Cycling on footpaths gets the thumbs down

27 Jun 2017

Bicycle Network launched their campaign to allow adults to ride on the footpath in Victoria yesterday. Fortunately for walkers, the reaction was overwhelmingly negative.

While the vast majority of serious pedestrian crashes are with cars or trucks, there is a risk from collisions with cyclists – discussed more here.

But it is the impact on people’s perceptions when walking that is perhaps the greater concern. A survey of 1128 seniors found 39 per cent rated bicycle riders on shared paths as a barrier to their walking. And sharing space with cyclists is a big issue for people with a disability or vision impairment. In 2012 Vision Australia found 24 per cent of collisions and near collisions were with cyclists.

Footpaths are not built for cycling or designed as shared paths. Yet cyclists don’t necessarily slow down when they share a footpath with pedestrians. A NSW study found the average speed of cyclists on footpaths was 21 km/h, exactly the same speed as when riding on a 50km/h road. Suggestions that bike riders will politely slow down and give way to pedestrians on footpaths are not realistic.

The risk then is that by allowing bikes on footpaths we will exclude the most vulnerable members of our society – seniors, children and people with a disability.  By putting them off walking, we compromise both their health and mobility.

The crazy bit is that footpath cycling is not actually safer for cyclists. Bike riders often get hit by vehicles turning into driveways and side streets.

A comprehensive review of European and North American research concluded it was “particularly hazardous for cyclists, with estimates of 1.8 to 16 times the risk of cycling on-road.” Bicycle Network seems to be selling a false sense of security.

The most advanced cycling nations like Denmark and the Netherlands focus on building great bike paths and don’t allow cycling on footpaths.  As one American cycling organisation delicately put it “Do they do it in Amsterdam or Copenhagen? No – then stop right there. Your idea is bullshit.”

No wonder other cycling organisations are not pushing for footpath cycling.

The proposal got the thumbs down from anyone the media cared to ask yesterday, including the City of Melbourne, VicRoads and the Minister for Roads and Road Safety, Luke Donnellan, who rightly put the focus back on dedicated cycling facilities. "Safety is our number one priority and that's why we're investing more than ever before in new and upgraded cycling infrastructure across Victoria."

The public feedback was also overwhelmingly negative. One example came via ABC radio. "I'm old and not very nimble — it's [a] frightening silent menace."

Even Bicycle Network supporters were widely divided on the merits of footpath cycling. "Footpath riding" are you nuts? After numerous near misses at driveways with cars reversing out, my kids ride on the road. It's safer.”

We often hear cycling advocates saying cyclists are not a threat to walkers, it is only people’s perception. Well, it is actually perceptions that drive people’s behaviour, not statistics.  Ironically that seems to be what Bicycle Network is counting on – there is no evidence that cycling on footpaths is actually safer, only that bike riders might perceive that it is.

Check out the main media coverage, most of which quotes Victoria Walks:

For more evidence and references on the problems with cycling on footpaths, read our position statement.