Cycling on sidewalks in Indy

I’m sure we’ve all seen it or experienced it a time or 10 here in Indy. Walking down the sidewalk (when there is one available) and someone either comes at you on a bike, or brushes past you from behind on a bike. Some go fast, some go slow but the fact that they are cycling ON THE SIDEWALK is the point I wish to examine with this post.

E 10th Street (image credit: Curt Ailes)
E 10th Street (image credit: Curt Ailes)

I have thought about this one for a long time but a recent brush really called me to action. I was crossing West Street to get to classes at IUPUI. I saw someone riding up the sidewalk of West Street and when I got across, we were in close proximity to one another. He turned and went another way, then apparently changed his mind and turned around and almost mowed me down. I did not stop walking so I don’t know if he though I was going to stop for him or what, but I put my hands up and grabbed his handlebars and angrily pointed at the now freshly re-painted bike lane on Michigan Street and said, “You’ve got  lane for this thing, watch where you’re going.”

Was I in the right? According to the City of Indianapolis, the cyclist technically did nothing wrong. I’ve been unable to find any code city or state, that prevents someone from cycling on a sidewalk. In fact, all that I could find about sidewalks period was in the state code and it states that MOTORIZED bikes are allowed on sidewalks provided they do not interfere with pedestrians.

Cultural Trail (image credit: Curt Ailes)
Cultural Trail (image credit: Curt Ailes)

Whatever the case, as Indy grows it’s cycling culture, more people are getting out and pedaling to their destination. I have no issues with that whatsoever. What I DO take issue with, is that pedestrians again, must be the ones who have to take it in the hind end when someone on wheels, whether it be bikes or a car, decides that they aren’t happy with the current conditions. Case in point, the Michigan bike lanes. Are they dangerous? You can ask 50 people and the odds of that person saying the Michigan Street lane is unsafe are good. We have debated the merits here over and over again. So, when a cyclist gets onto the sidewalk on Michigan, I get it. But in the same breath, I don’t get it. There are other slower streets such as Ohio, Vermont as well as others that one can get across town. These streets are two way, slower, and generally I consider them to be more safe for cyclists to ride with traffic. Is it so much to ask them to move to those streets if they feel Michigan is unsafe?

I may be breaking ranks with my fellow cycling advocates and maybe even with fellow members of this site. With a budding cycling culture, there are likely to be head-butting conflicts such as those that I have described. Having a healthy conversation about how cyclists should be using the streets and sidewalks, is good for all of us.

Comments 38

  • Definitely agree. Considering that bicycles are to be considered to have the same rights/regulations as cars when on the road, I feel that must mean that is their domain…on the road. Granted, if traffic was frightfully heavy and there was no bike line, I’ve been known to hop onto the sidewalk if it looked empty. If the sidewalk is being utilized by pedestrians, however, I avoid it at all costs.

    PS – Bike lanes are safer than dodging people, strollers, rollerbladers, etc up and down a sidewalk.

    • Tell that to the motorists who used to yell at me to “get off the road” with my bicycle. I usually ride on bike lanes, side paths, shoulders or, yes, sidewalks where they exist. There are too many roads without any of these things in the outlying areas of Indianapolis.

      I walk frequently too, so I understand this from both sides. As a pedestrian, if I step out of the way for a bicyclist, it’s really no big deal as long as I’m stepping away from the street. But when I’m a bicyclist, it’s a lot riskier to change course all of a sudden.

      I’m all for having sidewalks and bike lanes everywhere, but the reality is that we don’t, and I feel a lot safer riding on the sidewalk than out in the street.

      I’m not any kind of serious cyclist at all, and I’m not very strong or fast on the bike, but sometimes it’s a good idea to use my bike to get from Point A to Point B instead of my car if for no other reason than the fitness benefit. Plus, how am I going to get better unless I can have safe places to toddle along away from vehicle traffic?

  • Biking on sidewalks in urban areas irks me as well. I do think there needs to be some education and outreach to discourage this activity whenever possible.
    However, it might depend on the situation. I can’t blame someone from biking down the sidewalk of 86th Street in Nora, for instance. First of all, few people actually walk in that area as it is hostile to pedestrians, and second, the street has to be daunting to many cyclists.

    This is sort of a related tangent, but speaking only for myself, I bike on the least busy street possible, even if a lane on another street is available. For instance, when I’m in your neck of the woods, I take a route from 54th to Crestview to 52nd to Indianola to 51st and bike down 51st, instead of using the 52nd Street bike lane.

