Sidewalk Salmoning: It's The Law

BluesCatBluesCat is a resident of Phoenix, Arizona, who originally returned to bicycling in 2002 in order to help his son get the Boy Scout Cycling merit badge. His bikes sat idle until the summer of 2008 when gas prices spiked at over $4.00 per gallon. Since then, he has become active cycling, day-touring, commuting by bike, blogging ( and giving grief to the forum editors in the on-line cycling community.

Whenever the conversation turns to responsible bike riding, and a list is presented of the dos and don’ts of it, one don’t is almost certain to appear on it: Don’t ride on the sidewalk!

The sidewalk is for pedestrians, and the consequences for any cyclist venturing onto this Bastion of Shoe Leather are dire: you’ll get labeled an inconsiderate, dangerous criminal giving a bad name to bicyclists everywhere.

Worse, you’ll give the Congress of the United States of America just cause to eliminate any funding for bike infrastructure in the next extension of transportation funding because you’ve shown that bike riders won’t use it anyway. And, worse yet, you will have single-handedly proven that all bicyclists are sleazy malcontents who don’t know their place.

Another admonition given on all of these Rules for Good Bicycling Citizens is the one about riding against traffic. Salmoning, as the practice is called, will earn you the same dark penalties you’ll get if you cruise the concrete meant for citizens afoot. The only thing worse than committing either of these two cycling transgressions is if you have the utter audacity to perform both of them … together.

Salmoning Bike Idiot Google Results
Retrieved 5/22/12

I have a confession to make: I salmon the sidewalk every day on my bike commute. And I do it because I am instructed to do it by The Authorities.

Let me explain some things about my home town of Phoenix, Arizona. It is a young city, which only started growing into the sixth largest metropolitan area in America after World War II. The automobile was a primary facilitator of that growth, because it helped people move quickly and safely across the huge distances and daunting desert environment of the American West.

To speed things up further, the major roads in Phoenix are laid out in one-mile-to-a-side squares on the flat terrain in an almost perfect graph-paper grid. As the population grew, more lanes were added to those roads until today almost the entire right-of-way is used for fast moving motorized traffic. When it came time to build freeways to move even more traffic even faster through the city, the land needed to be acquired by purchasing large strips of developed property and demolishing all of the homes and businesses on it.

Unlike some other big U.S. cities, Phoenix doesn’t use a lot of Federal money for freeways, but instead puts in place voter approved sales taxes to fund them. The design engineers, however, usually follow Federal guidelines, and put in infrastructure which recognizes “the increasingly important role of bicycling and walking in creating a balanced, intermodal transportation system.” This can result in the Feds paying up to 95 percent of the cost of some projects which connect local highways into the Interstates dissecting the city; with the State share being cut to just five percent.

Another thing to note about the Federal rules is that bicycling and walking always seem to be lumped together. Apparently, in the minds of the “transportation experts,” what is good infrastructure for one is good infrastructure for the other. So you wind up with what happens on my bike commute through Central Phoenix.

For about half of my eight-mile ride in the morning, my route parallels Arizona State Route 51, also known as the Piestewa Freeway. This is a limited-access north-south highway which connects Interstate 10 (which goes east and west through downtown) with State Route 101 to the north. At one point, I’m riding up a road with a freeway noise abatement wall  on my left and a quiet neighborhood on my right. As I proceed north, that wall starts moving towards me because the off-ramps are starting to funnel cars towards an east-west overpass just ahead. Eventually, the road I’m traveling is reduced to not much more than a single lane with an extra wide sidewalk running parallel to it on the east side, on my right.

Bike Route: Use SidewalkShortly after the sidewalk starts, I come upon a sign which says:


That’s right, you must ride the sidewalk from now on because all other pavement and concrete at the upcoming intersection is for motor vehicles only; the space available doesn’t allow for both bike and pedestrian infrastructure, we must share what is there. If I pass that sign and look at the back of it, I see the identical information on an identical sign.

There is no sidewalk over on the other side of the road, the sidewalk I must use is the same one I am riding, which means on my way home from work I must ride against traffic.

Which means I am instructed to salmon the sidewalk.

As I follow the sidewalk north I go through a break in the wall, a chicane, which leads to the traffic signals at the intersection on the overpass. I roll north to the intersection. To my left are four lanes on which bicycles are not allowed: They are the end of the freeway off-ramp.

BluesCat's Chichane
Word of the day: Chichane

If I look back when I reach the intersection, I see a pair of big, rectangular signs which say “WRONG WAY.” It is the wrong way for motorists, but the only way for bicyclists to go south into the neighborhood is to salmon the sidewalk south, directly under one of those signs.

Do Not Enter: Except BicyclesTo follow the bike route north, I must cross the intersection and immediately turn left to cross the four-lane entrance to a shopping mall. I continue on the sidewalk around the western perimeter of the mall parking lot until I reach a major street called Camelback Road which runs along the north side of the mall. At that point, I turn right and head back east on the sidewalk until I cross another four-lane shopping mall entrance.

Here again, the road which goes north from here does not allow bicycles to ride the pavement, because the lanes to the west, or left, of the center-line are the off-ramp for traffic coming south, exiting State Route 51, while the lanes on the right are the on-ramp for vehicles heading north on the 51. I must stay to the right, cross busy Camelback Road using the pedestrian crosswalk, and continue on the sidewalk north, past another sign which says, “BIKE ROUTE – USE SIDEWALK.”

And, here again, when I head south in the afternoon, since there isn’t another sidewalk over on the west side of this on-ramp, off-ramp combination, I must salmon the sidewalk. So, even though I am always careful to pedal at jogging speed, and yield the right-of-way to pedestrians, there is no other way to move through this area and avoid being an Inconsiderate, Dangerous, Criminal, Sleazy, Malcontent of a Bicyclist.

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