A sidepath is a path marked for bicycle use that is adjacent to a roadway. In some U.S. states and Canadian provinces, and in most European countries other than the UK, bicyclists may not legally use an adjacent roadway when a sidepath has been provided.

Amsterdam sidepath.

This urban sidepath adjacent to a normal city street is essentially a specially-marked portion of the sidewalk. Note the pedestrian with stroller crossing the path in the background and the on-street parking in the extreme right, where passengers entering and exiting parked cars block much of the path (location: Amsterdam).

At intersections, sidepaths have the same hazards of riding on the sidewalk. If only one path is provided for two-way bicycle traffic, as in Montreal and Helsinki, half the users are especially at risk since they are riding against the flow of traffic. The only feasible way to mitigate the intersection conflicts caused by sidepaths is to introduce special signal phases for cyclists. However, this requires cyclists to wait longer, since motorists are inevitably favored in the allocation of time. Cyclists are much less likely to obey traffic signals when they are forced to wait.

Mandatory Sidepath Laws
In the 1970s some North American cities designated sidewalks as bikeways, but most such signs have disappeared, thanks to the efforts of well-informed cyclists. Cyclists have also been successful in repealing mandatory sidepath laws in most U.S. states. However, 18 states still have such laws. In nine of these 18 states, sidepath use is required only if there is a local ordinance or sign to that effect.

Studies of Sidepaths
Many studies have demonstrated that cyclists using sidepaths or sidewalks are several times more at risk than cyclists using roadways. For more information, see John Franklin’s summary of cycle path safety research (including studies of separate paths, sidepaths, and bike lanes).

1 Comment

  1. Signal phasing may not mitigate the conflicts at sidepath intersections, as the signal phase given to bicyclists on the path may be so short (to avoid excessive delay for road users) as to create severe delay for path users (or more likely, path users will ignore the signal, as observed in Montreal). Special devices such as rapid-flash beacons triggered by passive detection could be effective in changing conflict behavior, but are as yet untested, are expensive, and would need to be installed at every crossing street and driveway.

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