  • the more dangerous mode of traffic should always yield to the more vulnerable one. As cyclists, we want cars to give us space, respect, etc. Cyclists should do the same for those walking.

    Personally, I don’t believe bikes belong on the sidewalk unless it is marked specifically as a bike path. And like Jon, I’d rather ride with the cars than battle strollers, dog leashes, text&walkers, etc.

    I’ve ridden the Michigan St bike lane and have yet to find it unsafe. Maybe I’ve been fortunate.

    Ultimately, I’d venture to say that most who are riding on the sidewalks with disregard for pedestrians are the same who are riding against traffic, etc. They are those who are riding because they have to, vs because they want to.

    • Nicely put. There *are* places in this city where I will take to the sidewalk but I would ALWAYS consider pedestrians to have the right-of-way (and take considerable care not to startle or squish them).

  • Cyclists need to learn to ride with traffic, traffic needs to learn to share with cyclists, and pedestrians should have the right-of-way while being courteous to the other users. Riding in the street is much more efficient that riding the sidewalk and once one gets used to it riding the sidewalks just seem silly. (unless to navigate a particularly difficult point in the trip)

  • The New York Street bike lane is the most unsafe one as it passes right by parked cars where passengers can easily fling open a door into the bike lane. The parking area is so narrow that the tires of the car actually stick out into the bike lane.

    Neither Mich or New York St bike lanes are safe. They weave in and out of traffic lanes and confine the rider to the far right side of the road (usually) where he is less likely to be seen. The lanes are filled with gravel, water, parked vehicles, etc. that often require you to swerve out into a traffic lane. Plus the traffic lanes are narrowed and the cars pass closer to the bicyclist than they would if the biker were in a regular traffic lane and the vehicle was passing.

    It’s not illegal in Indy for a bicyclist to ride on a sidewalk as long as he is not going at an excessive speed or endangering pedestrians. There are some places it’s better to ride on the sidewalk. For example, along West 56th Street, the sidewalk/asphalt path is much better to ride on than the street. It’s riding on sidewalks downtown that I think is wrong. When you get to the suburbs it’s not near the problem.

    • Paul-
      Just because it has become tradition to reply to your posts about bike lanes: I have ridden those bike lanes (NY and Mich) almost every day for the last 2 years…at least once a day….at all possible hours of the day. I have never had a problem with parked cars. I actually live in Holy Cross, so I live in between them and see numerous people riding them daily. If you want to “ride large” please do; there is no law that says you have to ride in a bike lane if it is there….also I will enjoy riding past you while you are stuck in traffic with the rest of the cars. Just for the record, there has not been one reported car/bicycle incident in the NY and Michigan bike lanes. So,. while you think that bike lanes are the craziest, most unsafe things in the world, I know many people, including myself that appreciate them and use them regularly.

    • No, you can’t legally ride on Indianapolis public sidewalks when pedestrians are using them because, YOU WILL DIMINISH ITS FREE USE BY OTHERS. That is the key restrictive wording in Indianapolis sidewalk ordinances.

      Most of the towns inside Marion County follow typical United States practice of having it illegal for adults to ride bicycles on sidewalks. Many Indy sidewalks are empty of others most of the time so having the ordinance written to allow adult bicycle use WHEN IT WILL NOT DIMINISH ITS FREE USE BY OTHERS is frequent.

      The most dangerous situation of riding a bicycle on sidewalks is not due the possibly severe injury to crashing into pedestrians, but at driveway crossing where the cyclist starts crossing in front of a car stopped waiting to make a LEFT turn and gets hit when motorist has a small window open in BOTH the near and far lanes allowing them to jump into the far lanes. The motorist does have time to rescan the sidewalk for changes in traffic and shouldn’t have to because for pedestrian traffic their scan of the sidewalk six seconds previous would still be valid.

      These accidents can be fatal if the car actually drives over a panic cyclist. This can happen when the cyclist seeing they area going to be hit attempts steer the bicycle in an impossible way causing it to fall over placing it and its rider flat on the ground and out of view of the accelerating motorist. Under medium acceleration a front wheel drive vehicle will clime its front wheels over about anything.

  • I try to avoid sidewalks for the most part, but sometimes do ride on them if there is a specific reason (eg staying out of traffic in a Cultural Trail construction zone – see northside of Washington between West and WRSP). When I do ride on the sidewalks, I give as wide a berth as possible to pedestrians and if it is a tight squeeze, I give them ample warning and slow down as much as possible.
    In this specific situation, that guy was being a jerk and not watching things around him. I doubt a car hood would have been nearly as forgiving as your hands. In that area, there was no excuse for not riding on the bike lane.

