Don't Make It About The Bike

Lately I’ve been walking to work more often than biking.

I realized recently that if I just walk our two dogs (Howard and Skully) to work with me, it takes less time than when I walk them first, leave them at home, and then commute by bike. (It’s a 35-minute walk commute vs. a 25-minute dog walk followed by a 15-minute bike commute.)

Bike Commuter with Face Mask
Like this guy, but more shabby.

Part of my dog-walk commute uses a little shortcut that crosses three sets of train tracks that run parallel to Route 66 in Flagstaff, Arizona. Then we climb a short bank, and pop out onto a multi-use path.

About a week ago, when we emerged from our shortcut, a cyclist wearing a face mask was coming towards Howard and Skully. I want to say he was about ten yards away and on the left side of the path. I remember wondering, Isn’t he going to get over to the right?

When he was only a few feet away, he finally noticed the dogs. He made a muffled startled sound.


And he swerved around the dogs, still making muffled curses as he rode off.

I thought it was rather comical, and I yelled back, through closed lips.

“Hrmm-mmm mmm!”

Howard and Skully on Route 66
Howard and Skully

My brain went into Rapid Justification Mode and determined the cyclist had no right to be angry with us. It’s a multi-use path. He had enough time to react. If he’d been riding to the right side of the path like he was supposed to be, he wouldn’t even have had to swerve. Then I put it out of my mind.

shared path chronicles pt3  « echoesofcriticalthought
Includes booboo photos

A couple days later I came across this post, telling yet another tale of shared-path conflict from the cyclist’s perspective.

The short version is that the blogger (by her account) did everything possible to navigate through some pedestrians safely, slowly, and with good communication. Yet she still managed to hit a pedestrian who had moved out of the way to one side of the path, then suddenly decided to run to the other side.

So guess what happened. Yup, I hit the idiot smack on because she literally ran out right in front of me. There was no time for me to react. I flew off my bike, over the handle bars, and landed on my knee and right-hand side. Somehow my feet unclipped in mid-air, but I landed on my right side with my bike laying on top of my left.

I need to make it perfectly clear. I was going slow. I was paying attention. She knew I was there. They moved out of my way. I was going slow. My hands were on the brakes. And yet? She still ran in front of me and I still ran into her with my bike.

And after reading it, I came to the conclusion that this really has nothing to do with cycling. And neither did my minor incident a few days earlier.

The presence of a bicycle does not automatically make any conflict a bike conflict. Many cyclists — including myself — can fall into the habit of seeing ourselves as… cyclists. And our triumphs and grievances become viewed through that lens. The blogger at echoesofcriticalthought even plied for sympathy by showing graphic photos of her owies, as if to say, “I’m the victim here.” And maybe she is. But she’s not a victim of “pedestrian vs. cyclist” conflict.

Sometimes stuff happens. A person makes an error in judgement, and there’s a problem. Sometimes there’s an injury.

Imagine walking down a sidewalk carrying your bowling ball. Someone else walking the other way is distracted, bumps into you, and causes you to drop your bowling ball and smash your big toe. Is this a “bowling incident?”

If you had been rolling your bowling ball down a crowded sidewalk, that would make it a “bowling incident,” and you would be to blame.

If the pedestrian is at the Bowl-O-Rama and walking across your bowling lane, that would also make it a “bowling incident,” and the pedestrian would be at fault.

In retrospect, I’m thinking that in my incident (where my dogs startled the cyclist), I was probably slightly more at fault.

Sure, I can make a self-exonerating case that the cyclist should have been more alert, and should have been on the right side of the path. But really, who expects two dogs to pop out suddenly from behind the bushes when the path seems to be clear?

Rather than mocking that masked man’s muffled scolding, I might have just said, “Excuse me.”

I’ll be more careful from now on.

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14 thoughts on “Don't Make It About The Bike”

  1. Mo says:

    So you keep your dogs at work during the day?

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Yes, Howard and Skully spend the day at work with me — when we have them. These are joint-custody dogs. Sometimes they are with my wife’s ex, and I again become a bike commuter.

  2. Kayti Sullivan says:

    In the last week, 3 times, I have been on the right side of a path, and have even stopped, but pedestrians stare at me as though I were a complete surprise, and run over to their left, putting them in my path. I stop and ask which side they are headed towards, and they giggle and freeze. I think there must be many people on bikes who are not predictable in which side of the track they choose, I have ridden with people who weave all over the road and don’t see anything wrong with that, even though they do not have mirrors on their bikes. In any endeavour, there is always room for improved consciousness.

