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May 2018

A Pragmatic Sidewalk Use

by John S. Allen, CRW Safety Coordinator

If you have been reading my articles and blog posts for a while, you know that I am not a great fan of riding on sidewalks, or of riding on anything located alongside a street like a sidewalk, even a so-called ďprotectedĒ bikeway. A sidewalk or sidepath can allay bicyclistsí fears of being struck from behind by motor vehicles, but this type of crash actually is very rare under urban conditions. Other hazards are far more common, and much worse when bicyclists ride in sidewalk space. People on foot appear unexpectedly from behind obstructions. Bicyclists on sidewalks and motorists on the roadway are out of sight of each other until too late at intersections and driveways. On most sidewalks, I slow down, because I must be able to stop on a momentís notice.

So, you may be surprised that I am going to say that sometimes riding on a sidewalk is exactly the right thing to do.

Letís look at a specific location: Massachusetts Route 9 and Kingsbury Street in Wellesley. Route 9 is a major highway with a 50 mph speed limit. Quiet local streets on either side of Route 9 make some good connections. Bicyclists need to get across Route 9.

Kingsbury Street Tís into Route 9 from the south. A signalized crosswalk across Route 9 connects with the sidewalk on the left side of Kingsbury Street. Pushbuttons trigger the traffic signal to stop the traffic on Route 9.

Need to cross Route 9 with your bicycle? Push the button, use the crosswalk. End of story. Whoa, no, wait a minute, weíre getting ahead of ourselves here. Letís think about this. Smart bicyclists plan ahead.

From Kingsbury Street, the intersection looks like this.

(Google Street View, looking-out.jpg).

The best strategy here is to cross Kingsbury Street hundreds of feet before reaching Route 9 and ride up to the intersection on the left sidewalk. Yes, I said it.

Why? Think about it. What could happen if I rode up almost to the corner on the right side of Kingsbury Street and then cut across? The shared-lane marking in the picture looks tempting, but what if a car is turning right from Route 9, like in the photo? The driver and I couldnít see around the corner until too late to avoid a collision.

Instead, I cross Kingsbury Street onto the left sidewalk hundreds of feet before reaching the intersection. I can see into the driveways that cross this sidewalk, no problem. I check ahead and behind for traffic, merge across Kingsbury street, use one of the driveways to enter the sidewalk and ride up to the corner. I push the button, and cross when the traffic signal changes.

I am careful to wait until all the traffic has stopped, because I am entering the intersection from an unusual location.

When I get to the other side of Route, I can ride a short distance on Route 9, and turn right onto Sprague Road.

The next image, an overhead view from Google Maps, shows my route: [Google map with overlays, northbound-inlane.jpg]
A) On Kingsbury Street headed for Route 9
B) Merging across Kingsbury Street
C) Pushing the button on the corner and waiting for the signal to change
D) Turning left onto Route 9
E) Turning right onto Sprague Street.

But, wait a minute. You may ask, why does the illustration show me riding the travel lane on Route 9? What is the point of that? There is a wide, paved shoulder!

Well, yes that would be nice, but it isnít always possible. Have a look at the next image, which is from Google Street View.

[yellow-big.jpg Ė child pushing button, yellow traffic signal]

We are looking west along Route 9 from location D in the earlier image, with location E in the background. A child is pushing the button to turn the traffic signal red and use the crosswalk. This crosswalk is important: a public school is just outside the left side of the previous image, on Kingsbury Street.

But returning to my earlier question: You canít always count on an empty shoulderís being available, whether because of construction, snow in winter; a disabled vehicle, a Statie issuing traffic ticket to an all too common type of Massachusetts driver. In the photo, construction work is underway and the shoulder of Route 9 is serving temporarily as a travel lane.

So, Iím going to enter from a crosswalk, and immediately turn left into a travel lane on a highway with a 50 mph speed limit? Scary?

Not! If the signal has just turned red, I can have Route 9 all to myself all the way up to Sprague Street. The signals for each side of Route 9 are controlled by different pushbuttons, and so Iíll always be entering just after the signal changed, unless someone else has pushed the button first. In that case, I can just wait for the next go-round. In either case, I can ride all the way up to Sprague Street on an empty roadway, if needed.

The most common use of traffic-signal timing in this way is to empty the street by waiting for the green instead of turning right on red. After 25 years a League Cycling Instructor, I learned this tactic only last year, with CyclingSavvy. But that is another story.

Now letís figure out how to cross Route 9 in the opposite direction.

The most favorable route enters at Audubon Road, which Ts into the north side of Route 9 without a traffic signal or crosswalk. You ride on Route 9, up to Kingsbury Street, and cross there.

You could ride on the shoulder (if available) and pull onto the sidewalk to push the button, or ride on the sidewalk. The image below (southbound.jpg) shows the route from Aububon Road to Kingsbury Street, shoulder option.

Riding on the shoulder is faster, if the shoulder is available. You might merge from the shoulder to the roadway if there is a gap in traffic, or if someone has already pushed the button at Kingsbury Street and traffic is slow. You canít use the trick with traffic signals to ride on the roadway, though. The previous traffic signal is more than a mile back; platoons of traffic spread out and mix together.

In case the shoulder isnít available, thereís the sidewalk. A quick exploration of Route 9 in Google Street View reveals that there are exactly zero driveways on the north side of Route 9 between Audubon Road and Kingsbury Street. Instead, a big, long, high fence offers residents some degree of isolation from the unpleasantness of Route 9, but it offers you, on the other hand, a first-rate opportunity to ride safely on a sidewalk. Just take care around any schoolchildren, or others, who may be sharing the sidewalk with you.

Now weíve looked at both directions of travel. Here are the main take-aways from this exploration:


In case you would like to explore this intersection yourself, it is here in Google Maps.

Icons on that page let you zoom in, go into Street View etc. but that gets beyond the scope of this article.

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