  • It’s in Chapter 431 of the municipal code. Here is the relevant ordinance, section 431-603:
    (a) A person who operates a bicycle in a roadway shall comply with the provisions of IC chapter 9-21-11.

    (b) A person who operates a bicycle on a sidewalk or greenway in the city shall do so only in the following manner:

    (1) The bicycle shall not be operated at a speed, or in any manner, which constitutes a threat to the safety of either the bicycle operator or other persons, or diminishes or impairs the free use of the sidewalk or greenway by other persons.

    (2) The person propelling, and each person riding upon, a bicycle shall be seated upon a permanent and regular seat firmly attached to the bicycle;

    (3) The person propelling the bicycle shall not allow more persons to be carried at one (1) time than the number for which the bicycle is designed and equipped;

    (4) The bicycle shall be equipped with a bell or other device capable of giving an audible signal, lamps, and brakes in the same manner as is required by state law for bicycles operated upon a highway; and

    (5) The bicycle’s bell or other device capable of giving an audible signal shall be sounded not less than fifty (50) feet from any pedestrian or vehicle approaching upon the sidewalk or greenway; and

    (c) It shall be unlawful for a person to operate a bicycle in a manner prohibited by this section. A person’s first violation shall be subject to the enforcement procedures provided in chapter 103, article III, of the Code, and each second and subsequent violation is subject to the enforcement procedures and penalties provided in section 103-3 of the Code.

    A couple of things, Curt. First, the cyclist you mention violated paragraph 1 of the city code, by operating the bike in a manner that constituted a threat to the safety of another person (you). As to motorized bicycles, I’m afraid I don’t follow. Indiana Code sec. 9-21-11-12 expressly forbids operating a motorized bike on sidewalks.

    I certainly avoid riding on the sidewalks, but as others note, in a city with Indy’s car-dominated infrastructure, there are times when the choice is a) ride on the sidewalk for a few blocks; or b) drive a car instead. Kevin mentions 86th Street. Indeed, part of 86th Street sidewalk is part of the Monon Trail, essentially. I’m not sure that a blanket prohibition makes sense. There are times when it is unavoidable. But when it is unavoidable, cyclists should be especially careful and deferential to pedestrians.

    • b(1) The bicycle shall not be operated at a speed, or in ANY MANNER, which … diminishes or impairs the free use of the sidewalk or greenway by others. [This is not the proper listing of this ordinances, but this part is valid]

      A simple legal interpretation is an adult cyclist wanting to ride on sidewalks in the city of Indianapolis can only legally do so, baring other restrictions, when it is empty of other users. Many sidewalks in Indianapolis are totally empty much of the time. Most towns inside Marion County follow the typical United States practice to totally outlaw adult riding of bicycles on a public sidewalks.

      Note: the correct use of the word “greenway” is to describe strips of land, most frequently creek or river banks, under mild conservation. The term greenway is thought to have originated in England over forty years ago in the mid 1980’tys. As in “hay, Jack, now that you’ve got all those ruins of 18th and 19th century horse saluter houses down on the river bank combined into one strip of land what are you going to do with it?” answer “don’t know for sure, but it will be done in a green way”.

  • Paul, your hatred for the bike lanes here is well documented and your complaints are nearing epic proportions. Please stay on topic.

  • Curt, correct me if I’m wrong, but the second photo in this is of the Cultural Trail (I think the first is as well, but I’m not 100% certain). Since the CT is a multiuse greenway, bikes should be allowed. In fact, that specific section of the CT is divided in half. One for joggers and walkers, one for cyclist. Now if people look at those signs and follow them or not is another topic.

    But the rules for sidewalk riding are similar to greenways. Don’t endanger the walkers. Have a bell and all that jazz. Those should be followed.

    Similar to what another poster said, outside of downtown, there’s a lot of sidewalks near strip malls and gas stations, such as Nora and parts of Pike Township, where there are sidewalks, sometimes new ones, that rarely have pedestrians. I admit I use them.

    And earlier today, I hopped on a sidewalk downtown near IU/Wishard hospital just because I didn’t want to go over 2 or 3 of those big metal plates that they put over for construction while on my bike. After I passed them on the sidewalk, I got at a stoplight and merged back onto the road. But otherwise, I stay off sidewalks downtown

    Long winded way of saying it: We’ve got laws on the books already. IT’s just a matter of enforcing them.

