City opts to keep sidewalk bicycling ban, but will look for possible exceptions

Posted at 7:00 AM, Dec 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-30 13:40:08-05

CINCINNATI -- City Council's transportation committee pumped the brakes last week on a move to allow bicycles on all city sidewalks.

Council member Kevin Flynn introduced the motion earlier this fall in the spirit of expanding options for cyclists who would like to ride but do not feel comfortable riding with auto traffic on the street. 

"This is merely meant to to give people more alternatives," he said during a December committee meeting.

"This was not meant to bash cyclists."

A large part of Flynn's reasoning for the measure was that people already ride on the sidewalk, despite the fact that Cincinnati's municipal code prohibits any cyclist more than 15 years old from riding on the sidewalk, unless it's expressly marked as a shared-use path.

"(It's) to reflect what's already happening anyway," he told the committee, "where people who don't want to ride in the street don't have to ride in the street."

He also pointed to a lack of enforcement of the current code and the city's hilly terrain as creating hazards for cyclists on the road.

"Riding up Colerain Avenue or Hamilton Avenue at rush hour, I would not feel safe...riding in the street," he said. "I used to ride on the sidewalk there all the time to go to Mount Airy Forest."

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Flynn's initial motion -- followed by a drafted ordinance -- prompted a report from the city's Department of Transportation and Engineering. The DOTE provided that report at a Dec. 11 committee meeting, where transportation director Michael Moore told council members that his department did not recommend a blanket lift of the current bicycling restrictions.

Current city law allows the DOTE to designate certain sidewalks as shared-use when they meet specific width requirements, among other factors. But Moore hesitated at the idea of allowing bicycles on any city sidewalk.

"It is a little bit more of an informed, considered approach than a blanket, 'Use sidewalks wherever' approach," he told council members.

Moore's report concluded, "While it may appear that bicyclists would be safer on sidewalks, research shows that riding on the sidewalk significantly increases the risk of being hit by drivers turning at intersections and driveways," and said the DOTE would need to assess the issue on a case-by-case basis.

Frank Henson, who Council member P.G. Sittenfeld called "perhaps the most respected person in the cycling community," offered testimony for the committee as they weighed the measure. 

"I think the report that the Department of Transportation and Engineering put together is a good report," he said. "(It) establishes that riding on a sidewalk is dangerous.

"It creates conflict points that pedestrians, cars and bicycle riders on the sidewalk aren't expecting."

Henson chairs the nonprofit advocacy group Tri-State Trails and previously headed up Queen City Bike as the organization's president.

Flynn, whose concern was directed clearly toward bicyclists' safety, remained unconvinced by the data.

"Realistically, the cars coming out of a driveway are going to be moving slower," he said. "While the quantification of the number of accidents might be greater, I wonder if anything's been done relative to the severity of the accidents.

"A bicycle hitting a pedestrian is not the same severity as a car hitting a bicyclist."

Moore in his presentation pointed to the potential threat to pedestrian safety.

"The potential for conflict with pedestrians, particularly on some of our more narrow walks, is why we typically would not install a side path of less than 10 feet," he told the committee. "That sort of differential in speed between pedestrians and bikes really comes into play. That's where it gives us some pause."

Ultimately, both Moore and Henson agreed with Flynn's assessment that some areas should be studied for potential mixed use of sidewalks.

"We do have some corridors in the city where it would be appropriate to allow sidewalk riding as long as the sidewalk is prepared for that," Henson said.

"I think that that really gets at the essence of what I was trying to say," Flynn said moments before withdrawing his motion from committee consideration.

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation and mobility for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur) and on Facebook.