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Sidewalk scofflaws


I read with interest the other day the story that Lawrence’s Bicycle Advisory Committee had discussed an old law that makes it illegal to ride a bike on some sidewalks.

The ordinance, on the books since the 1970s, states, “It shall be unlawful for any person to ride a bicycle upon any sidewalk within any business district within the city or upon any sidewalk within a distance of 100 feet from any store or business place or place of assembly or where specifically prohibited by posted sign.”

While the group still champions a bike-on-sidewalk ban downtown, there’s some sentiment that bikes should be permitted in other parts of the city.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit here I generally don’t like riding on sidewalks with or without pedestrians, and I don’t like walking on sidewalks with folks on bikes.

Whenever the Hartsock clan goes for rides, all of us use the lightly trafficked residential streets, but we still insist the kids ride on the sidewalk on the busier thoroughfares, even if mom and dad keep to the streets.

That said, there are two little stretches of sidewalk — downtown even! Gasp! — I ride nearly every day. One is to avoid Sixth Street car traffic — in the interest of self-preservation, as well as to avoid hindering said traffic — and the other the fraction-of-a-block stretch just north of Seventh on New Hampshire. That’s the ministrip of sidewalk that leads to the employee entrance where I work. Legally, I should turn north on New Hampshire, force my way into the turn lane (which usually is filled with traffic headed south) and turn into the loading-dock entrance, but that’s loads more dangerous and potentially disrupting to car traffic.

So I selectively choose to disregard the ordinance — I’m pretty sure the former instance is far enough from any business district not to be part of the ordinance, but the latter is pure scofflaw city — in the interest of my health and the convenience of others. But I do yield to pedestrians and will walk of the path is too crowded.

But I can’t help but think the law is a little silly elsewhere.

Two personal cases in point:

When my son and I ride to school (his, not mine), he’s on the sidewalk about half the time. Though he has become quite a responsible cyclist, I don’t feel great with him on some of the bigger streets. I don’t think he belongs on, say, Folks Road when students are streaming by to get to school at Free State. Yet, I can’t think of a path from our house to his school that doesn’t involve a bit of sidewalk within 100 yards of a store. Technically, he’s breaking the law by riding to school. Throw away the key.

Another example: My son participates in his school’s track club. For safety’s sake, there are parents at various spots on the course, a “caboose” adult bringing up the rear and an adult — me! — on a bike out front. Most of the time is spent on sidewalks and a paved nature trail away from business, but the long course would put us within a dozen feet of several business. There would be no way to lead the pack on a bike from across the street — in this across four lanes of busy Wakarusa. So, again, I’ll thumb my nose at The Man and hope I’m not hauled off to the hoosegow.

Of course, any law is only as good as its enforcement, and I’ve never heard of anyone running afoul of this particular ordinance. I reckon it’s a lot like the drug tax stamp: break the big law, and the little law adds to your woe. In the case of the bike-on-the-sidewalk law, I imagine it only would come into play if I were to, say, plow into the mayor at Ninth and Mass.

Then, I imagine, I’d have the book thrown at me. And, truth to tell, I’d deserve it.


SnakeFist 7 years, 7 months ago

I'm confused by these recent articles. I thought bicycles were vehicles and, as such, were supposed to ride on the road - not the sidewalk - and follow the traffic laws. But apparently I may have been wrong. So the next time I'm at a stop sign and a bicycle approaches from another direction, should I assume it will stop like a vehicle or cross like a pedestrian? Perhaps it depends on whether its on the street or on the sidewalk? A consistent standard - either vehicle or pedestrian - would make the town safer for everyone.

kernal 7 years, 7 months ago

Or, you could just use common sense.

SnakeFist 7 years, 7 months ago

Gee, thanks. Common sense tells me that bicyclists shouldn't run stop signs in front of cars, but they do it all the time. Common sense also tells me that there should be rules governing the behavior of bicyclists just as there are rules that govern the behavior of drivers and pedestrians. But I suppose that being a self-righteous bicyclist, you don't think rules should apply to you. While you're peeling yourself off someone's grill, you can entertain them with your common sense.