    • Matt, the first image is in the “streetscape zone” of 10th St. in the vicinity of the John H. Boner Community Center. The sidewalk shown is on the north side of 10th; the picture was taken from Hamilton looking east toward the light at Jefferson. Curt has cleverly edited out the Burger King, just out of the picture to the left. The canopy of the Clark station is just visible at the upper right.
      The streetscape on 10th has narrowed the pavement from four lanes to two. Where once a cyclist could ride relatively unimpeded in the curb “lane” (and dodge parked cars without fighting with moving cars for position), there are now bump-outs that force a cyclist to ride in the car-traffic lane. One or two places are marked “sharrows”, but most folks aren’t cyclists or planners and so don’t understand the marks.
      It is not surprising to see a bicyclist on the sidewalk there.

  • I knew that area looked familiar. I used to drive by it frequently because I used to work up there and remember all the construction. I no longer work in the area so I haven’t seen it lately. Looks nice, and if there’s any type of sidewalk that should be used by cyclists, it’s something that’s as wide as that.

    I think what some of the more dedicated cyclists should keep in mind that on-street riding, even in bike lanes or segregated areas on the road, can be intimidating. A newly paved, wide side walk such as the one on 10th street, or a greenway/multiuse trail like the Monon or Cultural Trail, are inviting to newer cyclists. Eventually, as they’re able to get longer distances and speed up, they’ll be able to transition to some form of street riding.

  • I don’t disagree that many times a cyclist is quite dangerous on a sidewalk. I hardly ever ride there for respect of pedestrians and dangers of crossing streets when cars don’t even pay attention to the road. If you are going to ride on the sidewalk, make adequate provisions for pedestrians. I don’t condem the activity, but have some respect.

  • I ride on sidewalks at times, like when there is something in the road ahead I wish to avoid. I slow to match the walker’s speed, ease up into earshot and *gently* say something like ‘Hi, just wanted you to know I was back here before I went around you.’

    I got in that habit when one time I was coming up on a somewhat doddering old man. I was truly worried about startling him into a stumble or fall. What made such an impression on me was that he waved and said he really appreciated it and wished me to have a good day.

    So I tend to get friendly reactions from peds, which feels good.

  • SideWALK. The name says it all. If the name mentioned wheels, that would be different. I have no problem sharing a sidewalk with a bicycle…as long as it’s being pushed and not ridden.

  • I would never ride a bicycle on a street unless the street was closed to 3,000+ pound missiles. Drivers in the US think they are allowed to drive dangerously: Texting, talking on the cell, doing their make-up, eating lunch, etc.. Way too dangerous, even with bike lanes.

    • Then there’s the sidewalks with power-walking moms chatting on their cells pushing a stroller, over-aggressive dogs on leashes that shouldn’t be released to the public yet, kids on bikes who haven’t figured out how to bike in a straight line, etc.

      Have you even tried biking in a bike lane? Or in a regular lane? It’s not as dangerous as you make it out to be.

  • Jeff,

    parkway, driveway………sometimes a name doesn’t exactly describe the use

  • Curt, your origial post discussed the Michigan Street bike lanes and asked whether they were safe. Richard W. wrote a response about the bike lanes being safe. I wrote a response about bike lanes not being safe. How in the world am I not “on topic?”

    And for the record, I don’t reflexively hate all bike lanes. I hate ones that are poorly designed without concern for the safety of the bicylist. An example is running a narrow bike lane right next to parked cars on Michigan. And for the record, there have been several bike/auto accidents on Michigan Street.

  • I meant: “An example is running a narrow bike lane right next to parked cars on” New York Street, not Michigan. I don’t think the downtown portion of the MIchigan Street bike lanes goes by parked cars.

  • If you regularly ride a bike, chances are you’ll find a situation where you need to ride on the sidewalk. In those situations I give preference to the pedestrians…I’m on their turf.

    As a driver and a cyclist, what bothers me are people who ride in the street against traffic. It’s dangerous for me and them. I think this could be helped by including cycling rules in the driver’s license test (if I need to know how many feet it takes a semi to come to a complete stop – truck safety – I don’t think it’s asking too much to cover a couple of basics for bikes).

    What annoys me as a cyclist and frequent user of the Cultural Trail are the people who walk on the bike side when the 2 uses are clearly separated. They’re on my turf. I think this would be helped if there were so many people biking that the pedestrians would naturally move to the sidewalk portions.

    • We’re so trained in Indy that “the sidewalk is next to the street” that the separated portions of the Cultural Trail where the sidewalk is next to the buildings feels wrong. 🙂
      I am only half-joking. I think it took me a year of walking from parking meters on Ohio to the City County building to realize that the sidewalk was the furthest pavement away from the street on Alabama. The signs indicating the separation are about 10 feet up…way too high to be in a pedestrian’s line of sight. They should be mounted no more than “head high”.

