Sidewalks are for Kids!!

Here’s a piece about the wonderfulness of sidewalks — a great place for kids to play, meet, walk, chalk, ride. BUT! In the sweet town this lady is writing from — Bangor, Maine — she has gotten complaints from drivers: Kids shouldn’t be on sidewalks! They’re too close to the road!

Excuse me? Where SHOULD kids be? Inside playing Halo 3? — Lenore

38 Responses

  1. I love sidewalks, not just as places to walk but historical documents. I just showed my kids the route I used to walk to kindergarten – unescorted except for my friends – and came across the bit of side walk where my friend Johnny and I put our hand prints and the date 5/6/1969! How cool is that? My sons are on the look out for places they can put theirs.

  2. *sigh* and in a country where we can’t get the ADULT JOGGERS off the damn roads. (The best ones are the ones who jog in the road right next to the 6 foot wide absolutely smooth jogging path.)

    Now, admittedly, bike-riders in some states are required to behave like any other vehicle, and ride on the street. But that’s another story.

  3. At least in my state, one isn’t supposed to bike on sidewalks; they are for pedestrians. That said, we generally manage to apply common sense and (rules aside) allow (a) small children using any non-motorized mode of transport (b) adult pedestrians pushing strollers or walking with small children (c) adult pedestrians (d) pedestrians walking dogs (e) cyclists to use the sidewalks when necessary, as appropriate and in the order of priority listed (e.g. cyclists get last priority unless they’re children, and don’t use sidewalks unless something about the section of road they’re on makes riding on the road unsafe).

    We’re also fortunate not to have to deal with snow, so so-called “traffic calming” devices are feasible (though I prefer it when we manage to behave sensibly without them).

    That said … I can see pedestrians (including runners) complaining about kids biking on the sidewalk. But drivers?!?!? That’s nuts!

  4. LOL. They’d have a heart attack in my neighborhood, the kids ride bikes and trikes along the edges of the (very unbusy) roads. There is a four year old who knows to lift his trike to the sidewalk if a car comes.

  5. I wonder how long before one of those drivers tries to report those parents to CPS for daring to let kids play on the sidewalk. >_>

  6. The best way to make drivers drive more slowly is to make them share the road with pedestrians and bicyclists. Sidewalks are excellent, in that they make it easy to navigate a neighborhood, but to really make drivers treat neighborhood streets as places for kids and parents, you need to take their entitlement away. Streets (and their road networks) have been designed for the past 100 years almost exclusively to serve the automobile, increasingly making public spaces hostile and dangerous to all other activity. Automobiles are, by nature, dangerous to everyone except the passengers due to their size, speed, weight, and drivers’ disconnect from the controls.

    Sharing low-traffic streets and designing them for foot traffic means that drivers simply can’t speed and they have to pay attention. Because the perception of danger increases more significantly than the actual risk, all people using a street pay attention to what’s happening around themselves. Most research in this area comes from the work of the late Hans Monderman, whose work in Germany has the same counterintuitive approach to road safety as you seem to have toward child safety, namely: increase the responsibility.

  7. Laura,

    I love your post, partly because our three-year-old just got a taste of what it’s like to ride his tricycle on the road during this past weekend’s Portland Sunday Parkways event.

    Now, he wants to ride on the road all the time. Alas, that’s not a particularly great idea on most streets in our neighborhood, but I did find a couple of streets where he could ride in the road next to the curb, with me on my bike behind him.

    The joy he gets out of it is fantastic.

    As for the drivers in Bangor, isn’t it odd to see people break the law and justify by blaming people who are not breaking the law?

  8. One of my real hot buttons is cars blocking the sidewalk. I try to bite my tongue when it’s our cul de sac and it’s just as easy to walk into the deserted street, but I have the local police non-emergency number on my cell phone, and I’m pretty quick to point out anyone illegally parked who is blocking kids, strollers and wheelchairs.

    Open house signs are bad too. I usually move the sign, and then find and tell the Realtor ™.

  9. Yeah.. I’m tired of motorists thinking everything but their cars are the problem…

    Worried about hitting a kid? Don’t remove the kid from the equation… remove the car!

  10. @ tsarchitect you write, “Sharing low-traffic streets and designing them for foot traffic means that drivers simply can’t speed and they have to pay attention.” Um, no, no it doesn’t. I live on such streets (we have to walk up to the “big” road to get to sidewalks). Please rest assured that plenty of drivers speed on our street, and that they do not pay attention. Is it safe? No. Does it directly endanger their physical well-being? Of course not; the creatures they endanger are me, my toddler son, and dogs (and everyone else walking on the road).

