When I am feeling playful, I point out the bicycle lanes to cyclists who ride on sidewalks. I am careful not to make accusations or to give directives. Simply, I say, “Hey, look at that. We have bike lanes now.”
Responses vary. Most riders ignore the comment, but I’ve had people tell me to copulate with myself and others stop long enough to give me a “what are you going to do about it?” ultimatum.
The answer is: Ultimately, nothing.
Today, a fella geared-up in new polyester, helmet gleaming, stopped to explain that he was breaking no laws by riding his fat tire, carbon-framed mountain charger in the middle of the pedestrian pathway. He’d done his homework.
“I called the city police,” he said, hands flashing and waving between us. “I have every right to ride on this pathway. I don’t have to use the bike lane.”
I began to remind him that I had said nothing about his rights, the law, or what I thought he should do, but had merely indicated to him the existence of a bike lane just a meter to his right, in case he hadn't noticed. But he didn’t want, or was unable, to listen. He was caught up in a performance of some kind. It was clear that he’d practiced the speech, perhaps in front of a mirror -- I may well be the first person to whom he has unburdened -- so I let him go on without interruption.
He is harassed by pedestrians every day when he rides his bike along the sidewalk, and he has had enough. People film him with their phones. There’s one now, calling someone, likely the police. “One woman yells at me,” he said.
After a while, I missed the sound of my own voice and tried again to assure this anxious man that I truly did not care if the law allows him to ride his bike on the sidewalk. It made sense in a way. The city has spent millions in recent years adding bike lanes in response to requests from cycling advocates. Sections of the 22.5 kilometer system that weaves through the city and immediate bushlands is multi-use, with pedestrians and cyclists dodging each other. But a good bit of the trail, especially those that double as city sidewalks, are split with paths for walking and lanes for cycling. Yet, according to the man waving his hands in my face this afternoon, no law exists to bar cyclists from the sidewalk along a major street, although there are designated lanes for bicyclists.
Curiously, I have just learned from the "City Trail Guide" that it is illegal for pedestrians to walk in the bike lane.
But my purpose was not to debate the law or to exert control over a free-spirited cyclist who had clearly practiced for this moment. I was merely pointing to the path, acknowledging its existence, and hoping he might as well.
Eventually, he revealed the true reason he chooses to ride within arm’s reach of pedestrians, the old, the young, the wobbly, the drunk. It is fear. “I ride on the sidewalk because I don’t want to get hit by a car,” he said.
But isn’t that why the city made all these bike lanes? Look, there's one now.