Most people are pretty good at thinking on their feet, but nobody’s arguing that we couldn’t use better set protocols to fall back on as well…Especially when trying to avoid dangerous urban traffic snags, or at least unsnarling any incidents with an added measure of basic diplomacy. But how do we optimize the flow, and smooth the social bumps, without conceding our freedom and Autonomy to some vision of greater “efficiency”. Some pre-Orwellian version Central Traffic Control that safely auto-pilots us around within rails and fences like well-tempered livestock…
Deep down, most people might prefer being enabled with better social protocols available to them when it comes to negotiating their way through traffic. Systems that don’t dictate, but rather relate conditions (such as who arrived first at an intersection!) in a more universally effective fashion without needing to rely on systems that need to change the world around us first.
Unfortunately, popularised use of public CB Radio never made it past the 70’s, so the only usable ‘public broadcast’ tools that we have on the road are a handful of visual signals, and our crude but effectively alarming horns and bells. Nevertheless, since Cyclists still have the most safety to lose in any traffic mêlées, let’s pause to consider a communications experiment that involves our existing but oddly underused bike bells…Rather than just ringing them willy-nilly without rhythm or good reason.
K. So only Truckers really know the value of standard CB lingo, and we’re not about to all start phoning each other to signal a pass…
…but boats have used bells to navigate passages for centuries, so can’t we come up with at least a few basic signals for our silent bike bells…
…Besides the oft misunderstood “Get out of My Way” ?
To find my own response to this lengthy rhetorical question, I dug into the protocols (or lack thereof) that we currently use for bike bells, and discovered that since cars can’t hear our bells anyways (once the warm/cool weather sets in), and since most Cyclists can just communicate to each other with our voices (barring loud traffic, or suicidal earbuds), then the only truly practical purpose for bike bells is to alert the inevitably oblivious Pedestrians who cross out into the road in front of us. The trouble with this basic scenario is that, most of the time, the sudden startling effect of snapping a Pedestrian out of their idle reverie often just adds to the chaos.
In searching for a way around these peculiar road hazards, we can look around the world for some signs of time-honoured good sense. As it turns out, even though there’re alot of global differences in how people use bike bells, only the more established ‘Cycling Cities’ have come to any clear understandings on how Bikes and pedestrians should intersect properly.
These protocols are also based directly in established rules of the road, rather than in how any bells actually get rung to signal trouble. As it turns out, (at least by historic Marine Standards) bells have always been sounded in sequences of three quick rings to indicate a warning, and while we’re on the subject of waterways, ever since the British started opening up their old towpaths (along canals and water channels) to wider Public use, they’ve become most interested in sorting out the growing need for some diplomatic niceties between Cyclists and Pedestrians as well.
So if we can collectively learn from these pan-global experiences and work out our own local street riding protocols in the process, then maybe there’s hope for also taming the unmitigated anarchy of our own bike, erm “Multi-Use” paths as well…Hopefully before too many more people get caught up the chaos produced by so many different forms of traffic trying to use the same limited path, in an otherwise leisurely and often lackadaisical manner.
Moving right along, if we agree that we need to communicate better, at least with Pedestrians, and that bells are the way to do it, then the trick is to use them in a way that’s polite, yet still effective. If you want to consider how this is working out in so far here in Toronto, and out in the rest of the world as well, then you you should certainly have your say by all means possible. Because by establishing a few good protocols now, rather than relying on posts, rails, and regulations to direct us into the future, we’ll all get far more pleasure from our travels, and leave the stress-management with those who prefer to burn gas. Until then, be sure to give a friendly little (single) ding of your bell when we see each other out on our free and open roads!
So give it a try next time you go for a ride…
Here’s betting that you’ll get better personal reactions/connections from others with a friendly bellding, than you will from a carhorn!
As such…Cycling might indeed be an ideal vehicle for exploring local Civics, Sites, and making more personal connections with other Social Attractions!