The antagonism between cyclists and drivers is well known. As two different types of vehicles sharing the same road, they are forced to find a way to coexist. Tension often mounts to the point of violence, primarily due to the size and speed differences of the vehicles and the expectations these differences create for both parties.
Online comment sections are filled with vitriol aimed at cyclists by irate drivers. These drivers do not want bicycles on the road because it means that they must pay attention to where they’re going and must slow down at times to accommodate slower vehicles.
Some drivers just don’t want to slow down. Taking their foot off of the accelerator is a chore. And, this lazy, sedentary mindset doesn’t simply pertain to cyclists. Having to slow down for anything in their path annoys these drivers to no end.
Resolving the differences between these two groups won’t be easy, even though some progress has been made. As a result of an increase in bike lanes and other bicycle accommodations, resignation to road cycling is setting in. And, moving in this direction may lead to a truce of sorts, if not a state of accord.
A less well known antagonism has begun to rear its ugly head over the past year. Several high profile mainstream media websites have published articles either about conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists or containing quotes from furious anti-cyclist pedestrians.
Like cyclists, pedestrians are vulnerable road users. They differ from cyclists in that their time is usually spent in the vicinity of a road and crossing the road, rather than traveling on the road. Only occasionally do pedestrians walk directly in a road for more than a short distance. When they do, they are even more vulnerable than cyclists since they are slower than either bikes or cars and their presence in the road may come as a surprise to both. In essence, pedestrians are sharing the street where vehicles travel, not the the road on which they drive.
Given how easily a car can kill a pedestrian, one would expect pedestrians to revile drivers, particularly distracted drivers. In private, most of them do. Yet they rarely express such sentiments publicly,
Instead, their vitriol is reserved for cyclists. Blame for this situation lies with both sides. Both pedestrians and cyclists cause pedestrian versus cyclist clashes by not respecting each other’s rights, and in the case of pedestrians, by letting distractions get in the way of common sense and safe behavior.
Often pedestrians will say that even though they’re afraid of getting hit by a car, they don’t see themselves as having a rivalry with drivers. It’s more a question of avoiding hasty drivers. In other words, they give drivers more latitude.
When it comes to cyclists, pedestrians are fond of saying that while drivers and pedestrians don’t always get along, they both hate cyclists. This hatred creates a common bond. Pedestrians, however, hate cyclists for different reasons than drivers do.
Most of them have encountered cyclists on a sidewalk which they see as reserved for pedestrians. Not only will they point out that bicycles don’t belong on the sidewalk, but they will pontificate about how, on various occasions, cyclists nearly ran them down on a sidewalk.
Much like the way cyclists fear being plowed down by a car, pedestrians fear being mowed down by a bike. Often they neither see nor hear an approaching bike. Not until the bike is practically on top of them do they become aware its presence. With such short notice, pedestrians panic and sometimes move in the wrong direction when trying to get out of the bike’s way.
Bicycles startle pedestrians. Out of nowhere they silently appear with no fixed trajectory since bikes can maneuver into places that are prohibitively small for cars. To make matters worse, there are no markings on sidewalks to keep cyclists out of a proscribed area. This gives cyclists free reign of the sidewalk, which many who ride on the sidewalk use to weave in and out of pedestrians.
This activity, more than any other, turns pedestrians off to cyclists. Pedestrians are not an obstacle course. They do not populate sidewalks and crosswalks for the purpose of allowing cyclists to practice their slaloming.
Slaloming should be left to skiers — and only when they are on a race course. Cyclists should ride in a straight line in order to be predictable to everyone around them. In addition, they should signal their intent to turn or otherwise change direction. Slaloming and not signaling their intentions are the main ways that cyclists induce bicycle versus pedestrian clashes.
Pedestrians are not innocent in this encounter, either. Every cyclist who has ridden on a road has had at least one encounter with a pedestrian who walked out into the road, in front of them, without looking first. In previous times such an action would have been attributed to carelessness, as an act of a hurried person.
But in more recent times, walking into a road without looking for oncoming traffic is frequently the result of putting personal desires ahead of the rights and safety of others. Walking has become such a chore that many people feel a need to multitask while walking. Eating and chattering with friends rank highly as favorite pedestrian multitasking activities.
More dangerous, though, are those pedestrians who are addicted to smartphones. If they don’t have the phones plastered to their ears, they’re busily texting away as fast as their fingers can carry them. Not even a red light or a zooming car can wake them from their reverie.
At times like these, pedestrians are most dangerous because they are unaware of their surroundings and no one can predict what they will do. For a cyclist, this can produce a life or death maneuver. Trying to avoid pedestrians may force cyclists to swing into traffic unexpectedly, raising their risk of getting hit by a car. In this way, pedestrians endanger cyclists as much, if not more, than cyclists endanger pedestrians.
The enmity between cyclists and pedestrians is difficult to reconcile because cyclists, as vulnerable road users, exist in a place halfway between vehicle and pedestrian. They are neither here nor there.
Extra attentiveness on the part of cyclists might soften some minds. Looking out for pedestrians is paramount because each time a cyclist injures a pedestrian, cycling appears to be more dangerous and cyclists appear to be reckless. Generating such a negative, violent image is a step backwards for cycling as a legitimate form of transportation.
All we can do, as cyclists, is hold out an olive branch to indignant pedestrians as a gesture of consideration and respect, and hope for another chance to win their good graces.