When you spend a lot of time on a bike, you start to view street systems, traffic signs and getting around generally through the lens of a cyclist. It’s easy to lose sight of the larger organizational structure that governs traffic flows and focus on what’s best for you as you navigate around and through the people and cars that populate the world around you.
This is a mistake made by too many cyclists and greatly contributes to the, let’s say, friction that often characterises the relationship between cyclists and everyone else on city streets. Lots of people who walk or drive around city centres are not very sympathetic to the needs of those of us on bikes because of the unfortunate habits and behaviour of a misbehaving minority. Like so many other things, it’s the 10% that gives the 90% a bad reputation.
Here at JIVR, we believe that the responsible use of your bike is about more than your own safety, it means being considerate to those who share the road with you. Here’s a list of a few things that you can do—or sometimes not do—to help keep the relationship between cyclists and everyone else on friendly, and safe, terms.
Red means red for you, too
Many car drivers resent cyclists because they (cyclists) often act like they can do whatever they want, any time they want. Unfortunately, we’ve seen this ourselves far too often.
Let’s start with the obvious point that you are subject to most of the same rules and regulations that apply to cars when you are out and about on a bike. Why do so many cyclists think that red lights are a suggestion? Obeying the most basic of traffic laws is not only about your safety (you can’t always see who’s speeding around a corner to beat a yellow light). It sends a signal to those around you that you are following the same system of commands that they are, which makes it easier for them to anticipate your moves and share the same road space with you.
Maybe you’ve noticed how much bigger and heavier cars are than you when you’re out on a bike. Technically and legally speaking, you have equal rights on the road but the laws of physics say that any conflict is very likely to be won by the car. Don’t let it come to that. When you’re in traffic, follow the same rules as everyone else and don’t surprise drivers around you by selectively choosing which parts of the traffic code you feel like respecting that day.
After all, if you can slide through a red light or jump across lanes when you feel like it, why can’t they?
Stay off the pave…side…path….
Pavement, sidewalk, path—an Englishman, an American and an Irishman might use different words but they’re talking about the same space and it’s a space for people who are walking. There might not be a better way to damage the collective good name of cyclists than to zoom past people strolling along or perhaps exiting a shop onto what they thought was a quiet, safe place to walk.
We can’t emphasise this enough—don’t ride your bike on the pave…side…path…thing.
However, unlike the rule about obeying red lights and stop signs mentioned above, we’re willing to be a little flexible on this one. We know that sometimes it might be the only option or safer than a busy street with no bike lane. This is where your good judgement comes in. If you have to use the pavement, go ahead, but slow down and give right of way to pedestrians.
Also, be aware that riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is illegal in many jurisdictions. If you decide to ride on the path, you never know if the next car to pull up behind you might be the kind with blue flashing lights on top. It’s unlikely that saying “JIVR said it was okay” will help you if that happens, so think twice before doing it.
Be considerate in mixed areas
Just as you don’t want cars zooming around you when you’re cycling, pedestrians don’t want to feel like traffic cones on a test course when you’re riding past. City centres often have car-free zones, parks, plazas, squares and other areas where those on foot and on wheels mix together. In this space, you’re bigger, faster and have the power of momentum behind you. Pedestrians trust you not to run into them, but they still don’t want to feel a rush of wind as you race by, just inches away.
When riding through an area filled with pedestrians, but where bikes are allowed, slow down and don’t weave through & around them like they’re part of an obstacle course. Even when there’s a dedicated bike lane, that doesn’t mean you’re free to practice your sprints for a time trial. Is it the middle of the night and there’s no one around? Fine, do what you want. But when you are sharing the space, keep a reasonable speed based on the crowds around you. If there are kids present, take that as a sign that you need to slow down a bit more.
Again, you expect faster and more powerful cars to exercise caution around you, so it’s only fair and reasonable that you do the same for people out walking when you’re on your bike.
Everything we’re talking about here essentially boils down to the same idea—be nice and do the right thing. This is how we persuade more of the people we pass as we ride along to be more sympathetic to the needs of cyclists and maybe forgive us when we bend the rules a little.
Until next time, be safe and be nice.