Governor Newsom Vetos Sidewalk Cycling Bill

From Alan Wachtel, CABO Government Relations Director
Dear Governor Newsom:
I was a member of the California Bicycle Advisory Committee, which advised Caltrans on bicycle issues, for 27 years and its chair for 15 years. I’m also the government relations director of the California Association of Bicycling Organizations, one of California’s two statewide bicycle advocacy groups. Based on my years of knowledge and experience as a bicyclist, advocate, and expert witness, I must respectfully ask you to veto AB 825 (Bryan) (bicycling on sidewalks).

While my organization and I appreciate the author’s intent to improve bicycle safety, this bill would instead have exactly the opposite effect. It would encourage dangerous bicycling habits, and it would constitute a huge step backward in the goal of routinely accommodating bicycle travel everywhere in the transportation network. Unfortunately, the author’s office has repeatedly declined to meet with us even to discuss these issues.
Under existing Vehicle Code §21650(g) (which I helped to draft), bicyclists may already ride on sidewalks everywhere, unless prohibited by the code or local ordinance. AB 825 would eliminate that local power unless the adjacent roadway includes a designated bicycle facility, except for last-minute amendments that provide complicated exceptions meant to protect pedestrians (but that are inadequate to do so).
But AB 825, despite being promoted as a bicycle safety bill, would, on the contrary, also be more dangerous for bicyclists. It relies on and actively perpetuates the misconception that the only safe places for bicycles are designated facilities and sidewalks.
Though it may sound surprising, sidewalks are, most of the time, actually much more dangerous for bicycles than streets. The legislative analyses cite a review of 23 studies that estimates the risk of being hit by a car on the sidewalk at 1.8 to 16 times that of the adjacent road. (I’ve published similar research myself, with comparable findings.) As the analyses explain, “According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, . . . [s]idewalks are not designed for high speed travel, and the travel speed of a bicycle can often result in a decrease in visibility for cyclists by cars, potentially placing them in danger at intersections or driveways.”
The California standard for bicycle facility design, the Caltrans Highway Design Manual, in a section on “Sidewalk as Bikeway,” states that “Bicyclists should not be encouraged . . . to ride their bicycles on facilities that are not designed to accommodate bicycle travel” (Index 3003.2), and discusses this point at some length. The corresponding national standard, the AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities, includes a similar caution (§3.4.2), and identifies sidewalk riding as a contributing cause of bicycle-motor vehicle collisions (§3.4.3). Sidewalk bicycling also tends to promote wrong-way riding, which is an especially dangerous behavior with a high rate of collisions, because it puts bicyclists in a position where motorists do not expect or look for them at driveways and intersections.
In fact, busy streets where it might be uncomfortable to bicycle are also the ones with the highest rate of sidewalk collisions. Sidewalk bicycling on these streets should therefore not be encouraged. Yet expanding sidewalk bicycling is given as an argument in favor of AB 825.
The widespread enthusiasm for AB 825 as a bicycle safety measure, ironically, only emphasizes one reason that sidewalks are so hazardous. Uncritical confidence in imagined separation from motor vehicle traffic (which fails at driveways and intersections) only renders bicyclists more vulnerable to these unexpected conflicts.
The CHP safety study that AB 825 mandates, while welcome, will unfortunately tell us nothing about the effect of this bill on safety. That requires an analysis, street by street, of collisions in locations where bicycling on sidewalks is newly authorized, before and after the change, plus information about the number of bicyclists riding on the roadway and on the sidewalk, also before and after. That data will simply not be available.
Furthermore, while discouraging selective or discriminatory traffic stops is a laudable objective, AB 825 does not even accomplish this purpose. It merely substitutes different pretexts. The author’s goal would be better served by prohibiting these stops as a primary offense.
There is a better approach to bicycle safety. According to the Highway Design Manual (Topic 1002.1(1)), “Most bicycle travel in the State now occurs on streets and highways without bikeway designations and this may continue to be true in the future as well. In some instances, entire street systems may be fully adequate for safe and efficient bicycle travel, where signing and pavement marking for bicycle use may be unnecessary. In other cases, prior to designation as a bikeway, routes may need improvements for bicycle travel.” This is where the state and cities should be concentrating their efforts, not on shunting bicycle travel onto sidewalks.
AB 825 does contain ideas that genuinely merit further consideration, such as speed limits for bicycling on sidewalks and requirements to operate at a reasonable speed that does not endanger the safety of persons or property, to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians, and to yield when entering a roadway or driveway from a sidewalk. But it leaves these as local options, when they would more appropriately be enacted statewide.
Sidewalk bicycling remains and should remain lawful in most places. But cities that have decided otherwise on the basis of local conditions should retain that option. Meanwhile, we would be happy to meet with the author’s office on measures, such as those discussed above, to improve bicycling access and safety on both roads and sidewalks—if only that office were willing to meet with us. We must therefore request that you veto this measure as submitted, and encourage the au thor to work with all stakeholders to develop a revised bill.
Alan Wachtel

