Sidewalk ordinance vote on July 26

On Tuesday, July 26, 2016, the Sacramento City Council will vote on a revised ordinance regulating bicycling on sidewalks.

The City Council’s Law & Legislation Committee has been debating the ordinance for the past two years. Tuesday’s vote is an opportunity for the full City Council to reach closure on this discussion, so we can move on to the important work of planning and building streets that are safe for everyone.


sidewalk riding

Bikes on J Street sidewalk in Midtown Sacramento

State law lets cities and counties choose how to regulate sidewalk riding. The City of Sacramento allows sidewalk riding in residential neighborhoods and prohibits it in business districts, which causes confusion on streets that are both residential and commercial. The City’s existing ordinance also doesn’t specify a penalty for violations.

Nearly two years ago the City Council’s Law & Legislation Committee began holding public hearings on possible amendments to the ordinance. At those hearings, SABA repeatedly made these points:

Riding on sidewalks presents hazards to pedestrians as well as to people on bikes. Sidewalks are not designed for bicycling.

CK McClatchy High School student riding with traffic on Freeport Blvd.

CK McClatchy High School student riding with traffic on Freeport Blvd.

Sidewalk riding mainly occurs because stressful roadway conditions make bicycling in the street feel unsafe. These conditions include heavy traffic, fast traffic speeds, narrow traffic lanes, light rail tracks in the street, very long blocks without safe crossings, narrow shoulders without bike lanes, and inadequate bike lanes.

One-way streets, super-blocks (multi-block building complexes that interrupt the street grid) and gaps in Sacramento’s fragmented bike lane system also make it difficult to reach key destinations by bike and help turn sidewalks into tempting short-cuts.

Streets designed to accommodate bike traffic make pedestrians safer. In three U.S. cities, installation of protected bike lanes was shown to substantially reduce sidewalk riding.

By far the greatest risk to pedestrians is vehicle traffic, not bicycles on sidewalks. According to local law enforcement data, 927 pedestrians were involved in collisions in Sacramento from 2008 through 2012, including 372 (40%) in the Central City grid. Of those 927 pedestrians, 3 (0.3%) were hit by people on bikes, none in the Central City grid, and it’s not clear whether any of those collisions involved sidewalk riding (pedestrians and bicyclists can also collide in crosswalks and driveways).

Mustafa Rafi bike

Afghan engineer and refugee Mustafa Rafi was killed and his young son badly injured by a driver on Edison Ave. in June 2015

Since the May 2014 collision in downtown Sacramento where an elderly pedestrian was hit and badly injured by a bicyclist on the sidewalk, no pedestrian has reported being injured by a bicyclist riding on a sidewalk within the City of Sacramento. Over the same period, more than 50 pedestrians and more than 20 people on bikes have been killed by drivers in Sacramento County, including 5 bicyclists killed by drivers within Sacramento city limits in the past 7 months.

Increased enforcement must be matched by commitments to improve infrastructure and educate all road users. Enforcement alone will not fix the underlying causes of sidewalk riding. Penalizing people on bikes for choosing the safest among poor options is bad policy. We need safer streets for bicycling for the sake of everyone’s safety.

About the proposed ordinance and amendments

These are the main provisions of the proposed ordinance to be voted on by the City Council:

– Sidewalk riding is prohibited wherever signs are posted, as determined by the City Manager.
– Sidewalk riding is subject to specific fines: $25 (1st offense), $100 (2nd offense within 1 year) and $250 (3rd offense within 1 year).
– Adults may not allow children to ride on sidewalks where bicycling is prohibited.
– Bicyclists on sidewalks must yield the right of way to pedestrians and warn them as they approach from behind.

Read a comparison of the existing ordinance and the proposed ordinance.

Councilmember Steve Hansen has proposed three amendments to further clarify the proposed ordinance (read the full text here). These amendments resolve our biggest concerns about the proposed ordinance — we urge the City Council to approve them.

1. In choosing streets where sidewalk riding is prohibited, the City Manager must demonstrate that 1) there is a high level of pedestrian activity or a history of pedestrian-bicyclist collisions and 2) the adjacent street has “low-stess” conditions for bicycling (including low traffic speeds, low traffic volumes, and wide traffic lanes or bike lanes). This is the low-hanging fruit: the streets where sidewalk riding presents the biggest safety hazards to pedestrians and where riding with or alongside vehicle traffic feels safest and most comfortable for most people on bikes. The selection process must be based on objective data, not pressure from groups and individuals with the best connections at City Hall.

2. Exempt children under age 13 and accompanying adults. Responsible parents must not be penalized for using the sidewalk to teach children to ride or for riding with them on sidewalks when the street is unsafe for their kids. We must support the ability of families to choose bicycling, not make bicycling any more challenging for families than it already is.

3. Remove the $250 fine and make bicyclists ticketed for sidewalk riding eligible for a traffic diversion program to be established by January 2017. The $250 fine would be California’s highest fine for sidewalk riding. We don’t see the justification for very high fines, especially when no collision or injury occurs. High fines will fall disproportionately on low-income residents in neighborhoods where sidewalk riding is common due to unsafe conditions in the street.

City of Sacramento staff has cited the City of Davis’s $150 fine for sidewalk riding as justification for proposing such a large fine in Sacramento. In 2013 the City of Davis reduced that fine to $50 in response to widespread public outcry and because the police weren’t citing bicyclists out of concern about the size of the fine. The size of the fine must not become an obstacle to reasonable enforcement.

Two years of robust public debate is enough for the City of Sacramento to improve its sidewalk riding ordinance. We’re urging the City Council to reach a final decision on Councilmember Hansen’s amendments to the proposed ordinance, so we can move on with the important work of planning and building streets that are safe for everyone. We’ll have that opportunity this fall, when the City of Sacramento launches a Vision Zero program to analyze and correct the most significant hazards to pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers.

What you can do

If you’re a City of Sacramento resident, you can:

– Call or email your City Councilmember today and urge a YES vote on Councilmember Hansen’s proposed amendments. (Not sure who your Councilmember is? Start here.)

– Attending Tuesday’s City Council meeting to show your support for reasonable enforcement. You can also testify in support of the ordinance. IMPORTANT: Due to construction in the new City Hall, the City Council will meet in the Historic City Hall at 915 I Street, 2nd Floor. This meeting room is small, so arrive early to get a seat.