The dangers of riding against traffic and on sidewalks
I posted a photo of two Tucson Police officers riding on the sidewalk last week.
Amazingly it generated more than 40 comments.
Matt Zoll, Pima County’s bicycle and pedestrian program manager sent me an email in response with some interesting data about riding on the sidewalk and riding the wrong way. The data comes from an older 1990s study and anaysis done by the Tucson-Pima County Bicycle Advisory Committee and www.bikecolli.info.
Here’s some of what Zoll wrote:
From the Wachtel/Lewiston study, for opposite-direction riding, whether on the sidewalk or in the road, the risk to ages 18 and up is 3.5 times higher than riding with traffic in the road. A key finding in the study is that male cyclists 18 and over have a 5.4 times higher crash risk riding against traffic while on the sidewalk. For ages 17 and younger it’s 6.6 times higher.
In the case of riding with traffic while on the sidewalk, the risk found in the study for individual groups is as follows:
- 17 and under female, 0.0 (no females in this age group were in crashes while riding with traffic on the sidewalk)
- 18 and over female, 1.2 (about a 20 percent higher risk than riding in the roadway)
- 17 and under male, 1.8 times higher (a significantly higher risk than riding in the roadway with traffic)
- 18 and over male, 1.3 times higher
Generally cyclists may be safer riding on the sidewalk than the roadway in the same direction of traffic as long as there are no intersections or driveways whatsoever. However, for a roadway with intersections and driveways, which is the case throughout Tucson, then cycling on the roadway, even if there is no bike lane present, is generally safer (the Wachtel/Lewiston study analyzed roadways with bike lanes and roadways without).
In a review of the BAC analysis of TPD reports (www.bikecolli.info) along with a comparison to PAG bike counts, overall for cyclists riding opposite direction of traffic (including on the roadway and on the sidewalk) the risk is 7.6 times higher, significantly greater than the Wachtel/Lewiston study. Only 3.4 percent of cyclists were observed in the PAG bike counts riding opposite direction, which according to the TPD stats account for 26 percent of bike/MV crashes (26/3.4 = 7.6).
A regional goal over the past 30 years is to install more bike lanes on major roadways because according to the BAC analysis, just over 4 percent of all bike/motor vehicle crashes involve rear-end collisions. Most of those rear-end collisions occurred on roadways that do not have bike lanes that meet engineering standards (52% of collisions). If all of these roadways had bike lanes, then likely less than 3 percent of all bike/motor vehicle crashes analyzed would involve rear-end collisions. They still can be serious collisions, so regional efforts to keep drivers at the speed limit or below and bicyclist/motorist education programs and distracted-driving enforcement are critical.
Important with all this for TPD, however, is to analyze drivers’ actions because there may still be citable offenses by the drivers even if the cyclist is riding opposite direction of traffic, the most common is the driver failing to look right or yield before entering a major roadway from a side street.
One this Matt didn’t mention in relation to wrong-way riding is the crash impact. Imagine a bicyclist is travelling 15 miles per hour and a car is travelling in the same direction at 30 miles per hour. If the cyclist is struck the impact speed is closer to 15 miles per hour.
When the same cyclist is riding the wrong way the impact becomes closer to 45 miles per hour.