People riding bikes, walking, and driving can all coexist peacefully and happily if they respect each other and follow common sense behaviors. We still have a ways to go, however.
During Tuesday’s election, Robert Vinson Brannum was standing outside Mt. Bethel church in Bloomingdale, and observed a number of people on bikes “telling pedestrians to ‘excuse’ them or to step out of the way so they can pass.”
Mr. Bicycle Manners says: Don’t do this. If you’re on a bike, you can legally ride on the sidewalk in Bloomingdale and not downtown (§ 18-1201.9 and 18-1201.10). But a better common-sense rule is this: Ride on the sidewalk if you don’t feel comfortable on the street, or if it’s one-way the wrong way, but NOT if the sidewalk is crowded.
If you do ride on the sidewalk, assume that all pedestrians are inviolate. It’s their sidewalk, not yours; you are a guest. You can use it as long as you don’t get in their way.
Treat them like they are…say…zombies. Pedestrians move slowly, and you can’t make them change direction, but you absolutely don’t want to touch them.
On the flip side, drivers need a lot of education too. In the past week, I was honked at or yelled at by two different drivers for engaging in a very legal, appropriate action: riding in the middle of a lane.
The first was on 19th Street NW, northbound between S and T. The road there is pretty narrow, barely wide enough for cars to fit between the parked cars on each side, and I didn’t feel it would be safe for me to ride right next to the parked cars so other drivers could squeeze around or where I might get doored. It’s a low-speed road with stop signs, and I was moving at a good clip, so I’d slow down a driver by maybe 5-10 seconds max.
However, a guy in a convertible (Maryland plates) pulled up behind and started yelling, “Bike lane! Bike lane!” Now, there’s no bike lane, which I turned around and shouted back to him. A few seconds later, we reached T, and he turned.
The second time, I was heading southbound on 17th NW between M and L. This road has multiple lanes all in the same direction, and I was in the rightmost, non-curb lane (since cars were parked in the curb lane), also in the center of the lane, which is the right place to ride.
I was approaching a red traffic light at L, with a few cars waiting in each lane. Before I got there, a driver (Virginia plates) pulled up behind, leaned on his horn for about 10 seconds, then pulled around me, pulled up to the light in my lane, and moved a little farther to the right as well just to make sure it was impossible to ride around him. Unfortunately for him, I was going to the CaBi station at the corner, anyway.
If I hadn’t been in his way, he would have saved absolutely no time, since the light was already red.
Mr. Driving Manners says: People on bikes are entitled to ride in the middle of the lane just as if they were a car (§ 18-1200.3). You shouldn’t try to yell, honk, or push them out of the way. On a rural road, you might get stuck behind a tractor and have to drive slow for a bit. The same applies here. Anyway, if it’s a one-lane road, you’re not supposed to be going very fast anyway, and on a multi-lane road, you can switch lanes to go around.
A similar issue came up on Jones Mill Road in Bethesda, where an angry letter writer called bicyclists “arrogant” for riding in one of two lanes instead of on a nearby trail where people were also walking. Michael Jackson from MDOT wrote a thriller of a response, pointing out the mistakes, and the letter writer retracted his argument.
Both rules follow a very simple principle: the slower or smaller mover gets the right of way. The larger or faster one has to yield. This is like the rule for boats: If you’re in a motorboat, you have to always yield to sailboats (under sail), period. No yelling at them to get out of your way; it’s not “your” way. Drivers, respect the cyclists. Cyclists, respect the pedestrians. Pedestrians, respect the child pedestrians. Giant truck drivers, respect the drivers of small cars. And so on.
Jim Titus wrote:
The fact that many long-time drivers and public officials also do not understand what it means to share the road suggests that there is a serious gap in driver education. What is the point of all these ‘[bicycle symbol] Share the Road’ signs if most people do not even know what they mean?
Most drivers don’t have to take any tests after they first get their licenses and psychological research shows people don’t really read most signs, so besides talking about it on blogs, what can we do to educate everyone about the bicycle social contract?