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Gear Prudence: I face a moral quandary every day on my ride home. The most convenient connector between two main streets is a one-way street that goes a single block. There’s almost never any car traffic, but there are almost always pedestrians on the sidewalks, which are pretty narrow too. It’s outside of downtown, so riding on the sidewalk is totally legal. But should I? Wouldn’t it be more convenient and actually safer both for me and the people on the sidewalk if I just broke the law and rode the wrong way for one measly block? — Should One Pedal Headlong Intentionally Encroaching Sidewalk Causing Havoc Or Irk Cars Emboldened?
Dear SOPHIESCHOICE: Would you steal a loaf of bread to feed your starving family? What if you had to ride your bike the wrong way down a one-way street to get to the bakery? What if a psychotic martinet French police officer then followed you for years and there’s also a barricade situation and Susan Boyle piping in the background and an extraneous series of somewhat outdated musical theater references? You’re asking the most vexing of questions—is it ever OK to break a traffic law in the name of others’ convenience?
Don’t ask GP. Ask someone who drives a car.
Would a car driver ever exceed the posted speed limit to keep highway traffic flowing? Would a car driver ever pull into an empty crosswalk so the driver behind could make a right turn on red? Would a car driver ever roll through a stop sign without coming to a complete stop, looking left, right, and left again and then proceeding so as not to the delay the line of drivers following? GP would never opine but will always say in writing that bicyclists should always follow all traffic laws all the time no matter what. If you really want to know if a person can justify violating the law to better accommodate others, ask a driver. Just don’t mention you’d be doing it on a bicycle. You might get a different answer then.
You can avoid this problem by avoiding this one-way street entirely, but if that takes you far out of your way, it’d be understandable if you didn’t want to. Sometimes, though, it’s faster to ride on the road, even a few blocks out of the way, rather than poking along slowly on a crowded sidewalk. In addition to potentially being faster, it would also alleviate your concern about bumping into any pedestrians. That said, riding on the sidewalk outside of downtown, so long as you’re not reckless, is your legal right. Provided you’re sufficiently deferent, it would definitely be safer than riding the wrong way down a one-way street. The consequences of one inattentive driver, who would be under no obligation to expect you, could be pretty dire.—GP
Gear Prudence is Brian McEntee who writes @sharrowsdc. Got a question about bicycling? Email firstname.lastname@example.org