Bike lanes verses the pavement: where to ride

When you are out on your daily bike ride you may have noticed someone else on their bike, riding on the pavement. Or perhaps you ride on the pavement because there are no bike lanes. Local laws vary on allowing bikes on the pavement, traffic matters and you should always be thinking about safety.


This is not an easy subject to discuss as you would think. It seems simple, but surely you’ve seen varying degrees of compliance when riding. The obvious choice is that when there is a bike lane available, that is where you should be riding. There are a couple reasons for this, but the main one is that the bike lane is where cars expect you to be. Often pavements provide limited visibility for drivers turning out of a side street and can lead to accidents and injury.


If you have to ride on a pavement, then you have to pay attention (not that you aren’t already). Drivers are less likely to see you on a pavement, so you have to be ready to stop at every driveway and side street. And I swear, you better be riding with the flow of traffic. Riding against the flow of traffic in a bike lane is dangerous enough, riding against the flow of traffic on a pavement is just asking to go head first over the front end of a sedan.


Even though pavement have no directional requirement, it’s still smarter to bike with the flow of traffic. This is because a driver pulling out from a side street will look in your direction if you are with the flow of traffic. If you are against it, they won’t. And since you are moving at speed, rather than walking, you’ll have less time to react. This isn’t even considering how inconsistent pavement concrete is laid, with cracks, bumps and curves that further complicate reaction times.


If there is no bike lane available but there is a pavement then you can either ride with traffic, which offers its own set of dangers, or ride on the pavement. In this case, riding on the pavement seems like the better idea, but then you’ve got to consider pedestrians, who have the right of way here. In this case you are the car to them, careening around them at reckless speeds. For me, I’d rather ride as close to the shoulder as possible with traffic than worry about hitting a pedestrian because they sidestep into my path.


There is room here for a lengthy debate on which surface to ride on. Bike lanes are often full of road trash (broken glass and other harmful garbage) while pavements are usually devoid of such things. Yet, pavements are pedestrian owned and offer more danger for slamming into a turning vehicle. Bike lanes are a bit safer here, but aren’t always available. Riding with traffic is always an option, but has the regular danger of being pressed against the shoulder with little room for avoidance.


While not every city has protected bike lanes, that’s the obvious future solution. Many cities are working toward this solution, at least adding more regular bike lanes if not protected ones (protected bike lanes have a barrier between the bike lane and traffic, while regular ones are just a painted shoulder lane). Until that point, riding with the flow of traffic, wearing a helmet and keeping your head on a swivel is the safest way to ride no matter the pavement, bike lane or shoulder.


Curtis Silver