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Chokepoints: Is it time to ban bikes from Seattle sidewalks?

(AP Photo/Andy Wong)

KIRO listener Jane is one of many listeners who have asked me about people riding bicycles on sidewalks.

She wrote, “Recently, I was driving along the street in Fremont to connect to the bridge. Why are the bicyclists using the sidewalks? In droves. There are bike lanes for them. Are they ticketed for using sidewalks? I saw several pedestrians dodging the bikes.”

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Cyclists are allowed by law to ride on the sidewalks. However, there is a growing movement to change that. The current law allows local jurisdictions to make their own specific bike riding rules.

Bellingham recently made it illegal to ride on sidewalks in the downtown core, and many believe it’s time for Seattle to do the same.

Downtown Seattle sidewalks are already full of pedestrians, and people are saying that if Seattle is really serious about its Vision Zero campaign it’s time to ban bikes.

Former state transportation director Doug McDonald has taken up this campaign. He said cities across the country are doing this because they have realized having bikes and pedestrians fighting for space just isn’t safe.

“You can’t ride bikes on sidewalks in downtown Portland,” he said. “You can’t ride bikes on sidewalks in cycling-nirvana Copenhagen. Seattle is almost all by itself that it still has bikes going back and forth on sidewalks, and I think that’s very strange because it is so dangerous.”

And not just dangerous to pedestrians who they are whizzing by, but to the bike riders themselves. The sidewalks are packed and in many locations, full of hidden hazards.

“How many times are you walking on the sidewalk and all of a sudden somebody backs out of their driveway,” he asked? “Figure you’re going eight miles per hour, you don’t see that car. That car doesn’t see you. It’s just a lottery. It’s like a Russian-roulette on the sidewalk.”

McDonald believes the reason this issue is coming up so often now is because of all the orange, yellow, and green bikeshare bikes that are available in Seattle, adding to the number of novice riders in the city.

McDonald is not a bike-hater. He just wants riders and pedestrians to make it home each day.

“Let’s have more bicycles in Seattle; I think that’s great,” he said. “We need bicycles in Seattle. Let’s just do it like the rest of the country does it: safely.”

What McDonald would like to see is a return to the biking rules you should have learned as a child, which include walking your bike on sidewalks and crosswalks.

“You know what people actually do, and it’s not an end to western civilization, they walk their bikes on the sidewalk,” he said.

The city said it hasn’t considered this as a pressing issue, but a city spokesperson admitted that McDonald has a valid point about bike and pedestrian safety on sidewalks. The city said this is something it will have to take a closer look at and investigate.

Expect to see a big campaign pushing for change next year.

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