I found online the following:
Pedestrians are pushed off to the sides.
either in the middle or off to the sides.
Off to the sides were open fields.
...flows off to the sides of the...
...swam off to the sides.
Even people off to the sides of these stage speakers enjoy well-balanced, detailed sound...
...protesters would stand off to the sides yelling or booing...
Why not at the sides or simply to the sides? I understand swam off to the sides to mean swam away to the sides, but many others elude me.
Back to: "Pedestrians were pushed off to the sides". Interestingly, "push off" is also an idiom/phrasal verb with a totally different meaning. I imagine one can guess in our discussed case "pushed" and "off" are separate. That's one of the hardest things for non-native speakers of English, however, figuring out when those particles are part of the preceding verb, and when they are part of something else in a sencence. It adds to confusion. That's why you hardly ever hear non-natives using phrasal verbs and particles where the meaning is not very very very obvious. In addition I have not heard of a single book on the Enlish language explaining particles beyond the basics. Just saying.