Despite cyclists feeling that their true enemy is the
automobile, it could be held that the conflict between bicyclists
and pedestrians is most threatening to cyclists rights.
The demise of New York's bike lanes and the attempted closing
of that city's major streets to bicycles was caused by the perceived
threat of bicyclists to pedestrians not to cars. The
Metropolitan District Commission has recently restricted bicycle
riding on some of the most relaxing stretches of the
Charles River Esplanade due to complaints by pedestrians concerning
bicyclists. On August 6, a Boston Globe editorial
called for more regulation of the bikepaths. The problem is
not that pedestrians and bicyclists cannot coexist, but that we
have never been taught how to deal with each other. Bicyclists
can learn how to ride in traffic from books or friends, or
by applying principles they learned when they were taught to
drive a car, but techniques for dealing with pedestrians, either
on bikepaths or on streets are not as well-known.
The first principle in dealing with pedestrians from a
bike is that they don't know how to deal with you, either.
Unlike automobiles, which can be directed by the bicyclist into
proper action, pedestrians are less likely to react to a bicycle
even if they see them. The self-righteousness which allows
a bicyclist to ride unfriendly streets is multiplied in the
person on foot who's sauntering in their own little world,
listening to the wind in the trees or watching the sun on the
water. They get upset if you call attention to yourself in
the wrong way, yet they also get upset if they don't see you
until you're too close.
If you're meeting head-on on a bikepath, there is an
immediate dilemma as you want to keep right and they want to keep
left; that is, on the same side of the bikepath. As the faster
moving participant in the encounter, the bicyclist must
chose where to go. Pick the side with the most room, and
catch their eye by moving around a bit. Slow down and point to
the direction you plan to pass. If you can't get their attention,
slow down even more, and swing wider around them. If
you're approaching a group of people which is blocking your
path, usually one will see you and move some of their friends
out of your way. Try to be as predictable as possible; stay to
one edge of the path and don't wobble.
Meeting on a Road
If you meet pedestrians or joggers on a road without side walks,
and you and they are both on the proper side of the road,
you will meet head-on. Bicyclists should leave the shoulder
or pavement edge to the person on foot, as we have the right to
take a lane of the road. Again, signal your intention to move to
the pedestrian's right (your left).
Pedestrians in crosswalks seem to have a hard time
estimating the speed with which a bicycle is approaching and
tend to assume it's moving slower than it is. If someone
is approaching a crosswalk, prepare to slow down, and try to
catch their attention. Remember that they're watching for cars,
not bikes. If they step out in front of you, stop. If they
don't see you until you're right next to them, they might move
unpredictably, stepping directly into your path no matter which
side you pass on.
Approaching from the Rear
When approaching a pedestrian from the rear, pass as far
away as you can to avoid startling them. Say "Passing left,"
or "Passing right" to let them know that there's a bicycle
approaching and what action they should take. If they have headphones
on, you might need to shout; otherwise, just use a
slightly louder than normal voice. Don't wait until you are
on top of them, but don't yell from so far away that they won't
know they're affected. As always, slow down to pass.
Parents often take children for walks on bikepaths because
they're isolated from the dangerous streets. Give them as
wide a berth as you can. Never get between a child and its
parent, and make sure they know that you know that they're in
front of you by smiling or saying "Hi." A similar rule can be
followed for dealing with dogs and their masters.
Sharing the Path
Bicyclists and pedestrians fill similar places in the transportation
grid. With cooperation, we can get and keep
pleasant places to bicycle and walk. With conflict, we could
lose the paths we have and have to fight larger forces to maintain
our full access to city streets.