The Takoma Park City Council discussed the possibility of amending the city code to allow wheelchairs and bicycles on sidewalks, and will discuss it again after not coming to a consensus.
The issue at hand fell to bicycles on sidewalks, as there were arguments for both options, also backed by different studies. Wheelchairs on sidewalks are currently not accommodated by the city code, but it was barely mentioned at the meeting.
Currently, the Takoma Park City Code specifically bans bicycles on sidewalks, but it has never been enforced.
Takoma Park also presents a troubling layout for bicyclists, as many sidewalks are narrow and traffic on roadways can be heavy.
“I’d rather have someone be bruised and banged up on a sidewalk than have them killed or seriously maimed by an automobile,” said Council member Fred Schultz.
There was a debate about possibly being selective where bikes could be ridden on sidewalks, but that too brought its own issues. Mayor Kate Stewart described that she has experienced both sides, specifically on Ethan Allen Ave., where she can understand wanting to ride a bike on the sidewalk from the perspective of a bicyclist, but also not want bikes there from the viewpoint of a pedestrian.
Earlier in the meeting, Stewart mentioned studies she found about research on bikes on sidewalks, and that she could not find a bicycle organization that advocated for bicycles on sidewalks.
Stewart noted that allowing them on sidewalks, after studies have shown that it can be dangerous, can be contradicting.
“My question is…if we set a policy that says you can ride on sidewalks, but we know from the research that it is more dangerous for bicyclists to be on sidewalks, how do we do that? That’s what I’m struggling with,” said Stewart.
Joe Edgell, the chair of the Safe Roadways Committee that proposed bicycles on sidewalks, said it’s all about the perception of safety.
“It might be safer to be in the middle of the lane than in a sidewalk, maybe that’s true in a study. The studies I saw didn’t seem to necessarily support that. But if people don’t perceive something to be safe, they won’t do it. So if you allow them an option they perceive to be safe, they’re more likely to do it,” said Edgell.