NewbieGardener 7 years, 7 months ago

Laws governing cyclists: http://www.ksdot.org/burrail/bike/biking/KsBicyStatutes.asp

On the bicyclists running stop signs all the time: many of us actually don't do that and wouldn't categorize ourselves as self-righteous. I think a lot of us are actually humble, use self-deprecating humor, and hang our heads low as we cycle around town.

NewbieGardener 7 years, 7 months ago

Bicycles are indeed considered vehicles, though they're legally allowed on streets and some sidewalks. As noted in the article above, it's often dangerous to ride either in the street or sidewalk depending on the environment and the infrastructure. If traffic is moving along at 55 mph and I'm trying to go uphill on a bicycle, I'll probably choose a sidewalk to ensure I don't impede the cars on the road. It's common courtesy.

Giving the cyclist a choice between the road and sidewalk usually means its safer (and more efficient) for all involved.

nobody1793 7 years, 7 months ago

Perhaps you would have toddlers with training wheels out on the street as well? Got to be consistent, you know.

SnakeFist 7 years, 7 months ago

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Kirk Larson 7 years, 7 months ago

Well, to get really technical, a wheelchair is a vehicle. Should they be in the street? Your either/or assumption is what stands with the benefit of intellectual training wheels.

kernal 7 years, 7 months ago

Actually, Cappy, I have seen people riding their wheelchairs in the streets because the sidewalks are in such disrepair; a person would likely either tip over the chair or bounce out if said person stayed on the sidewalk. It's really hard to get back in a wheelchair, without assistance, when a chair tips over on uneven ground

nobody1793 7 years, 7 months ago

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John Hamm 7 years, 7 months ago

You wouldn't think "the law is a little silly elsewhere." if you'd almost been run over by high speed inconsiderate bikers approaching from the rear who are too lazy to give a shout out you're about to be run down. I must say some, and it's a durn few, bikers are considerate enough to give out a "on your (insert left or right)" as they approach but it's a very, very small percentage. When bikers learn to respect the rights of others and to show some consideration for pedestrians I say "let them use the street."

tir 7 years, 7 months ago

I was walking past South Park this weekend, and a kamikaze cyclist whipped up behind me on the sidewalk, and turned left right in front of me, missing me by inches. No warning, no consideration, no slowing down, just an "oops" in passing. If I hadn't jerked back in time, he would have hit me. This was an adult, not a little kid, and there's no excuse for behavior like this, but it happens all the time.

RoeDapple 7 years, 7 months ago

So Andrew, speaking of laws that are pretty much ignored . . .

In Kansas; It is illegal to shoot rabbits from motorboats . . (Are canoes okay?)

It is prohibited to use mules to hunt ducks . . . (Slow to reload, and hard to aim.)

If two trains meet on the same track, neither shall proceed until the other has passed. (ummm . . . your guess is as good as any . . .)

In Wichita . . Any person caught using or carrying bean snappers or the like shall upon conviction, be fined. (What the hell is a bean snapper?)

And finally, in Lawrence . . All cars entering the city limits must first sound their horn to warn the horses of their arrival. (I'm really gonna have to work a lot harder on that. Are bicycles the modern day horse?)

kernal 7 years, 7 months ago

Ah, the ol' bean snappers! That would be putting dried beans in your mouth and blowing them out through a straw. Perhaps being used by some Tea Partiers.

Kat Christian 7 years, 7 months ago

I'll stick to riding in my car even it I only have to go a block or two. Not worth jeopordizing our life on a bike unless we ride them in an area where cars can't go. Need to gas up my car again.

kernal 7 years, 7 months ago

Correction ... there is the "cycling...".

cowboy 7 years, 7 months ago

to the jerk observed riding his bike northbound at 31st and Iowa this afternoon, on the west sidewalk , who came shooting thru the pedestrian cross walk at about 20 MPH , then started yelling at the little grannie who didn't see you , you're a punk and deserve to have your A$$ whupped. If i could have caught up to you I'd have given you a little of your own medicine. Little Granny was scared to death wondering where in the hell you came from.

This is the type of bicyclist that while claiming a right to the road , rides in a completely dangerous manner. Either be in the street or act as a ped on the sidewalk , not both.

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