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.

15 thoughts on “The dangers of riding against traffic and on sidewalks”
  1. The initial impact of a same way collision is reduced, but the cyclist traveling at 15 mph will now be traveling 30 mph during secondary impact, as opposed to a person standing still and being struck by a vehicle traveling 15 mph.

    I think the increased reaction time for the faster approaching vehicle is a huge benefit to riding with traffic, as well as when people turn right, they usually don’t look right.

  2. Very interesting. Speaking of bike cops, do bike cops give ride alongs like regular cops?

  3. I don’t think they do. But, if you ever chat them up, they love to talk about equipment and patrol technique. Oh, do they ever.

    And it’s not just here. I once got into a rather lengthy chat with a U.S. Capitol Police officer. Seems that part of their training is riding down the Capitol steps. And they have to practice this skill on a regular basis.

  4. Bicycles riding on the sidewalk is very dangerous for pedestrians. I haven’t heard that mentioned yet. There is no argument that pedestrians (especially those of us walking dogs) would be much safer if bicyclists rode in the street.

  5. I saw some study a while ago regarding adolescents and their ability to judge the speed and risk factors of things like approaching vehicles.

    (Don’t quote me on details here because I don’t have the study in front of me) I guess generally the brain doesn’t develop in regards to the ability to judge the speed of on coming vehicles until a person is into their late teens or 20’s. I don’t remember if it was a mix of speed judgement, or younger people’s general lacking of risk assessment. This to me has to be a major factor in the under 17 group.

    I’ve definitely seen this when I did some assistant cross country coaching. On road runs, you’d have 16 year olds (who do this nearly every day) taking really stupid chances out of nowhere when crossing traffic and afterward don’t seem to understand what exactly they were doing when you point it out to them.

    It says to me that in regards to cycling it would be especially important to at least teach safe riding habits to as many kids as possible to protect them a little more, as well as have lower and no traffic streets/bikeways available to kids and teens.

  6. And I think that bicyclists would be a lot safer if the people walking dogs obeyed the leash law. I don’t think it’s very funny to have to outrun your dog because you didn’t think that a leash was necessary.

    Not to mention the dogs that are on leashes and lunge and bark at bicyclists. Dog owners, you can teach your dogs not to do that. It’s not rocket science, it’s called dog training. Try it sometime.

  7. All these great statistics, yet wrong-way sidewalk riding is established on the Aviation bikeway.
    On my return to Tucson, I rode that and thought, “Wow, this is dangerous.”  Major intersections and driveway connections onto a one-way traffic flow, no less.
    So, since we know nothing of the sort would ever be established for cars, why is it OK to jeopardize bikes?
    The city/county somewhere has a big receptacle labeled, “That’s What You Get For Riding A Bike”  and all of the hazards and enforcement attitudes that are too much for car-headed thought  processors to deal with are thrown in there and forgotten.
    The efforts to appeal to people’s safety concerns and lure them onto the streets with their bikes pale in comparison.
    It could just be me , though.

  8. No, Zeez, it isn’t just you. It’s me too. And a lot of other people who ride bikes.

    We make great visuals for the tourism promos, but on a daily basis, it’s open season on us.

  9. Yes, TPD should stay off the sidewalk even though Tucson/BAC Ian Johnson says it’s perfectly legal.

  10. If it is so dangerous why hasn’t Pima County banned sidewalk riding yet. Matt works for them right?

  11.  Red Star … don’t have a clue who you are, nor what your ;problem is with Ian … but personal attacks should probably be vented in other venues than TucsonVelo.  It really is getting quite tiresome.

  12. Randy G (whoever you are, don’t have a clue;  doesn’t really matter except to you, apparently):

    Public figures such as Ian Johnson and the others are by definition open to scrutiny.

    Anyway, it’s probably bad practice for a police department to perform the very thing it cites.

    Get some rest…


  13. Kind of rendered that conversation a non sequitir though didn’t it.  Ian didn’t say anything about the legality.  He cited the pertinent city code.  Interpret it as you see fit.  

    I think Randy G may be reacting to what he’s interpreting as snarkiness on your part.  Scrutiny is a different word although they do both start with an S.  

  14. Because a ban would require enforcement, and frankly TPD (or any police department for that matter) can’t be bothered to enforce standard traffic laws, like not murdering cyclists and pedestrians with your car.

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