    Fortunately we don’t have lots of car traffic on our street and we do have a fair number of pedestrians, but it’s certainly not safe to assume that the drivers in the car traffic we do have will (a) keep to a safe speed or (b) see people walking.

  11. I am amused that someone taking a short cut to save time took the time to stop to complain about children playing on the sidewalk. Wouldn’t it have been easier to stick to the main roads?

  12. @Alexicgrapher.

    I understand the shock you probably feel from what I wrote, but you misunderstand the idea of shared space. “Shared space” does not mean just getting in the street, it is a design strategy that dedicates all road space to all modes of transportation, eliminates most guides, and demands communication and awareness.There are only 5-6 locations in the United States where the design has been implemented, but in the Netherlands, the UK, and Germany, it has consistently been a success.

    Sharing the street is not the only part. As you mentioned, plenty of suburban street are effectively shared. But the road is designed for speedy, smooth auto traffic. It needs to be redesigned to make it less suitable for automobile traffic. This includes eliminating lane dividers, narrowing the automobile street, replacing the curb with a center-canting road, using a textured road surface, and installing other traffic calming measures. Only once the street is designed for human use is it actually wise to hop on into it.

    In addition to the hard infrastructure, “soft” approaches such as harder licensing reqs, incredibly severe penalties, and automatic automobile liability further discourage reckless driving. Like you said, the driver doesn’t actively care about the residents of the neighborhood. You need to find a way to make them care. Shared streets work pretty well.

    Some links:

  13. My brother had this one right…He reckoned there should be a large spike on the steering wheel of any car as encouragement to drive safely. That was after a run in with a car door opening in front of his bike. Unfortunately for them he was wearing steel toed work boots – they make a pretty good dent 🙂

    We get the odd hoon racing up the street and the odd accident too – comes of living on the worlds steepest street. The kids still play outside but have learned really well about traffic. They tend to ride to the local parks to play.

    viv in nz

  14. This is not about sidewalks (or pavements as I know them) but I wonder whether you have been following the latest thing in the UK. The well-known children’s author Philip Pullman has refused to do readings in schools on the grounds that he has to be vetted before he goes in. You’ll find more here:

    I think that you will be interested.

  15. If they’re driving so fast they feel that kids on the SIDEWALK are unsafe, they need to have their license revoked. Because that’s just scary.

  16. I am getting really disappointed with some of the comments I am reading here. I thought the whole point of all the was to stop worrying about your kids and just let them be kids. Then I read comments like ‘We believe in safe kids. We believe in helmets etc etc etc”. I can’t ever remember wearing a helmet when I rode my bike as a kid, and I remember all 4 of my siblings and myself in the back of the wagon on a matress with the dog when we went on vacation – seat belts didn’t exist.
    Then there are the ‘the best way to get others to be aware of our kids and help them be safe’ comments. It seems to me that most people here are still worrying far more than is necessary – their only argument is the DEGREE of worry and what they worry about.
    My kids are grown now, and they used to sometimes ask me for advice about raising their kids. And the only advice I ever gave them was – stop worrying. No matter what you do, someone somewhere will think you are doing it wrong and advise you to do it differently. And no matter what you do it won’t be perfect. Kids absorb our concerns and if we are paranoid, they will be too. The best gift we can ever give them is not to transfer our worries to them.

  17. […] Sidewalks are for Kids!!: lskenazy […]

  18. Mike, I don’t agree with you.

    The question with any safety precaution is this: Does the cost outweigh the risks of not doing this?

    I don’t see the costs of seatbelts or helmets to be very high, so the benefits quite outweigh them.

    There’s nothing wrong with worrying a little. You just have to worry only about things that are likely to happen AND that you have some means of preventing.

  19. That is so funny! Funny, because when I was about 8 or 9, my sister and I were riding our bikes on the sidewalk, the VERY WIDE sidewalk, I should add. An old man was walking on the same sidewalk, toward us, just walking. Then he shouted at us NO YOU DO NOT RIDE BIKES ON THIS SIDEWALK YOU RIDE ON THE ROAD BEHIND THE WHITE LINE”. Wow, to say the least. This, after the brainwashing from our parents to STAY ON THE SIDEWALK?

    What to do, what to do?

    This country will go to hell in a hand-basket if kids aren’t even allowed on the sidewalks, if you ask me!

  20. Jenne,

    In all America, bicycles are supposed to behave like vehicles. Bicycles ARE vehicles.

