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Growing Bike Culture Clashes with Pedestrian Safety in San Francisco

The bike culture in San Francisco, California has flourished dramatically over the last five years, but this growth has not been without consequence. Because of busy street traffic and a lack of bike lanes, riders are increasingly riding their bicycles in crowded public areas like sidewalks. While cycling on sidewalks is illegal in San Francisco, riders who fail to adhere to this law continue to injure pedestrians.

Growing Bike Culture in San Francisco

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) conducted annual bicycling surveys from 2006 to 2010. During the four years between its first and most recent report, the 2010 Bicycling Count Report, the SFMTA found the observable San Francisco ridership increased by 58 percent in 33 locations. The SFMTA report also indicated around 128,000 bicycle trips were taken on a daily basis in San Francisco in 2008, which is 6 percent of all cycling trips. About 16 percent of city residents consider themselves "frequent cyclists."

With tens of thousands of people riding their bikes daily around San Francisco, traffic issues will develop. The city is revered for its destination biking. It has over 45 miles of bike lanes and more than 100 additional miles of bike paths and routes, with plans in the works to increase the biking infrastructure in the next few years. However, the San Francisco Police Department reported there were 19 pedestrian and bicycle crashes, resulting in two deaths, for all of 2010. There were also 19 accidents and two deaths through August of this year.

No Biking on Sidewalks

The California Vehicle Code leaves it up to each municipality to determine local biking laws, like riding on sidewalks. According to San Francisco's Transportation Code, riding bicycles on sidewalks in the city is forbidden for anyone over the age of 13. Cyclists found in violation of this law can receive a $156 ticket. However, this does not discourage everyone from biking in pedestrian areas. According to a pedestrian rights group, the Senior Action Network, people ride their bikes on the sidewalks out of fear, because the busy city streets seem unsafe.

Holding Riders Accountable

As the growing bike culture has clashed with pedestrian safety in recent years, various cycling groups and law enforcement agencies in San Francisco have teamed up to campaign for safer sidewalks. Educating bikers and the public in general about the hazards of riding on sidewalks, and its unlawfulness, may help to resolve this issue over time. However, the pedestrian victims of bicycle crashes need ways to hold irresponsible riders accountable for their unsafe actions now - busy streets are no excuse for riding on sidewalks.

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