Previously I wrote about safely bicycling in Rolla and I advised against using sidewalks, even those designated as “bike paths”. I noted that riding bicycles on sidewalks is specifically prohibited within the business district. On other sidewalks, bicyclists must always yield to pedestrians and must give an audible signal before overtaking or passing. Here I will expand on the hazards.
In a business district the doors open outwards directly onto the sidewalk. This is a double hazard as the door can smack the approaching bicycle and the customer steps out directly into the bicyclist’s path.
Pedestrians on a sidewalk are under no rules of movement. Ever watch someone walking along, suddenly spotting something in a store window, or across the street, or turning to chat with another person, or spinning about having forgotten something, maybe while on a cell phone, perhaps all of these at once? These are perfectly normal actions that we never even think about. Now imagine passing through on a bicycle at 12-15 mph! She didn’t notice you and you can’t avoid her and oh no; a door is opening. Did I mention the toddler and the dog on a leash?
It’s not funny! Running down a pedestrian can result in critical injuries and even death. Aside from the initial bone-breaking impact, both the pedestrian and bicyclist end up hitting hard objects like pavement and curbs, walls, plate glass windows, light poles, signposts, or cars. And it’s entirely the bicyclist’s fault!
Next, let’s consider sidewalks and traffic. At intersections, drivers yield to pedestrians in the marked crosswalk but they are really watching for other cars. If the lane is clear and seeing no pedestrian immediately in the way, the driver rolls forward across the crosswalk and directly into the path of the unnoticed bicyclist speeding along the sidewalk. Driveways and parking lot entrances crossing sidewalks are even worse since there are so many more of them. Imagine bicycling on the sidewalk along Kings Highway or Bishop Avenue or 10th Street, blissfully gliding along and really appreciating all the smoothly-ramped handicap-accessible curbs. Yet at any driveway, a car might move up onto and block the sidewalk while waiting for an opening in traffic. A pedestrian simply stops and waits or walks around the car but for a speeding bicyclist, this is a serious panic stop or worse, a wreck.
Intersections are also problematic when there are no pedestrian crossings. There are no crosswalks at Kings Highway and Bishop Avenue. At Bishop and State Highway 72, the sidewalks don’t even approach the curb; they just turn off. Especially disappointing is that both intersections were recently completely renovated yet no consideration was ever given to pedestrians, never mind bicyclists.
Rolla’s Acorn Trail Network is also full of traps and hazards. Much of the Acorn Trail is simply city sidewalks designated as a “bicycle path” with all the dangers that entails. There are also several spots where the sidewalks are right up against buildings, resulting in dangerous blind corners. To make matters worse, the entire network is poorly marked. Heading east from Fairgrounds Road, the trail is along the south side of 10th Street until it suddenly just ends without warning at Holloway Street. There are no signs advising to cross over to Ber Juan Park to continue along on the other side of 10th. Perhaps it’s “obvious” enough to figure out and continue. But then at Forum Drive there are no signs that the trail heads south along Forum and Pine Tree Road, and those sidewalks, like most of Rolla’s residential sidewalks, are certainly too narrow for two-way traffic.
The “Fit Phelps” segment through Green Acres, Veterans Memorial and Southview Parks and the new “Dieble Loop” along Lions Club Drive are very nice recreational “Pedestrian Bikepaths” in the true sense of the phrase. Pleasant winding pathways suited for a leisurely stroll or bicycle ride, they have many blind spots and cross several roadways. Racing is specifically prohibited, rightly so! These paths are enjoyed by leisurely walkers and joggers and children and toddlers (afoot, in strollers, on tricycles and bicycles) and also leashed pets. All the rules of yielding to pedestrians apply. I often ride these segments but always slowly and frequently ringing the bell, and I am forever fascinated by how oblivious some people can be. My most memorable experience to date was a day-care group, about eight toddlers all tied together, literally, with one adult leading and another following. Upon seeing me approach, the adult holding the front of the file moved off to one side while the adult at the rear thoughtlessly moved to the other, thereby blocking the trail with an impromptu human fence, all giggling. It’s only funny because I stopped. Had I been rushing, it would have been a catastrophe.
Bicyclists in a hurry have no place on sidewalks, not even on the Acorn Trail. Bicycles are vehicles and belong on the street. To get across town quickly and safely, ride with traffic, ride defensively, pay attention, and always obey the rules of the road.
I hope that I’ve dispelled some concerns and encouraged others to give bicycle riding a try. Perhaps we’ll meet soon.