    It always annoys me when I see bicyclists thinking they’re pedestrians and bike on the sidewalk (except in special cases where there’s a shared pedestrian/bike lane designed), or bike against traffic. That is, in most cases, against the law. A bike on the sidewalk riding with traffic is more likely to get hit than one on the road, and one biking against traffic accounts for near 40% of all bike/car collisions.

    I almost hit one biking against traffic on a busy street the other day. If I hit him, he would have to pay for his own medical bills and the damages he did to my car, and I would have zero sympathy for him.

    In many states, it’s down right illegal to ride on pedestrian walkways and against traffic.

  21. I’m all for helmets. If it were up to me, EVERYONE on a bike should be in a helmet, not just children under 18. It’s a tiny little inconvenience for a lot of protection. Much like seat belt, it saves lives.

    If traffic is shooting down your street that fast, it seems traffic calming devices ARE in order. Yes, they’re annoying. However, they also work like magic when there are idiots treating residential streets like the highway. A couple of annoying roundabouts should do, and once you get use to it it will actually move traffic through intersections quicker and safer.

  22. In my state, bicycles by law are allowed on bike paths, sidewalks, or roads – wherever it is safest for them to do so. My kids and I ride on the road as much as possible (and of course, WITH the flow of traffic & behaving “like a car” as much as possible – this is called Vehicular Cycling) because A. that’s the safest place, B. it’s most considerate to cars and pedestrians to do so.

    As for kids and where they “belong” – my kids belong in the yard, on the sidewalk, on the road – and on a 30-mile bike ride, along with the grownups!

  23. If the drivers in my town would kindly slow the heck down and hang up their blasted cell phones, I would gladly let my kids ride on the street. As it is, I have had so many near misses myself (and I am a LOUD conspicuous roadie scum) that I have them ride on the sidewalk most times.

    Then I had the wonderful experience about a week ago of being yelled and honked at by a driver when I was out with my sons. We were on the sidewalk and came to a construction site. The sidewalk was blocked, so we had to go around in the street. My 7 year old is a little wobbly and nervous and was going slow. One car saw this and kindly slowed down. The car behind him laid on her horn and screamed “GET OFF THE ROAD!” at us on the way by. God forbid you should have a 10 second delay in your travels so that a little kid can get around an obstruction. So although I agree, bikes are vehicles, my kids will be on the sidewalk until they are tall enough to be seen and steady enough not to fall around the psychotics who drive around here.

  24. We don’t have sidewalks in our neighborhood, and we have some very fast drivers on our residential street. We also have families with children on both sides of the street. The kids go back and forth to each others’ houses to play (we’ve taught them safe crossing methods and they look out for each other). The kids have also, inadvertently, while playing with the stomp rocket, shot a foam tipped hollow plastic tube (the said rocket) directly in front of a chronically speeding car. Strangely, I haven’t see it speeding down our street since. Might be a good speed deterrent for other cars in the neighborhood. LOL

  25. What is wrong with these people. When I was a kid we didn’t play on the sidewalk we played baseball in the street. Cars know kids played in the streets and that they needed to slow down.

    i am a sidewalk person. I live in Brooklyn and I spend lots of time sitting outside on my stoop. My grandchildren love to play outside in front of the house. When I go to the store with my 5 year old grandson he knows more of my neighbors then I do. I feel safer knowing that Gabriel is known by everyone on the surrounding streets. Neighbor’s will look after him as he grows up. If something happens he will have people he can approach for help. And if he starts to get into trouble people will correct him.

    Playing outside in the front of the house where you can meet and great the people you live in community with is why we gather in towns and cities. If you want to live alone without any neighbors there is plenty of places in the country to do that. Neighborliness is a quality of life issue that makes city living so appealing.

  26. I grew up on a busy suburban street with no sidewalks. There was always a lot of traffic, so I learned how to stay safe along the edge of the road until I got to the side streets where I could ride. When I married we bought our first house (still live there) in the country. We thought that living along a back country road would be safer than along a busy street. Boy were we WRONG. While there aren’t as many cars on the road, the cars that do go by FLY. It’s really a shame, because our kids feel so isolated. They can’t walk to their friend’s houses. They are just getting to the point, (and in a big part Thanks to this webiste), Where I am considering letting them learn to ride their bikes along the road rather than just around the yard.

    My recommendation to the author, is if it is a residential street with sidewalks, invite the local police to set up a speed trap, and feel free to use her driveway. Once the police start painting the white lines on the road , that should hopefully slow people down.

