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Tykes + bikes = yikes!

The Inseide Dope

July 11, 2008
By Bob Seidenstein

A few years ago, I made a prediction in my column. Unlike predictions made by psychics and other flim-flammers, I didn't state it in vagaries like, "A serious problem of a painful nature will beset some area residents."

Nor did I use metaphoric mumbo-jumbo a la Nostradamus - "The wolf will leave his den and hunt down the solo travelers without mercy."

Nope, my prediction was up-front and unambiguous.

I said someone was going to get hit and hurt by a cyclist on the sidewalks of my hometown. And sure enough, it happened this spring when a kid hit a woman in front of the Post Office Pharmacy.

How did I know this would happen? Do I possess ESP, pre-cognition or clairvoyance? Of course not - no one does.

My knowledge was based on that old mathematical cliche: Given an infinite number of monkeys, an infinite number of typewriters and an infinite amount of time, they'll eventually write all the great books of the world.

Or to make that cliche relevant to the here and now: If we allow bicyclists to ride on our sidewalks, they'll end up hitting people. And to make the cliche relevant to the future: If we keep allowing bicyclists to ride on the sidewalk, they'll keep hitting people.

A sea changeon the sidewalks

The typical reaction to the kid hitting the woman in the spring was predictable, namely the kid should've gotten royally punished to make an example of him. A predictable reactionbut not a sensible one. What we need to do first is educate, not punish. And we need to educate all bicyclists, not just a few.

Why education? Simple: The problem is due to ignorance, not criminality. The kids aren't trying to hurt anyone; they just don't realize what they're doing is dangerous (not to mention, illegal).

In every country where bikes are a legitimate form of transportation, there are rules governing how and where they can be ridden. And the rules don't have to be constantly enforced or even monitored, because they're always obeyed.

For example, in Amsterdam, where there are almost as many bikes as people, a biker hitting a pedestrian is almost unheard of. And in the rare cases when it does happen, inevitably the pedestrian is a foreign tourist who paid no attention to the bike lanes.

But to Americans, bikes aren't serious transportation. Instead, they're either children's toys or athletes' toys. So nobody except the rare scrupulous biker pays any attention to bike laws - or to common sense either. Thus we ride bikes on sidewalks, through stop signs, against traffic, out designated entrances, in designated exits - you name it, and if it's dumb, dangerous and illegal on a bike, we do it.

And we do it because we've always done it. Stupid bike riding is as American as apple pie, July 4th fireworks and declining literacy. We tolerate kids (or even adults) riding bikes on the sidewalks because we rode our bikes on sidewalks when we were kids.

So when it comes to bike riding, we're universally sloppy. But it's time we cleaned up our act. This is easier said than done, but it's no reason not to start. And we should start by keeping bike riders off the sidewalks.

So how do we do it? Good question. I don't have a specific answer, but I have what I think is a decent suggestion.

Our solution to enforcing parking limits - having a full-time summer employer shlep all over the burg writing tickets to the scofflaws, sure works. At least it works for keeping locals on the straight and narrow. And since most of our sidewalk bikers are locals, I think a similar plan would work for them.

As I said earlier, punishment shouldn't be the first step. Instead, stop the bikers, get their names, explain the situation and issue a written warning. Because most people don't want to hurt others, nor do they like to get busted, I'm sure one warning would be sufficient. And if it's not, then a good stiff fine should prove excellent way to get the point across to the rider, and through him, to a lot of other people.

And who should police the sidewalks? Why not the police? In order for the word to get out, we wouldn't need cops doing it a whole lot of the time, so it needn't take away from their other duties.

Plus - and this is a huge plus - police walking on our sidewalks (as opposed to driving up and down the streets) are a great way to make them an integral and non-threatening part of the community.

When I was a kid, the cops were always out on the streets. We were all on friendly termsbut we also knew we couldn't get away with a whole lot. I don't know why this same dynamic can't prevail now. Certainly it should.

The woman getting hit by the bike was a wake-up call, but it appears everyone slept through it.

There's only one reason other people haven't been hit by bikes on the sidewalk - luck. Unfortunately, as any gambler can tell you, eventually luck runs out.



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