    • I decided to start biking on the Alabama St. Cultural Trail on my daily commute after some jerk in a big black pickup got on my ass and started yelling at me to get on the bike lane. I decided to give it a try only to discover that pedestrians think the bike lane is their territory. What’s a poor cyclist to do?

  • hahaha, I love the country bullies cruising around Downtown. If only we had streets like Boston where large trucks and SUVs just couldn’t make it.

  • The place where this has been most challenging to me is on Mass Ave. People coming down the Cultural Trail sometimes continue on the sidewalk after crossing College and heading into downtown. All along the side of the block with 45 Degrees there are benches and trash cans which already makes the sidewalk narrow for the pedestrians that are trying to use it. I often find cyclists trying to cruise through at a fairly good clip in what is already too crowded a space.

    • That makes almost no sense to me, Jeff. The downtown portion of Mass Ave, especially when it’s busy, is one of the safest streets to bike on in Indy, particularly in the evening and during business hours. Speed for cars are fairly slow, and anyone who tries to go faster will probably be forced to slow down due to cars trying to park.

      • It makes perfect sense to me. I dont agree with it though. Perhaps there should be some bollards up there that would present an obstacle? Truly keeping the sidewalk for pedestrians? I agree with you on another count though Matt. Mass Ave IS slow through there. In fact, taking the trail down college and around that mess in the 700 block saves time.

        • I agree that it probably saves time, but saving 2-3 minutes is no reason to endanger pedestrians on narrow sidewalks. There’s also several side streets cyclists can probably go through if they don’t want to stay on the main avenue until the CT resumes.

          • I don’t think it saves much time at all. You can zoom right down the trail as it goes along College, and zip down past Chatham Tap. Of course, it PERCEIVED as a jog in the trail. If you look at how much time you spend dodging obstacles on the sidewalk, then jumping back through the bike rack to GET back on the trail, it isn’t really saving much.
            The proper way if you are going to go straight, is to exit the trail somewhere on the east end block and get on the street the right way and go through the light just like a motorist would.

  • As I sit and wait at the College/Mass/St. Clair traffic signal, EVERY commuting cyclist performs the move Jeffrey C describes: they shoot down the cultural trail, across College, and down the Mass Ave sidewalk.
    The alley-jog in the CT may make sense from a “wander Indiana” perspective but it makes no sense at all for a cyclist. The shortest distance downtown from 10th/Mass/Monon is…Mass Ave.
    To shift to the street pavement, inbound cyclists have to do a hazardous crossover from left (where the CT is) to right against oncoming traffic. The path of least resistance is across the intersection and up on the sidewalk. Fortunately no one is at Mesh, Chatham Tap, or Metro at 8am.

    • I’m guessing you know this, but it needs to be mentioned: The jog in the trail was to preserve as much parking for businesses along Mass Ave as possible. Maybe with enough demand an outcry, the trail can either have a safe crossing to continue down Mass Ave, or be extended down Mass Ave entirely.

  • Hello again from Minneapolis. 30 years ago as a bike rider in Indy and bike shop owner (Bike Central) in the old Ambassador Apt building, we had pretty much an open road, that is street, for the few bike riders at the time and I can’t remember anyone riding on a sidewalk. Have times changed? Well, yes I guess they have and here is an example with the ordinance that was cited. Nothing prevents bike riders from riding on a sidewalk and when people are seen riding on sidewalks then others follow suit. Indy is not unlike Ames Iowa where I visit now that my daughter lives there. Plenty of people ride on sidewalks there too. Sidewalk riding is even encouraged. On at least one main road there is an ordinance that prohibits bike riding where the speed limit is 35 mph. There is a simple solution to sidewalk riding. Re-write the ordinance and prohibit it explicitly. I hope to start an epic thread by saying that Indy has it good with the a grid system of secondary routes and flat terrain. When bike riders find parallel routes to heavy traffic streets then bike ridership should increase. Some of your writers/riders are already on board with finding peace in the hostile car environment. When I get back into town again I look forward to a bike ride in the new Indy,

    • Biking in the street and bike lanes is certainly a preferred and more efficient way for regular riders. But I think the option to ride on sidewalks is necessary for young riders and those getting on a bicycle for the first time since they were fifteen. It takes a bit of time to get your ability and confidence to a level where riding on the street is safe to all parties.
      It depends on the rider and situation and I think a blanket law prohibiting sidewalk riding would be counter productive in encouraging more bike riding throughout the city.

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