The fellow at my athletic club was outraged. He had been involved in a bike accident on a sidewalk adjacent to the state Capitol in downtown Sacramento. A stupid pedestrian, he said, was yakking away on his cellphone, not watching where he was walking, and collided with his bike.
“I have as much right on that sidewalk as he does,” the fellow said self-righteously to his buddy, who nodded sympathetically.
In fact, this clown had no right to be riding his bike on a crowded sidewalk in Sacramento’s commercial and business district. The pedestrian who was zigzagging in rhythm to his phone conversation was yet another victim of self-entitled bicyclists waging guerrilla warfare on our city sidewalks.
The City Council is to review a plan tonight that calls for pedestrian-only signs on crowded sidewalks. On blocks where cyclists are allowed on sidewalks, bikers would have to yield right-of-way to pedestrians and give them an audible warning when coming up from behind, the Bee reported. Failure to comply with these rules would lead to a $25 fine for a first offense, $100 for a subsequent offense within a year, and $250 for additional violations.
Unfortunately, the proposed rules give city staff plenty of leeway to decide when and where to put up no-biking signs, the Bee reported, and city officials have not given any specifics.
Into this vacuum has stepped Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents the central city. He wants to water down the fines. More ominously, he plans to introduce an amendment that would require the city manager, first, to prove bicyclists pose an actual danger on sidewalks to be designated as pedestrian-only and, second, to show that nearby streets are safe for bicyclists.
“That makes sense,” declares a Bee editorial calling for “balance” in reconciling the conflict between pedestrians — including toddlers, elderly folks and the handicapped — and bicyclists who feel entitled to whiz down sidewalks because they feel unsafe on city streets.
In fact, there is no “balance” to be found in this problem, as I wrote in a blog two years ago. Sidewalks are meant for pedestrians. Speeding and weaving bicyclists are a clear danger to those on foot. Hansen’s amendment is a purely obstructionist measure that would expose pedestrians to continued daily danger, especially in the crowded downtown and midtown areas.
As a bike rider myself, I know the danger of Sacramento’s streets. The city has been slow to establish bike lanes and other safety measures, and for that Hansen and his fellow council members are to blame. But instead of fixing the real problem, Hansen wants to throw it on the backs – legs, faces, hands and hips, too – of pedestrians.
The City Council should declare that all city sidewalks are for pedestrian use only and continue looking for “balance” between vehicular traffic and bicyclists on our city streets. If bicyclists want to legally appropriate sidewalks for their use, they should be required to prove they pose no danger to pedestrians.
Let the burden fall where common sense tells us it belongs.