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Study: Sidewalks a risky place to ride bikes

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BLOOMINGTON — Sidewalks can be among the more dangerous places to ride a bicycle, according to an analysis for Bike BloNo of 18 months of cyclist/motorist accidents reported to police.

“It's much safer to ride on the road, in the same direction as a car, following all the rules of the road, including stopping at stop signs,” said Michael Gorman, treasurer and co-founder of Bike BloNo, a cycling advocacy organization.

The analysis also found nearly all the accidents involved casual riders, not “hard-core” cyclists riding specialty store bikes, according to Mike Bernico, author of the report.

Gorman said that finding “really speaks to what we need to do with outreach,” spreading bicycle safety advice to people who are not necessarily members of cycling groups.

In 13 of 37 accidents included in the report, the cyclist's location immediately prior to the crash was a sidewalk. The next most frequent location prior to a crash was an intersection, which was cited in nine crashes.

The only place in the Twin Cities where riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is prohibited is in uptown Normal.

However, cyclists are more endangered when they come up to an intersection on a sidewalk because motorists are not expecting them, Gorman explained.

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“If you are on the sidewalk, you need to behave like a pedestrian,” Gorman said. “Stop and look both ways, just like your mother taught you when you were a kid.”

Assistant Chief Eric Klingele of the Normal Police Department agrees that cyclists are probably safer on the road, provided they are obeying traffic laws.

“The sidewalk, unless you're a 6-year-old kid, is not the place to ride your bike,” said Klingele, a cyclist himself.

The report notes that riding on a sidewalk “creates an opportunity for cyclists to enter and leave the road in unexpected ways. It cites a 1994 study in Palo Alto, Calif., that said there is an 80 percent higher risk of a crash cycling on a sidewalk than on a roadway.

Motorists turning left in front of cyclists were reported in more than one-third of the crashes studied.

Klingele said people failing to yield when turning left is a problem for motorcyclists and other motor vehicles, too. And he has firsthand experience from the cyclist perspective.

“I've got metal in my shoulder from a young girl turning left in front of me,” leading him to crash his bicycle in uptown, Klingele said.

Gorman said the purpose of the study is to educate people about bicycle safety and clear up misconceptions such as where cyclists should ride.

Another misconception the group is trying to clear up is that cyclists are just begin defiant when they don't ride close to the curb.

“Cyclists don't want to impede traffic,” Gorman said, but broken glass and other debris often make it unsafe to ride close to the curb, he said.

Bike BloNo is partnering with other groups, including Friends of the Constitution Trail, the McLean County Wheelers and the Bloomington Cycle-Coffee Hound Race Team to spread the word.

One challenge in Bloomington-Normal is educating each new group of students that moves to the area to attend Illinois State University and other schools.

Klingele said that when students are on their bikes, “they're thinking about getting to class, not traffic rules."

Bike safety and rules, such as not riding on uptown sidewalks, are discussed at Preview ISU, an orientation session new students attend, Klingele said. Normal police also stood on street corners this fall handing out bike safety fliers, he added.

Normal has a diversion program for motorists and cyclists ticketed for bike-related infractions. They have the option of taking an online bike safety quiz to avoid having the offense on their record.

Klingele wasn't sure how many people have gone through the diversion program, but he thinks it's a good idea.

“If you can attack enforcement through education initially, that's a good thing,” Klingele said. “Take your test and you may learn something.”

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota


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