Traffic of any kind needs predictability for it to function smoothly. Motorists are dangerous, but you often know what they are going to do – or at least you can guess when there is a greater risk around them – if you have spent a reasonable amount of time in traffic. Cyclists and pedestrians are less predictable, mostly because they can so easily switch between the suggested space provided for them, or when that is absent, swiftly switching between wherever is safest. Traffic laws exist with predictability in mind, so rather than getting pissed off that they exist (lanes, red lights, stop signs, etc), we need to get them changed so they work better.
Sometimes, cyclists and pedestrians switch between wherever is easiest. Crossing at less than ideal places or changing from the bike lane to filtering between lanes, or even jumping onto the footpath and back onto the road, for example. Without getting into whether or not this is ok, and when, these kind of things introduce unpredictability.
When you mix cyclists and pedestrians, things become more complicated. At least on roads there are formal and sometimes informal rules that people more or less adhere to. On shared paths (walking or cycling) or similar, it’s more of a free for all. Immediately, this sounds like a design problem, but I think that there is an underlying problem, and it is one that lies more with cyclists.
Cyclists exists between, and across, pedestrians and motorists. They suffer both the hostility and danger of the road, as well as being guilty of the same as it suits them. It’s a curious position.
Pedestrians are definitely not faultless, and seem far less aware of their surroundings than you would expect anyone that values personal safety to. I’ve alluded to this before, and it drives me mental when runners use a cycle lane on a busy road, when there is always space for them off the road. The bike lane is not a shared space. Anyway, this is not a pedestrian oriented website, so the responsibility of cyclists to do the right thing is the issue here.
I suppose you can approach this a couple of ways. You could try to regulate it, introducing new laws and painting lines and putting up signage and such. It wouldn’t solve the problem but it would definitely help make things clearer to those who want to do the right thing but are unsure how to proceed.
The second approach: put all of the stupid people on an island and let them sort themselves out.
I’m not entirely serious, but there is a strong tendency for “society” to pander to the lowest common denominator. You know, one guy at work got his tongue stuck in the toaster so now no one gets to have any toast. That kind of thing. Sometimes things are regulated that just shouldn’t need to be. If people would just turn their brain on and consider the options along with the consequences of their actions, I’m pretty sure we could all function together rather easily. Cyclists are in the unique position of having countless examples of how not to behave around other road users – most people who commute by bike daily or ride frequently have regular encounters with motorists not paying attention or using bad judgement (I know I certainly do). I find it extremely curious how we can, seconds or minutes later on the same ride, use that same bad judgement or consideration when it comes to other road users, be it pedestrians on a shared path, other cyclists, or even cars.
We should know better. I get that when it comes to cars there is a very strong tendency to ride aggressively in order to assert yourself in the interest of self-preservation, but that simply isn’t as necessary around other cyclists and pedestrians. It is because our lives are put at risk by others and because we constantly encounter others who lack consideration that we should be so much better at riding with care and consideration.
Use your brain, ride in a manner that others can see what your intentions are in time to react sufficiently, slow down and don’t buzz pedestrians, and just try to remember how you like to be treated by motorists and apply that to those around you. It’s not difficult. You just have to think of someone other than yourself.
Header Image: Ed Yourdon/Flickr