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Sidewalk or road? Cyclists ponder the safest place to ride

George Mathewson It’s a dilemma most cyclists face, sooner or later.
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Unlike a sidewalk, this paved multi-purpose trail in Point Edward is designed to accommodate both cyclists and pedestrians. The riders, from left, are Kyle Pite, Michelle Hillis, Shelley Hillis and Teighan Pite. Glenn Ogivie

George Mathewson

It’s a dilemma most cyclists face, sooner or later.

Do you stay on a busy city street when cars are whizzing past, just inches away?

Or do you move to the sidewalk where the riding feels safer, but is against the law?

Sarnia Police and safety advocates insist that cyclists should always stay on the road, because that’s the safest place for two-wheeled vehicles.

But many riders clearly have doubts. The Journal recently conducted an unscientific poll, counted the first 30 bicycles encountered in several areas of Sarnia. Sixteen of them were travelling on sidewalks.

“I never ride on the road. I‘ve just seen too many people get cut off,” said Phyllis Vanoverbeke, a Sarnia resident and dedicated cyclist.

“I always ride on the sidewalk and if I have to pay a fine, at least I will have my life,” she added, stressing she always respects pedestrians.

Sidewalks are sometimes a safer option, agreed Shelley Hillis, who was cycling in Canatara Park.

Willis’s cousin was seriously injured in a collision while riding on Exmouth Street, yet was obeying all the rules of the road, she said.

“So it depends on where I go and it depends on the street. If the traffic is really bad I will go on the sidewalk.”

A Sarnia bylaw bans bikes with wheels 21 inches and larger from sidewalks, and police often stop and ticket offenders during annual road safety blitzes.

There are good reasons for that, said Dick Felton, a Bluewater Trails member who teaches CAN-BIKE safety courses. He bristles at the notion sidewalks are safe.

“You’re making some big assumptions about it being dangerous on Sarnia roads, and I can categorically tell you that it’s not,” he said.

“On a sidewalk, you have an intersection at every driveway. Most accidents between bikes and cars happen at intersections. They don’t happen on the road, and they don’t happen between intersections.”

A bicycle is a vehicle under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act, which means cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities to obey traffic laws as other road users.

Local statistics indicate cyclists are at fault in three-quarters of car-bike collisions, Sarnia Police say.

Felton, who teaches how to safely co-exist with road traffic, said sidewalks offer a false sense of security

“If I don’t feel there’s enough room for me and a car in a lane, I go right down the middle of the lane,” he said.

“Some drivers beep at me and some drivers are upset. But when they beep at me they see me, and they don’t try to run me over.”

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