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Ask Mr. Answer Person: What can be done to get the city to act about bicycles ridden on sidewalks?

Posted: Tue, Jun 21, 2011 1:39 PM

Ellen e-mails:
"Dear Mr. Answer Person:

I know this topic has been brought up many times before.  I remain concerned as to why strategies have not been discussed and implemented in order to deal with the increasing numbers of bicycles on the Water Street sidewalks. 

Just today,  two teenage boys sped by on their bikes side-by-side directly in front of me, zipped across the intersection of Water and Mill Streets, and proceeded to travel within inches of the "No Bicycles on Sidewalk" sign posted on the stoplight.  Putting aside my vision of a horrific collision of two cyclists versus one human, this pedestrian said "hey, can't you read the sign?"  The teens glanced back, continued on down the sidewalk leaving me to watch who the next unknowing, startled "victim" would be . 

Since summer began, I have noticed bikers on the Water Street sidewalks EVERY time I venture downtown (about 4 times/week).  I am considering "staking out" a spot on one of the benches, and snap photos of bicyclists as they travel directly adjacent to the "No Bicycles on Sidewalks" sign.  Perhaps some statistics are needed in order to warrant action. 

What needs to occur for the city to take action?  Possible solutions might include:  better signage;  painted bicycle signs with a slash through them on the crosswalks;  merchants placing "obstacles" on the sidewalks (more benches, trees, etc.), thereby, creating more of a "pedestrian mall."  Note that I did not mention law enforcement, as it has been stated in the past that they do not have the resources to monitor this problem.  Whether or not any of these solutions are feasible, remains to be seen.  Certainly someone has solutions.  It's not a matter of IF a serious collision happens (I will not say "accident," because bicyclists are NOT allowed on the sidewalks), it is a matter of WHEN a collision happens."

Mr. Answer Person replies: Your e-mail arrives at a good time.  It's my understanding this issue will be raised at Monday night's Decorah City Council meeting, although it is not on the agenda.

You have raised several points, so let me try to answer them in order.  It might be possible when you asked the teenagers "hey, can't you read the sign?" that the answer was "no."  It's possible the bike riders are looking at the sidewalk instead of the signs next to the street.  That would mean the other solutions you mentioned--painted bicycle signs with a slash through them on the crosswalks and "obstacles" on the sidewalks (more benches, trees, etc.)--might be more effective.

You also stated, "I did not mention law enforcement, as it has been stated in the past that they do not have the resources to monitor this problem."  Mr. Answer Person has heard this statement in the past--but has been disappointed by it.  Granted, bike riding on downtown sidewalks isn't as serious as other crimes, but wouldn't the word spread among bike riders after one or two tickets were issued?  Is it a question of the police can't do enforcement or don't want to do enforcement?  They have said they don't have the staffing to constantly monitor this--but not even for one hour once a week for a couple of weeks?

Nonetheless, this is not entirely a police problem.  You're right to say this is a serious issue and solutions are needed.  Rumble strips on the sidewalks?  Vigilante justice?  Certainly SOMEONE has better ideas than Mr. Answer Person does!

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