(Editor’s Note: We asked our readers and writers for their commuter stories. This is Daphne’s, aka Danger Girl.)
Who Am I
I’m Daphne, but I prefer to be called Danger Girl. I go to kindergarten and I like playing with tape.
I have a Trek Cub that used to be my brother’s.
Where You go and How Long it Is
I bike one-third mile to school and back. I also like biking to Mojo Monkey Donuts for a cotton candy donut.
Why I Ride
I ride my bike to school because my dad makes me. Sometimes we walk. I like to do tricks, like ride with my feet on the handlebars or stand on the seat.
We should be designing our streets and cities for her!
My/my son’s commuting story this spring is very similar. I find it a hard decision to tolerate the risks of a kindergartener biking to school in our city, even such a short distance. I’m curious about riding on the sidewalks–currently we ride on the streets but I have second thoughts about this as my son often swerves and often gets distracted.
When I took these photos I was walking so she was on the sidewalk. Usually it is a parent, Danger Girl, and her third grade sibling. Then we ride mostly on the street. We ride from our house on residential roads to a busy road, there is an off road path next to the busy street so that’s nice.
The worst part is near the school itself because of parents picking up and dropping off their children in cars. We take the sidewalk near the school because we’ve had too many close calls with other parents.
My third grader rides mostly by himself, including crossing the busy road. He’s gotten good at identifying risk and being able to anticipate when drivers don’t follow rules (like running lights). That’s been the biggest teaching. My kids do a good job of understanding the rules, but teaching them that people don’t follow them is hard.
One thing I’ve been teaching my kids is that anything involving a driveway or a parking lot is high risk, because people just throw the rules out windows where they’re concerned.
Growing up in Bloomington we would have caught it from our parents if they had seen us riding on the street instead of the sidewalk. We had it drilled into us that streets were for people in cars from an early age. (And heaven forbid we try to assert ourselves in a crosswalk rather than waiting for a break in traffic).
Of course now with the proliferation of road diets with shoulders things are more blurred, but you still see as many people riding on the sidewalk as on the street, even ones with shoulders. Not that I blame them since I don’t ride on the street, unprotected lane or otherwise, either.
We usually ride on the sidewalk with our kindergartener except in low-traffic designated bikeways (Charles, Griggs) and some quiet, easy side streets. We’re more willing to ride in the street if there are two adults along and we can kind of surround him. He’s a strong rider, but spacey (as 6-year-olds are), and also just low to the road–maybe too small to register in less careful drivers’ visual fields. As he gets taller and more responsible we’ll graduate to taking him in tougher streets. The advantage to being in the street, though, is that it makes us more visible from alleys and driveways, a lot of which are almost blind at the point where they cross the sidewalk. I don’t know, I waffle on which is safer, but that’s our strategy for now.
We ride with our 6-year-old Kindergartener to his school, 1.2 miles away in Minneapolis. After trying a few approaches, we seem to have settled on a pattern we’re mostly comfortable with:
To start, a short hop in the sidewalk to the corner of our block, where we join the Blaisdell separated bike trail. We take that two blocks down to 40th St. 40th also has a striped trail, but no bollards or buffer, so here, kiddo switches to sidewalk. When both parents are riding, one stays on the road matching kiddo or a bit behind, while the other goes ahead to the next alley or street crossing and scouts for traffic. The scout then waits for kiddo, makes sure he stops and looks (regardless of what we found scouting). Our scout is ready to intervene if needed (via physically blocking kiddo if necessary.) Once kiddo is across safely, scout proceeds ahead to next intersection. We stick mostly to the “parents in street, kiddo on sidewalk” model until we get to the quiet street leading to the school. There, we allow kiddo back on the street until the last block, where the school buses and parents dropping of kids in cars get thick–there, it’s back to the sidewalk.
When there’s just one parent riding with kiddo, we mostly take the “scout” role, but try to lag a bit behind kiddo mid-block and be a bit more focused on being visible to cars behind, catching up and passing kiddo for each intersection as it nears.