  27. oh, this one gets me. and it either gets me because it just does, or it gets me mostly because it’s my mother who brought it up.

    nearly every day, one of us will walk with our just-last-week-turned-15-month-old twins to the park. the park that is less than 150 yards from our front door. screw the strollers. we let them toddle. on the sidewalk.

    my mom’s response: “watch out because a car might run them over”.


  28. I’m happy to live in a city with wide sidewalks that don’t butt right up against the road. We have grass on either side and it leaves a lot of room for the kids to play. Along with all the parked cars along the curb…most drivers wouldn’t even notice the kids (which causes a problem when kids try to cross because they dart out from between cars).

    When I was a kid we played in the street despite the sidewalks but there was almost no traffic. Even when we moved to this house (that was 20 years ago) there wasn’t much traffic. But the patterns changed when they opened the L station a few blocks away. Now when rush hour hits we have cars speeding down out street trying to avoid the bumper to bumper on the cross street. I worry for my own safety and don’t even let my kids cross the street.

    As a kid the street didn’t have much traffic but we had speeders and no stop sign at the end of the block. It was hilarious when they put one in and I watched tons of cars screeching to a halt at the end of the street (if they stopped at all).

    As for biking on the road. My kids will stay on the sidewalk for a long while in this neighborhood. There are still many streets that I refuse to ride my bike on and will get up on the sidewalk. One of them is that busy cross street and it has a bike lane. I refuse to ride on it because the bike lane is 2′ wide and the cars speed through there (the limit is 35 but they regularly do 45 and don’t pay attention or slow down for bikes in the lane…it’s a shared lane the butts up to the parked cars; there is little room for error).

    When we lived in Pennsylvania the street we lived on was part of the local highway through the area so it was busy and heavy with truck traffic. The sidewalk was narrow and right up to the street. I refused to let my kids play on the sidewalk because the trucks were always speeding and slamming on their breaks. It was a rough time living there because I didn’t have any place safe to let my small children just play (even our backyard was unsafe since we shared a driveway and gravel parking lot with the bar next door).

  29. Delphine,

    Can you source the research for the data you cite on cycling accidents? Thanks.


  30. In my state, bikes are prohibited from being on the sidewalks in “business districts”, and then it’s up to individual towns to decide if they want to also ban them from neighborhood sidewalks. Personally, I do NOT believe that bikes belong in the road…. I think it’s dangerous, and I was brought up being told “stay on the sidewalk”. But because it’s the law, I do ride in the street now. I will not, however, allow my daughter to ride on the busy streets. There are a couple of quiet neighborhoods where she does ride in the street, but if we’re going to the center of town, I just think it’s really stupid to have someone who is not tall enough to be seen from a car riding on the road alongside those cars. Therefore, I have explained to her that it’s technically wrong to break the law, but in this one instance safety is more important that avoiding a fine, and if she gets in trouble for being on the sidewalk I’ll take care of it. I think maybe we need to re-evaluate the laws… perhaps bike riders under 16 yrs old should be on the sidewalk, and over 16 in the street.

  31. I am a cyclist and father in Toronto…the kind with a fast road bike and a whistle in his mouth, a la a bike courier. I rode on suburban streets from about age 8; the amount of traffic in my old neighborhood in a day equaled what passes in front of my current house every 15 minutes.
    I have recently started teaching my 10 year old son the finer points of street riding- being in the proper gear when approaching a stop sign or accelerating, signaling his turns, being aware of traffic, and being able to judge his level of fatigue during a long ride and how this affects his ability to move in traffic. This is not a trivial task, especially in this city. I do not expect him to be able to ride by himself, except on side streets, until he is twelve, at the earliest.
    Getting off the sidewalk in a dense urban environment requires commitment from a parent and a realization that it is much like teaching someone how to drive a car (as would seem to be obvious). People who say that their children (or themselves!) have to ride on the sidewalk rather than the street probably haven’t invested the time to train their children (and I do mean TRAIN. Continuous repetition and feedback, not just telling them the rules of the road once and showing them where the brakes are) or considered how their actions affect other road and sidewalk users (cyclists riding on the sidewalk, especially at speed, face dangers you don’t see on the street itself- cars backing out of blind driveways and alleys, for instance). It is also quite likely that unless they are avid cyclists themselves, they don’t have the knowledge and skills that they are trying to to teach their children. The fault is not with the drivers, laws, or road design per se (though the drivers and road design sure could use improvement from this cyclist’s point of view). The problem is that children are not being taught properly, and their level of experience and maturity not taken into consideration regarding where they can ride. I think my son may be able to ride on the street at 12 or 13 because we are putting in the hours now, with my encouragement and coaching, and the benefit of my more than 30 years of city riding experience.
    My point? Riding a bike is a complex skill that has to be taught and is not to be treated lightly. It is not “playing on the sidewalk” (which I am in favour of, by the way) if you’re going someplace. As Ms. Smiley says, ” until they are grown, I can’t count on them to use their head 100 percent of the time.” We owe it to our children to be sure they are prepared for the tasks they attempt.

