Riding a bicycle on the sidewalk has deadly consequence

Many Wisconsin municipalities prohibit adults from riding bicycles on sidewalks, largely to protect people walking at slower speeds.

You could hurt them, or kill them.

Johnny Boschma  learned that on May 6, when he allegeldy ignored the law in Beloit – and basic bicycling rules – and crashed into a 58-year-old woman walking on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant where she worked as a waitress. According to police, Boschma hit Deborah Ambrose-McDonald about 1 p.m. on Friday, May 6. She died from her injuries a day later.

Police fined Boschma $187 for operating a bicycle in a prohibited place – the sidewalk along a busy downtown street with restaurants, shops and angle parking close to the storefronts. A police official said they would not pursue additional charges against the 18-year-old.

That closes the law enforcement chapter of the tragic case, but the lessons learned from the death of  Ambrose-McDonald should be lasting.

Adults should not ride their bicycles on city streets crowded with pedestrians, except in circumstances where it’s the only safe option. West State St. in Beloit offered Boschma a wide and relatively safe alternative to the sidewalk.

Second, when riding a bicycle on the sidewalk, put pedestrian safety first.

“He’s the one who should have been really diligent and careful,” said Beloit Common Council President Dave Luebke. “Why wasn’t he in control of his bike?”

Luebke had another thought when he first learned of the death: cities need to provide safe places for people who chose to ride bicycles. Bike lanes would make streets safer for people driving cars, riding bikes and walking, he said this week.

“The answer is for cities and communities to be cognizant and to think about bike lanes when they design and build roads,” said Luebke, a retired high school principal. “It has to be built into the planning.”

There are no immediate plans to add a bike lane to W. State St. in Beloit, and Luebke said that he has heard of few problems with people riding bikes on the sidewalks.

Ambrose-McDonald’s death appears to be a very rare, and isolated case, but one that should serve to guide people to be more aware of the threat they pose to others when using the roads.

The Wisconsin Bike Fed promotes that message through the Share & Be Aware Program, in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. The basic laws and rules of the road can be found on the Share & Be Aware page.




7 thoughts on “Riding a bicycle on the sidewalk has deadly consequence

  1. And in places were pedestrians and cyclist use the same path, e.g., OLT, there needs to be an awareness by runners and walkers to share the path. Now that the weather is warmer, many fair-weather fitness enthusiasts are coming out of the woodwork and testing my patience. I’ve had one collision and 2 other near collisions because they are either listing to music and can’t hear me approaching or just simply not paying attention.

    • Roger, I hope you call out to people to tell them that you are passing, even if they are listening to music. I just got done riding the Brown Deer, Interurban and C&NW trail going south and the “hotshots” never say “passing.” Maybe I should force that by riding in the middle of the trail. When I say “passing” to walkers, I get thanked.

      I guess they are going so fast, working so hard, that they don’t have any extra air to say somethng. 😎

      • Bells seem to cut through the headphones better than words, but of course bells are for commuter bikes and therefore “uncool” on sporting bikes. And most people seem to know what a bell means, whereas when I shout “on your left” it’s just as likely that they’ll move to the left as look to the left.

  2. Until and unless communities provide REAL bicycle infrastructure (protected bike lanes) that actually take bicyclists from and to places where people live, work, shop, and visit, bicyclists will make their own protected bike lanes on the safest, separated pathways, aka sidewalks. More and more often, even when there are striped bicycle lanes on roadways, I see bicyclists using sidewalks because they are much safer. However, that doesn’t mean sidewalks then become bicycle raceways. I am outraged that this bicyclist gets off so lightly. Just as I woud expect a car driver to have much more severe consequences than a fine for killing a bicyclist, so I would expect this bicyclist to face much more harsh penalties for killing a pedestrian. That he gets off with a <$200 fine is disgusting. But the real solution to both situations is a state wide, community wide, countryside wide system of protected bike lanes. Protected bike lanes and much much much harsher penalties for anyone who causes death or injury using any kind of vehicle are what we need. Otherwise, eschewing the often dangerous "magic paint" that passes for bike infrastructure in most communities, bicyclists will continue to use the separated, buffered, protected network of trails, currently called sidewalks. Protected bike lanes are the only way to really build a permanent bicycle culture.

  3. I agree that we definitely need separate and clearly marked bike lanes. In my area there are a lot of people who ride bikes almost year round for transportation.

    One road was recently rebuilt west of us near my mom’s apartment, National ave in New Berlin but we don’t dare use it as it just has 2 driving lanes and no space for our bike. The posted speed limit is 35 but I’ve measured cars going at 45. No way can I pedal that fast. There is a very wide sidewalk but it is unclear weather that is a combined pedestrian/bike path.

    Also why do bike lanes end before intersections? Where are we supposed to be? Those people coming in from the right side access roads go pretty fast.

  4. Wait a minute… This person crashes into a pedestrian resulting in her death and walks away with a $187 fine? Was there no way he could be charged with involuntary manslaughter? Perhaps WI law doesn’t recognize this could happen.

    • It is the same problem with person driving car hits person on bicycle because of simple negligence (not paying attention, distracted, didn’t see them, etc.) and kills them. The burden of proof for criminal negligence is so difficult to meet, most district attorneys will not take the case to trial. That is why we tried to pass the Vulnerable User law.

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