The Thunder Bay District Health Unit says cyclists are more likely to be hit by a car if they're riding on the sidewalk than if they are on the street.

This makes sense to long-time cyclists like Greg Jensen, who says, when he's driving a car he notices people riding their bicycles into intersections.

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Greg Jensen, a long-time Thunder Bay cyclist, says cyclists are more visible on the road. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

"I've had, on many occasions, [cyclists] coming the opposite direction on my side of the road," Jensen said.

When cyclists ride on sidewalks, it's hard for drivers to see them. Health officials say almost two thirds of last year's cycling collisions in Thunder Bay involved people riding on the sidewalk. Three recent collisions in the city involved people riding their bikes on the sidewalk.  

They said the collisions often occur as motorists come out of driveways or laneways, not expecting to encounter a bike.

But cyclist William Zachary questions whether riding on the road is safer, particularly after having been hit by an SUV a couple of months ago.

"It happened over on Syndicate [Avenue] actually," Zachary said. "The person turned into me and they said it was my fault.  They tried to get me to pay for the dents but it was the driver's fault."

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William Zachary, a cyclist in Thunder Bay, often wonders whether it's safer to ride on the road, instead of the sidewalk. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Zachary said he switches to the sidewalk when he doesn't feel safe on the street.

Fine for riding on sidewalk

Bike shop owner Peter Tofinetti said he hears that sentiment a lot.  

"I understand why people are tempted to ride on the sidewalk, especially on a busy street like May Street or Memorial [Avenue]," he said.

But Tofinetti added that, in reality, the sidewalk is the most dangerous place for cyclists to be.

"In 15 to 16 years of business, I can probably count on one hand the amount of people I know who have been hit on the road while riding properly," Tofinetti said. "I don't have enough digits — hands and feet — to count the number of times people have been hit on the sidewalk." 

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Peter Tofinetti, co-owner of Cyclepath in Thunder Bay, says cyclists are hit by cars more often riding on the sidewalk. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

He said those accidents usually happen at an intersection when stopped cars are impacted by a cyclist "trying to fly through an intersection on the sidewalk," as well as at driveways, when cyclists are "riding down the sidewalk and somebody ... backs out of their driveway."

Riding on the sidewalk is against the law in Thunder Bay — and police note that offenders can be fined $125 for doing so.

City officials have said the number of people riding bikes on sidewalks has decreased by one-third on roads where bike lanes have been installed.