  32. Lloyd: Bangor is not Toronto. And most people don’t live in dense urban environments, which is why kids have a long history of riding bikes in a fairly safe manner without intensive training.

  33. Lloyd: Bangor is not Toronto. And most people don’t live in dense urban environments, which is why kids have a long history of riding bikes in a fairly safe manner without intensive training.

    I don’t know. The US is an urbanized nation, with the majority of the population living in cities or suburbs. (And I always think of suburbs as being a wasteland of cars, though I *live* in a city, so what do I know?)

    Of course, my curmudgeonly response to all of this is to take the CARS off the street and improve our public transportation and teach everybody how to bike and whatnot. I just try to keep it to myself when not among surefire likeminded groups, for fear of being seen as weird as I actually am.

  34. To: Jenne,

    First, I will apologize for running on the roads. Second, here in AZ, our trails are called “multi-use paths” and can also be used by bicyclists. It’s perfectly fine by me, until I got run over by someone on a bike who yelled at me for using the “multi-use path”. Sigh. Sometimes a runner just can’t win.

    Second, we don’t have any sidewalks.

    Take care and watch out for runners! 😉

  35. Sarah seems to challenge my hypothesis that people would drive slower if the streets were lined with 6-9 year olds.
    I play with my son on the sidewalk and on our driveway and glare at the drivers who speed on our small street. They really have no reason to speed – they’re practically home! People are so comfortable around cars, they don’t realize the dangers.
    I have seen neighbours stand close by while their toddlers play with the car grills and tires or walk straight out onto the road. As if cars aren’t the single biggest danger to a young person. They should be taught to fear cars more than strangers.

  36. Uly: I don’t suburban style developments to be the same as a very urban environment, such as much of Toronto. Yes, the suburbs are car focused, however, because fire departments wanted wide roads everywhere, most suburban developments have far more road than is necessary, and biking is quite safe. Certainly, where I grew up, in Phoenix, almost all kids rode bikes all day long, with most of the injuries occurring when we tried to emulate Evel Knievel.

  37. Not just sidewalks – and not just kids. The drivers need our front yards too. Last week in a KC suburb a driver decided she needed to drive along the front yards of a suburban residential street, hitting and killing a 70+ year old lady.

    Simply put, it’s not about the kids – once the people are in their cars, only they exist.

  38. @Marvin Merto re: cyclist education-Let me direct you to this exerpt from
    2) Bicycle Driver Education

    ……the majority of bike vs motor vehicle crashes are a result of bad choices by cyclists (running stop signs/lights, riding against traffic, on sidewalk, in the dark without lights, hugging the edge of the road, etc.). The crash data indicate that regardless of other safety issues in the traffic environment, uneducated cyclists are too often the cause of their own problems.

    Law enforcement for dangerous practices like wrong-way riding, riding without lights at night and violating right-of-way should be part of the education process. Poor cyclist behavior feeds the belief that cyclists don’t belong on the roads and fuels animosity toward cyclists. Crash reports feed the incorrect belief that cycling is dangerous and cyclists are vulnerable victims. Fear feeds the behaviors that increase crash risks.
    The cycle can only be broken by education. Education will only be widely accepted if:

    1. bicycles are treated as serious vehicles;
    2. the forces wishing to promote cycling do so by promoting education (like the motorcycle industry does).

    There are also books and pamphlets available (which I had not consulted when I started teaching my son) which advocate similar approaches to the one I have taken. I see fourteen year olds in my neighborhood on the sidewalk, and I encounter incompetent cyclists of all ages everywhere I go, whether I’m in a car or on my bike- almost as many as incompetent motorists. Bicycle education has to begin in childhood, and if you let them learn the rules of the road by themselves, inaccuracies will slip in. The cyclists mentioned in the exerpt above did not suddenly mis-learn the safety rules after they turned 18. They were probably never taught properly, and eventually paid a horrible cost. The issue isn’t whether they die as children. The issue is whether they die as cyclists. If they don’t know what they’re doing, those chances are drastically increased

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