  3. Victoria says:

    An interesting blog!

  4. Amy says:

    “In any endeavour, there is always room for improved consciousness.” What a great quote! I’m posting it outside my office door and citing you. Thanks.

  5. Thanks. I was curious about this too.

  6. Kevin Love says:

    No, its not about the bike. In this case, it is about the crappy infrastructure that fails to properly separate pedestrians and cyclists. And the CROW engineering standard for a bidirectional cycle path is a minimum width of 4 metres. Looking at the photo, this looks like it fails to meet the minimum engineering standards.

    Here is an example from Toronto of how to do things properly:

    And a description of how it works in The Netherlands:

    And a way of keeping cycle parking from interfering with pedestrians in Groningen:

  7. tim sherman says:

    If the bowling ball was on a leash it would be a problem. I don’t have a problem navigating doggies on the trails unless they are on those 15 foot retractable leashes. Not fair at all. The dog can block the whole trail by getting out of the way. “Look there is a rabbit!” Or loosely translated. “Hrmm-mmm mmm!”

  8. bg says:

    On my various routes there are some stretches where my safety dictates I ride on a sidewalk or shared-use path. Maybe I’m getting old, but I will slow to walking speed, ride off onto the surrounding grass (if possible) or just plain STOP for pedestrians. They have the right of way and the right to have to worry about cyclists. Recently I pulled off the sidewalk and stopped to make way for two women walkers. They thanked me and excused themselves, and I said “Thanks, but you have the right of way.”

    Now that I think of it, if you are riding and approaching pedestrians and your speed makes it impossible to pass before getting out the phrase, “excuse me” you are going too fast for the situation.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Recently I pulled off the sidewalk and stopped to make way for two women walkers. They thanked me and excused themselves, and I said “Thanks, but you have the right of way.”

      I’ve done the same thing. Occassionally I ride on the sidewalk just a few yards as I approach a bike rack. (I suppose I really should dismount.) And if there are pedestrians in my way, I slow to a pace that is walking speed or slower. I know I don’t belong on the sidewalk, so I’m not about to ask them to yield to me. But several times lately, someone will see me over their shoulder, and hop out of my way saying, “Sorry.” And I will say, “Don’t apologize. The sidewalk is for you, not for me.”

  9. Cyclist says:

    Perhaps you failed to notice that the title of my post included a “part 3” in it, since you did not even reference parts one or two nor did you situate your response/comment in any type of context of the background information for this specific post. You misrepresented the entire purpose of my posts, and then critiqued those aspects.

    I agree with what several of the other commenters said–better infrastructure is needed. That would solve many of these conflicts and collisions. In the meantime, every individual–cyclists, pedestrians, and runners–who uses multi-use paths should adhere to simple etiquette. This was the point of my posts.

    The point of my posts was also to argue that anytime a collision (not just a conflict, which is what you minimized my situation into) occurs between a cyclist and a pedestrian, the blame should not be assigned to the cyclist automatically. And, no, I don’t say that it should be assigned to the pedestrian automatically either. My argument is actually that each case should be understood on a case by case basis.

    By the way, my “boo boo” picture was actually not to gain sympathy. Where, exactly, did I cry out and ask readers to tell me how sorry they feel for me? You can’t find it because I didn’t do it. If you had actually read thoroughly (rather than skimmed, perhaps) all of these posts before coming back here to mock me, then that should have been made clear. In fact, if you had even read the sentence that immediately follows the picture, you would have properly understood the purpose behind the photos. The pictures were placed in a response to arguments that when a collision between a cyclist and a pedestrian occurs, cyclists do not get injured.

    But perhaps you are just too busy to actually read the posts you try to make fun…you know, being the “editor of a popular blog on commuting” and all.

  10. superkaos says:

    Yeah, it is not about the bike, it is about mixing vehicles with pedestrians, bad idea. It is safest to simply ride on the road where vehicles belong and stop screwing up pedestrians.

  11. Archergal says:

    This is exactly what I do when I meet pedestrians on sidewalks or shared use paths.

    My feeling is that we should treat pedestrians the same way we, as cyclists, would want to be treated on the road, with courtesy, care, and respect.

  12. monix says:

    LOl, I just knew the Toronto example couldn’t be right..and the link didn’t work.

    Great article and perspective.

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