Monday, August 28, 2017

On Yer Left

I recently read an article from the Bikesnob in Outside magazine called "The Politics of Passing" in which he goes through the various ways in which a cyclist can alert pedestrians to their presence and ultimately the no-win situation we often face.

I rode another piece of the Thames Valley Parkway yesterday and captured the video I'll need to put together another tour; that will be coming sometime soon. This part of the TVP on a sunny Sunday is crowded with people on foot. It made me want to offer my two cents on this inexhaustible topic.

Waiting my turn on yesterday's ride

As much as people talk about bike bells being a happy sound, I think they take on an annoying, almost self-important character when repeatedly used by multiple cyclists navigating lots of people walking on a path. I have a bell, but I use it very rarely.

Today helped me decide once and for all how I prefer to govern myself in overtaking situations. Here are the guidelines I currently use:

1) If it is a busy place where people pretty much expect to be passed by bicycles, I say nothing, use lots of caution and pass only when there is room to do so without anybody feeling like they've been "buzzed".

2) If it is a situation where I think people might be startled, I prefer to loudly say "Bike comin' up", sooner than one would think necessary. My phraseology here has evolved from "On yer left" to "Bike on yer left" to "Bike comin' up". My rationale is that when processing an unexpected message, people (myself included) kind of freeze up or even dart the wrong way when they need to quickly process the word "left" (wait, which left)? Adding Bike to the front of the phrase helped to quickly identify the "threat" and "Bike comin' up" seems like all the info I would want or need in order to react properly were I the one on foot.

3) Sometimes I just get a gut feeling that saying anything at all will cause a pedestrian freak out. In these cases I slow down and give as much room as feasible. When people startle anyway, I feel bad, but most times (and with most things, many of which are infinitely more important than bike path passing) trusting ones gut works out.

4) Runners are an exception. I may well say "on yer left" when approaching a runner or runners, because I think there's a good chance they invented it. In any case, they always respond quickly and well. I love runners; they get how the path works, or should work.

What works best for you? Rather than something like the ;^%$!#@ helmet debate, this is one topic I could talk about all day!

Yer Pal,

PS - One final note: I have zero tolerance for the pathletes who put people at risk or get pissed off or both in situations like the ones above. If you're chasing a Strava KOM or a personal best or need to train HARD, don't hit the multi-use pathway in prime time. Just don't. Idiots. I'm angry at them right now even thought I didn't see too many stupid moves yesterday. Grrrr.


mike w. said...

i have a very loud brass Crane bell and usually i will use it when i'm about 10-15 meters away. Most folks 'round here thank me for the ping. i also use it when about to pass horses (they use roads in many places i ride)- the very last thing i want to do is startle a horse! i slow down to pass and do my best to be sure i've alerted people. "On your left" is pretty much universally understood around these parts.
i also tend to avoid MUPs because: peds with earphones and/or iPhones, rollerbladers and skateboarders, little kids, dog walkers with long retractable leashes(-if any leash at all), cyclists who think it's a good place to do speed training, and gopher holes (the little pests seem to love burrowing holes in the middle of gravel paths!)
In Chicago there's a long MUP along the lake. The plague there are what we call "Lakefront Lances." The epithet is self-explanatory.

RANTWICK said...

A good brass bell sure makes a clear, loud ping; at a nice long distance like you describe I bet it works great without annoying anyone. I actually like MUPs, even busy ones, but it's only fun if you've got lots of time and enjoy the people-watching aspect, being willing to be as slow as necessary. Don't restart me on the Lakefront Lances. I was just coming down.

cafiend said...

I was planning to write a piece on path dynamics, along with several other ideas that get shelved when I come dragging in after 29 miles wrapped around a day on my feet. It's true what you say, that some path users will hate you no matter what. I also share your view that the bell can sound peremptory and disdainful. I prefer to go through all of life saying as little as possible to strangers. My communicative urge becomes even more stunted when I get dirty looks or an angry bark. I had such a string of hostile encounters for a time this summer that I started dismounting completely, a ridiculous distance from pedestrians and walking the bike past them, or standing aside with my gaze lowered while they pass me. I realized what the worst of these bastards expected when I witnessed a woman riding ahead of me basically apologizing for her very existence and thanking every pedestrian profusely for what should be the normal courtesy of half the path. Then there are the ones who would like to see me killed because I might have impinged slightly on precious Fido's nature walk. And I think to myself, it's either this or the desolate isolation of frosty darkness, with just me and the circling coyotes.

Doohickie said...

"What works best for you?"


Jon said...

I detest MUPs and avoid them whenever possible. My commute is pretty much path-free, but I occasionally have to hit a path to go downtown, or whatever. Here in Denver, I just pretty much accept that 90% of the people on the path have earbuds in, or they will move the wrong way (or refuse to acknowledge me) if I call out
Did I mention that I detest MUPs?

John said...

I hate crowds. Nothing against anyone but the crowd/mob mentality sucks. People tend to lose perspective of things and that's when stuff goes wrong. I dont think there has ever been a documented case of roadrage on an empty stretch of MUP. If the peoples are on the path, the streets are probably empty. I like to ride where they aint. Here in NJ I tend to stay away from the "Jersey shore" in the summer and busy weekends. Same principal applies to bike path use. =)

Anonymous said...

If my bell doesn’t work, on the occasions I am in fact going respectfully slow on the sidewalk, 'Passing!' works.
MUP's suck. They used to be Bike Paths, in my memory. :-) that said, I did briefly visit Netherlands, the heaven of bicycle infrastructure as a pedestrian. All I can say is, stay the fuck off the bike paths.

RANTWICK said...

Hey, thanks all for comments, I got a little busy there. Strafing. heh. Netherlands. Sigh.

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