We’re trying to let him practice, gain confidence, and cultivate good behaviors while (secretly?) being ready to pounce if anything goes wrong along the way. One of the most vexing parts of the ride is along those blocks with front-facing driveways (Minneapolis lost its mind somewhere along the way). Have to watch those as well as the roads, which complicates things.
If you’re going to ride on the sidewalk, please don’t ride fast! And watch out at intersections, alleys and driveways. Do you hear that, kids?
To be fair, kids on sidewalks is not generally something that should be an issue. Especially with tall vehicles like SUVs, while driveways and alleyways are still risks, height is a visibility issue for shorties.
I don’t have a problem with small children riding on the sidewalks. It’s when full-grown adults do it because they think it’s “safer” that grinds my gears. These usually are people riding for leisure, not to actually get anywhere. When you start trying to go places, it becomes obvious that sidewalks are not meant for cyclists.
It depends! And sometimes perceived safety outweighs statistical safety.
For example, I ride on the sidewalk on Cedar Avenue over Minnehaha Creek frequently, and always when I’ve got the kid or my wife, who is less comfortable biking, with me. We do it because the cars are fast and frequent, and just riding that little stretch gets us to the creek paths and out on our way.
When it’s just me, I’ll sometimes use a combination of the shoulder and taking the lane.
Otherwise, I ride on the sidewalk for the last half block on the way to work and the first half block on the way home, because that’s where the bike parking is. Sometimes I’ll ride on the side walk when going a block or two the wrong way on a one way, because that’s more convenient than trying to find the street going the right way. (Please don’t bike in the wrong direction on the street, people)
But whenever I’m on a bike on a sidewalk I remember that this is pedestrian space first, and I ride at pedestrian speeds and yield the right of way.
Agree with this!
There are multiple bike maps (and thus, also Google Maps) that claim a street near my home is “bike friendly.” I am an experienced cyclist who has solo toured across states, and I’m a trained League Cycling Instructor. And, good gravy: This street is not bike-friendly in ANY WAY. It’s a 40 zone, where people do 50 most days. There is no shoulder. There is just barely a curb area. It is a pothole-o-rama. It’s now seeing extra traffic because it is in use to get to a new motorcycle dealership, too! (On the plus side, motorcyclists are generally great at sharing the road with pedal cyclists. They understand vulnerability.)
When forced to use it, taking the lane is the only sane approach, and I’m not even that fond of THAT. To get to the park up that street, or to ride the 2-4 blocks required to get to streets that can take me where I want to go without terrifying me, I will often use the sidewalk. I don’t run over anyone’s puppies.
And I’m not sorry.
I’ve noticed that the Google Maps bicycling layer leaves a lot to be desired. Notwithstanding the fact that lanes and trails should be two separate colors instead of almost indistinguishable shades of green it’s often badly outdated or even blatantly incorrect. I’m a “local guide” with enough reviews to suggest edits to the maps, and I’m doing what I can, but it’s a large project and edits take a month or two before they’re reviewed and approved.
In my opinion the criteria should be:
“Bicycle Friendly”: At the minimum paved shoulders
“Bicycle Lanes” Shoulders or lanes officially marked for bicycles.
“Trails”: Physical separation with something more than plastic flim-flam sticks, like a suburban MUP or regional trail.
There are print maps, current copyrights, that claim using this road is bike-okay. And, really: god no. And I have biked a lot of different types of roads.
I just suggested edits yesterday for the first time. They were showing bike lanes across the Lake/Marshall bridge (nope, those are shoulders) and bike lanes on East Lake from 34th to the river (nope, not at all) and “bicycle friendly” all the way through the exchange with Hiawatha (yikes!).
I was amused when google suggested I take Lake to the river instead of the Greenway earlier this week. I feel like it was a recent change? Either way, at least I knew better and was just looking for a time estimate!
I appreciate your concern for pedestrians!
So if you don’t actually need to get somewhere and you’re not comfortable with nothing more than paint (if you’re lucky) between yourself and 4000 pound cars, you should stay at home and not bicycle rather than go for a leisure ride on the sidewalk?
I think it does depend on exact context. Even trying to get somewhere, i ride on the sidewalk sometimes, like for example, to cross the Robert Street bridge.