.

Another thing to think about, particularly in residential areas, you have gates and walls and shrubbery, which constitutes an obstruction. If you're on the sidewalk and you have a residential gate around a house or around a condominium property, think about what is the sight line for a driver entering or exiting this, typically a problem for someone exiting that complex because gates and shrubbery and what have you shorten the sight line. They can't see you until you pass that obstruction and by then they may be committed to move and it may be too late to avoid you.

So all of those are common problems that we've experienced in actual cases we've handled of people riding on a sidewalk. I know that right here in our own street, we're actually in a small community. We're in a residential area. We've got a property that commercial, but we're in a residential area and at the end of our street, very quiet street, is a trail, Alice Trail goes right there. We have shrubs on both sides of the road as you approach the trail. So many drivers are thinking about going across the trail and stopping at the stop sign which is on the other side. They never look for a cyclist coming up and down the road and cyclists aren't looking for cars coming out of the driveway. We've seen so many close calls happen down there.

Remember too, this applies to whether you're riding on the road or you're riding on the sidewalk. Put yourself in the position of the driver and there is so much visual clutter. They're deciphering all the stuff that's going on in their visual field, signs and shrubbery and background and moving cars, all this stuff. How are you setting yourself a part in that visual clutter? One of the things that makes us safer typically on the road as a cyclist is that I strongly advocate for road cyclist to wear fluorescent colors on their upper body, a jersey or jacket, yellow is my favorite color. I recommend that they wear fluorescents on their ankles and feet. I recommend that they have a headlight that's flashing on the front of the bike, a red flashing bright tail light on the rear of the bike. I'd wear ankle lights behind my ankles on both sides as well. And all of that is so that a driver making a quick decision is able to pick you out, recognize that you're an approaching cyclist, and stop and wait. And so many people who make the decision to ride on the sidewalk don't have all that gear. They don't have the lights, the fluorescents and what have you. So you're kind of minimizing the opportunity for a driver making a quick decision, not consciously looking for you as a cyclist just to pick you out because you really stand out in your moving. So many people riding sidewalks aren't doing those things.

The other thing about sidewalks is you have dogs, you have children, you have people on leashes, you have people on scooters, all these people are moving into neighborhoods, these kids are zipping in or out, they're going up or down the driveway. There's a lot of opportunity to run into clutter and obstructions and moving items that you don't have when you're riding in the roadway.

Remember with sidewalks, you have construction issues. A lot of times there's broken sidewalks in residential neighborhoods. You got tree limbs and those things that fall across the sidewalk which is much more likely to stay there. And you just this kind of general debris which can directly impact you in terms of being a safety issue for you as someone on a bicycle.

I had a question from Jennifer who said that she likes to get on the sidewalk with her dog and she wants to use the bike to exercise her dog. So she has the dog on a leash on the left-hand side of the bike, dogs running right ahead of her, and she asked if that was a safe thing for to do to get exercise for herself and for the dog. Honestly I would say it is not a safe thing to do. I'm a dog lover, we've always had Labs. I've tried doing that with my Labs in past. You know what dogs do. They run left at a squirrel, they run right at a child, they stop, they stiff things. All these things are sudden, unexpected movements and what they do is they endanger you because they're gonna pull you left to right. The dog were to run, cut across your path on a bike, you're going down. Dogs are a big problem for our road cycling clients. So you just don't wanna put yourself voluntarily in a position where your dog is going to unexpectedly pull you left or pull your right or get under your wheel by getting just slightly ahead of you.

The other thing I would say too, in Florida for instance, we have strict liability for dogs so if your dog, you have the greatest dog ever, never cause a problem to anyone, but if your dog knocks someone down or the leash gets tangled up around a child and they fall and break something, you're liable. We have strict liability for dogs. Many states have that as well. So just bear that in mind when you are trying to exercise your dog. I'm a strong believer in having the dog on the leash so you have control of them on two feet running, walking, doing whatever you're going to do. If you're gonna take a dog on a leash, it's gotta be at a place where there is no one around and you're gonna minimize the opportunity for that dog to get in front of you.

I think that, honestly, if you look at the data, a road cyclist who follows the rules understands the proper position to take on the road, wears lights, helmet, fluorescent colors, in my view, I'll take my chances on the road rather than on a sidewalk. Have I ridden on sidewalks? Sure. Now, there's some situations where I'll pop up and ride on a sidewalk, but we have a case right now of an experienced rider trying to avoid kind of a busy, narrow street on the sidewalk and a car pulled out of a gated residence right into his path and a really serious injury.

Sidewalks look alluring. We always hear motorists area always saying why don't you get on the sidewalk where you belong. But the reality is I don't think it's the best option for us. If you want more information, I think I've got information on our website that talks about this. I'm offering you a resource today, our Florida bicycle crash book, The Florida Bicycle Accident Handbook. And we've got a bit.ly link that Katie will run on the screen there, bit.ly/BikeCrashBook. If you've got a question about a Florida bike crash or a question about something that might have happened on a sidewalk, you're welcome to get a copy of that book. You can download it for free and it'll answer a lot of your questions.

So I hope this has been helpful for you. If I can ever answer a question, don't hesitate to call and be safe out there, whether you're on the sidewalk or in the road. All right, have a great day.

Jim Dodson
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A Florida injury lawyer, family man and avid cyclist who clients have trusted for over 25 years.