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The steep hills in Seattle can create challenges for people who want to commute on foot or via bicycle. Now, though, people have the option to rent and ride electronically assisted bicycles – on the sidewalks.

An ordinance allowing bicycles on the sidewalks has long been in place, but e-bikes may be particularly dangerous to pedestrians because they can travel up to 20 mph, and the law allows riders to go that fast amidst the foot traffic. However, not only do sidewalk riders pose a greater threat to others, but they also may be putting themselves at higher risk of a crash.

Risks of a vehicle collision

Although it may seem counterintuitive, studies reveal that cyclists are actually safer riding on roadways, shares Cornell University. The intersection collisions that often occur between bicycles and vehicles when the riders are on the street also occur when the riders are on or leave the sidewalk. For example, 42 percent of crashes where a vehicle turns left and cuts off the cyclist happen to sidewalk riders. In addition, 48 percent of crashes where the vehicle leaves an alley or driveway and hits a cyclist involve sidewalk riders.

Motorists already have visibility issues with bicycles on roadways. When the riders are on the sidewalk, visibility is even worse. Not only that, but a driver also may be watching for foot traffic and anticipating the speed at which pedestrians are moving. With a bicycle, judging the speed is more difficult, especially when e-bikes may be moving much faster than drivers expect.

Sidewalk risks

Other problems that may increase the dangers for cyclists on sidewalks include the quality of the sidewalk surfaces compared to the relative smoothness of the streets, and the numerous obstacles in the riders’ path. Distracted pedestrians looking at cellphones or wearing headphones also present dangers to cyclists, as well as themselves.