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road sage

It’s ironic that pedestrians, who are the most vulnerable travellers, get the smallest amount of space. Automobiles get grand swathes of pavement, bicycles can share that road (if they dare) and also get some of their own designated lanes, but pedestrians are sequestered to “sidewalks.” The name says it all; pedestrians only deserve a thin slice of the thoroughfare located on the “side” of the important space reserved for cars, trucks and motorcycles.

But even the sidewalk is up for grabs.

Automobiles sometimes claim it as their own. Case in point: the miscreant driving a silver Acura in Toronto who was filmed hopping the curb and driving along the sidewalk in order to bypass a streetcar that was blocked (surprise, surprise) by an illegally parked cube van. Onlookers watched in stunned disbelief as the driver cruised along the sidewalk and then darted back onto the street and carried on their merry way. On the video posted by BlogTO, a woman articulated the thoughts of a troubled nation saying, “That’s [messed] up.” She didn’t use the word messed.

Another onlooker offered a justification, “It’s not his fault,” a man can be heard saying. “He’s blocked.”

That pretty much sums up the problem. Are you a driver? Are you delayed? Are you blocked? Why not steer your vehicle onto the nearest sidewalk and put the pedal to the metal?

This case is not an isolated incident. Sidewalk trespassers come in all makes and sizes and do it for many reasons. Occasionally, they are annoyed at having to wait behind a school bus. In Brooklyn, a driver endangered children going to classes. A woman from Cleveland was spied shooting by a school bus on the first day of school. The bus driver was on hand the next time to film her terrible behaviour and she was caught. Motorists drive on sidewalks to avoid garbage trucks. In Pennsylvania, a sanitation worker was struck and put into critical condition by a driver who was cutting along the sidewalk. Some drivers, like this one in Miami, make it a habit. They used the sidewalk each morning to avoid rush-hour congestion and the police were forced to organize a “sting” to catch them.

So why do motorists drive on sidewalks? So they merely feel entitled or is there another explanation? Is it ever appropriate to drive on the sidewalk?

Legally, no. Practically, however, there are moments when a street is blocked and it’s impossible to reverse and there are no pedestrians in the vicinity. You can argue that these conditions allow for a driver to make a brief detour on the sidewalk. You can argue this, but you won’t find any legal back-up. Sidewalks fall under municipal jurisdiction and almost all municipalities forbid vehicles on sidewalks. For example, the Toronto Municipal Code states that, “no person shall drive a vehicle upon a sidewalk or footpath on a highway except for the purpose of directly crossing the sidewalk or footpath.”

Cars are not the only vehicles invading the sidewalk. Cyclists travel on sidewalks far more often (thankfully) than automobiles. This is understandable. Sidewalks were the original “bike lanes.” In the 1980s, no one would have given the sight of a cyclist pedalling on the sidewalk a second look. Where else were they supposed to go?

Officially, sidewalks should be bike-free. The Toronto Municipal Code states that “no person age 14 and older shall ride a bicycle on a sidewalk of any highway.” Most cyclists would argue that they are “driven” (sorry) to use sidewalks because automobiles make cycling on city streets and rural roads dangerous. They have a point. Still, social media has plenty of posts written by pedestrians who complain about near-misses with cyclists on sidewalks. Cycling magazines and websites, meanwhile, offer ponderous articles and blogs that examine the moral and legal ramifications of bicycles on sidewalks. One element all these pieces share is that they all reach the conclusion that, “Why, yes, it’s okay for bicycles to ride on sidewalks.”

No one likes being delayed. Everyone thinks their business is the most important business. We all get the urge to be selfish sometimes. But that’s no excuse. In a more coherent and comprehendible universe it would not be necessary to type the words “Don’t drive your automobile on the sidewalk.” Sadly, no such universe exists.

And so, because it apparently does need saying – If you are a bike, keep off the sidewalk whenever possible. If you must use it, then do pedestrians a favour and don’t ride any faster than at a walking pace. If you are a driver, keep your car off the sidewalk.