From the very outset, let’s be perfectly clear… Pedestrians on our city streets are assured the inalienable and basic human right to safe and secure access to our public spaces…Except when this access encroaches upon the open roadways, and contrary to traffic laws of course. The key issue here is the assurance of the Personal Responsibility required from all road users in assuring the protection of each other and ourselves. So if everyone is keeping public safety first in mind, then many other issues can more easily fall into place by default…Especially if we could evolve some of our traffic flow protocols along the way, once we can assure that the basics are being properly respected!
So what we’d like to consider here are not ways to limit the free reign that Pedestrians enjoy at Green lights (and sometimes abuse, just like any others on the road), but rather how Pedestrians can be more aware and participative in contributing to the smooth flow of traffic when things get abit tricky. Thus making our streets safer for everyone.
Of course we’ll be looking at this from the Cyclists point of view, and focusing on the one tool that we have to communicate danger to Pedestrians by learning to use our bike bells in a way that Pedestrians can appreciate, and respond more positively to…Perhaps from there maybe even considering a few basic signals as well
We’ve already warned “Sidewalk Sissies” of the dangers of riding their bikes where only Pedestrians and children’s bikes belong, but perhaps the point should be presented again for anybody who disagrees about the dangers of mixing Pedestrians and Cyclists on our walkways.
Meanwhile back on the streets…Unless we’re talking about some sleepy little ‘Burb where lawns are manicured right to the edge of the street and kids play on tricycles right in the road, all streets (here in Ontario) provide Pedestrians with at least 1.5 meters of ample and accessible sidewalk width, and safe crossing points at all intersections. People might complain about the creation of a dedicated bikelanes (that might not always be full of traffic) but nobody ever thinks twice about the need for 5 foot-wide sidewalks along both sides of every road, regardless of how much or little traffic they see. It’s just rightly presumed that foot traffic is provided universal access, as well as the right of passage where it intersects with the road. Unfortunately it seems as though this universal right of way has also bred complacency and perhaps even a false sense of entitlement. The result is that ‘jaywalking’ and leading the lights at intersections has become a standard practice by most Pedestrians, who clearly don;t see consequences to their actions. Let’s start with how this sense of impunity impacts Cyclists, and just extrapolate from there on how Pedestrians contribute to traffic jamming in general, as we consider what responsibilities everyone should take to safely share our roads…
Urban Cyclists are constantly contending with car traffic, which we’ve already presumed is not going to hear many bike bells to begin with, so warning Pedestrians of danger seems to be the purpose that our bells are best suited for. The cruel irony is that the people who are most oblivious to dangers in traffic are invariable the ones who are also wearing headphones. Coincidence?
Of those who can hear an approaching bike bell, most will be astounded by how quickly you can be on top of them as they leisurely amble out of harms way, once they realize that standing in the roadway can be dangerous. Worse yet are the ones who are blindly jaywalking right into your path, and then freeze as soon as they hear you coming…Almost always stopping exactly in the space that you need to safely get by them. This ‘deer in the headlights‘ phenomenon either forces you out into the other traffic lane, or requires you to come to a dead stop. Personally I’ve found that just letting these traffic hazards continue to amble on their oblivious way across the middle of streets is the way to go. This makes it easier to simply ride around them from behind without risking the effects of even more chaos suddenly being thrown into the mix by actually alerting them to their clueless crossing habits – as they suddenly startle themselves upon re-entry into the Real World around them.
So the only solution I’ve found between these extremes is either let Pedestrians get far enough across my bow for a silent (and possibly startling) wraparound pass rather than risk having them freeze in my lane, or give my bell three quick and sharp dings (according to the ‘naval standard”) as soon as I spot a careless/jaywalking Pedestrian who’s crossing my path, and leave them to recognize their own next logical move…Which hopeful (but rarely enough) is to actually pick up their pace and get themselves off the damned street, where there are already enough existing hazards to contend with.
Right of Way?
Incidentally…Based on how often I’ve seen people walk right to the middle of the road and expect cars to stop for them, it seems that jaywalking is slowly turned into another presumed Human Right in our modern society. Perhaps this is just the result of regulatory lassitude, similar to Cyclists presuming to run reds. Or maybe it’s the result of some people trying to flaunt their non-conformist disdain for crosswalks and traffic lights. I personally suspect that it’s just plain laziness.
Then again, maybe Jaywalkers are subconsciously trying to make their own personal stand against Car Culture, by extending the Pedestrian’s right of way to cover every part of the road now, rather than just acting as an impediment to proper traffic flow during late crossings of intersections. In any case, our bike bells really only offer functional purpose with Pedestrians who have the strongest sense social responsibility and awareness, or at the very least a healthy sense of self preservation. As for the rest, even the Darwinistic laws of natural selection get thwarted by good Public Health care at our shared expense…So it’s best to just try to reform them one close call at a time.
So on that spartan sociological note, does anyone want to take this tricky subject out for a spin on our Bike Paths?
Hmnnn…On second thought. If you think our city streets are chaotic, then you might want to stay off of Toronto’s Bike (erm) Multi-Use Paths this Summer until the parallel/strolling traffic dies down. You might also want to wait until all those new and inexperienced E-Bike riders put their shiny new toys away at the first hint of cold weather. Keeping in mind that with all the ‘earbuds’ out there ambling around without a sense of anything that isn’t in front of them, even the loudest bells will be nearly useless when trying to warn the clueless of any consequences to their actions.
Maybe we still really need to work on our basic bike bell protocols before we tempt fate on crowded paths…Perhaps we could also look at how things work elsewhere around the world where they still grasp the safety value of proper ‘lane discipline’, as we consider how to establish some good home-grown solutions to some of our own bad North-American traffic habits.
God knows that I could stand to work on my own tolerance for other people’s self-centered behavior in the meantime…Best luck to all in safely exercising their ‘perogatives’ as well.