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About Jim Baross

I bicycled across the USA from East to West in 1976 leading groups of bicyclists for the “Bikecentennial ’76 “event and again in 2007 riding this time from West to East with my two sons. I was first certified as an Effective Cycling Instructor in 1986 by the League of American Bicyclist and have been an active League Cycling Instructor for the League since then. In 2002 I gained acceptance as a Cycling Instructor Trainer and since then have conducted 11 training seminars for certification of League Cycling Instructors held in San Diego, San Jose, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Sacramento, Morgan Hill, Fairfax, and Palo Alto. I completed the San Diego Police Bicycle Skills Menu Course in 2003 and I have been an expert witness for bicycling crash incidents. I presently serve on several bicycling advisory committees and advocacy organizations. Chair - Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Working Group for the San Diego regional association of governments since 1995 Vice Chair - California Bicycle Advisory Committee for the State Dept of Transportation, a member since 1992 President - California Association of Bicycling Organizations Board member - California Bicycle Coalition California State Ambassador – League of American Bicyclists Co-Chair California Strategic Highway Safety Plan, Challenge Area 13, Improving Bicycling Safety Conferences, seminars and similar events at which I have attended and presented bicycling safety information and training include the following: Speaker/Presenter, Calif. Office of Traffic Safety, Summit “What to do about all these bicycles in Traffic”, 2009 ProWalk-ProBike Conference, Seattle WA., 2008 Attendee/Speaker, League of American Bicyclists, Bike Education Conference, Wisconsin and New York City, 2002 & 2007 Velo Mondial, Amsterdam. 2000 Speaker/Presenter, Calif. Office of Traffic Safety’s Summit “A Vision for Roads to Traffic Safety”, 2000 Speaker Autovation conference, San Diego 2005 Chair, California Strategic Highway Safety Plan, #13 - Improve Bicycling Safety Presenter, California Strategic Highway Safety Plan Summit, 2008 Anaheim Attendee, League of American Bicyclists, National Bike Summit, Washington, DC, 2006 & 2008 Presenter, Walk/Bike California Conferences, Oakland 2003, Ventura 2005, Davis 2007 Speaker, Making the Connection International Trails and Greenways Conference Presenter, Safety N Kids, Conference, “Children Learn Best by Good Examples From Those They Trust”, 2006 Speaker, ITE Conference 2006 Dana Point, Calif., “Engineering for Bicycling, From a Bicyclists Point of View” Exhibitor/Speaker, Lifesavers, National Conference on Highway Safety Priorities, 2004 References familiar with my bicycling background and experience include: Kathy Keehan, Exec Director San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, Ph: 858-487-6063, Email: Stephan Vance, Chair Calif. Bicycle Coalition and SANDAG Senior Planner, Ph: 619-595-5324, Email: Ken McGuire, Chief Bicycle Facilities Unit, California Dept of Transportation, Ph: 916-653-2750, Email: Preston Tyree, Director of Education, League of American Bicyclists, 1612 K St., NW, #800, Washington, DC 20006, Ph: 202-822-1333 x 227, Email: