Friday, May 14, 2010

Bike Commuter Tip# 4.1: Pedestrians

Now I realize that the previous post offered a philosophical perspective rather than a pragmatic one, so I decided to continue the subject.  When I first began commuting I found pedestrians to be nearly as problematic as automobiles.  This was especially the case in Chinatown.  This is a very crowded section of downtown Manhattan where many Chinese live.  In this part of town, pedestrians do what they want, when they want, and they pretend not to see you.  Although this may have cultural roots, I think it is simply a human reaction to crowding, we may observe this phenomenon in a crowded subway car: everyone crammed together trying, with varying degrees of success, to ignore one another, or even on the streets of Soho where like Chinatown, sidewalk space is spare compared to the number of pedestrians using it.  Now that I'm used to it, I prefer it.  Why?  Because one of the greatest problems with pedestrians is panic and unpredictability, so a pedestrian who ignores you isn't so bad.

Typically, pedestrians don't know what to do with cyclists.  This is one of the practical reasons why it is ILLEGAL to ride on the sidewalks.  They panic and while you may be completely under control, they may not be.  It's like that awkward moment when you "dance" with a fellow pedestrian as you fail to second-guess what the other will do, except that this carries a greater danger of serious collision.  Also like that event, it happens when you're close and they actually notice you.  Pedestrians can be a greater problem than cars--especially since cyclists are obliged to share various paths with pedestrians, including pedestrian walkways on bridges, and all car-free promenades (I hear there is a bit of a clash going on in Central Park.).  If I have to choose, I prefer to share the road with cars.  If you insist on riding car-free, then prepare to yield to pedestrians--a lot!  And yield you must, so get a hold of yourself, man or woman up and do it.  If someone has to go, who do you think it will be?  I think we have to lobby for more signs, at the very least, encouraging pedestrians to leave space on the road for us to pass. 

This is where a bell--yes, a bell, horn or whatever turns you on--comes in handy.  It helps snap walkers out of their daze, but use it with care or you merely precipitate panic.   It's is not going to work like an automobile getting people out of the way while you speed through, and if you drive like that you're not not only a menace, but endangering all cyclists rights.  Use it to nudge the inconsiderate pedestrians who do not grant enough space to pass--they know what they're doing and won't panic.  Allow enough reaction time.  Be careful.


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