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When cyclist and pedestrian worlds collide

Date

On Your Bike

After wearing out his knees with basketball and running, Michael O'Reilly became yet another MAMIL (Middle-Aged Man In Lycra).

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Anything goes ... a cyclist, pedestrians and a green light on a busy city street.

Anything goes ... a cyclist, pedestrians and a green light on a busy city street.

It’s time to finally admit it. We are the most lawless users of the transport system - and the luckiest.

Expensive infrastructure is built for our use even though we don’t make any direct payment for it, and it is often ignored, or goes unused for much of the day. We pay no registration, display no licence plates, trample mores and break laws with impunity – we know we will almost never be punished.

Cyclists who treat pedestrians as a slalom course are idiots. 

By “we” I mean, of course, pedestrians. Stand on a busy city street-corner for 10 minutes, and you’ll probably need a clicker to keep count of all the bipedal lawlessness.

Two-way street ... cyclists and pedestrians on a shared-use path.

Two-way street ... cyclists and pedestrians on a shared-use path. Photo: Darren Pateman

As I am both a pedestrian and a cyclist, I can see all sides of the saga. There's a difference between lawlessness and recklessness, between risking your own safety and risking that of others.

I find many of my fellow pedestrians to be a worry when I’m in cycling mode. They’re so unpredictable. They’ll step into the road or a dedicated cycle path without warning; often they’re texting, talking on the phone or plugged into a listening device and weaving as they go, seemingly unaware of the world around them.

“Shared use zones” for pedestrians and cyclists provide a particular challenge. I have yet to find an acceptable way to notify walkers of my presence. Ring a bell, and you’re being arrogant; say “excuse me” and you’re being imperious. At times, I’ve tried rolling gently behind the walker, hoping to be noticed, only to startle them when they suddenly spy a large cyclist in their wake.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I was walking down a steep shared path that exits the Harbour Bridge, after taking some pictures of afternoon traffic chaos.

WHOOSH! Without warning, a cyclist came rattling past me at speed. He’d crossed into the other lane, giving me masses of room, but I wasn’t expecting it and nearly jumped out of my skin. And I was reminded of Jane Caro’s recent musings on the challenges of shared-use paths.

The interaction between cyclists and pedestrians can be a fraught and emotional topic – perhaps out of proportion to the actual problem. In 2006, a pedestrian in Melbourne was killed by a cyclist in a tragic, controversial incident. To the best of my knowledge, there hasn’t been a similar death in Australia in the six years since. But in 2010 alone, some 227 pedestrians were killed nationally, mostly by motor vehicles.

Of course, cyclists and pedestrians do collide, and serious injuries occur. Unlike car/pedestrian collisions, cyclists run a significant risk of injury in these accidents, especially as they will likely hit the ground at speed. I’ve heard several tales where a cyclist has sustained broken bones, while the pedestrian received little more than a bump on the shoulder.

But it's often the sense of danger that can make such encounters terrifying, as my Harbour Bridge experience reminded me. "The cyclist nearly hit me," one will say. Well, millions of cars narrowly avoid a head-on collision on our roads every day – by not straying into the oncoming lane - but somehow the suddenness of many a cyclist-pedestrian encounter can feel like a near-death experience.

Perhaps the biggest – and most valid – complaint I hear from pedestrians is about people who cycle on the footpath.

Make no mistake, this is illegal – in NSW and Victoria (somehow, it’s not seen as dangerous or undesirable in Queensland). Yet I can understand why some cyclists do it – due to intimidating and dangerous road conditions.

In Sydney, with its as-yet-uncompleted cycle ways, there are many places where protected paths simply disappear. Consider, for example, the options of anyone cycling east up King Street, trying to traverse the city. At Clarence Street, the separated cycle way abruptly terminates in a choked and scary road. As a pedestrian, I never begrudge people cycling carefully along pavements; I realise that, like everything in life, it's only the minority who behave badly. And I sometimes wonder if some who complain about cyclists on footpaths also shout "get off the road" when driving.

Here are a few things to consider if you’re a pedestrian, a cyclist, or both.

  • A shared path is just that – no group is an interloper. Don’t obstruct or clog a path to the detriment of fellow users.
  • If you’re cycling on the pavement, don’t test the goodwill of walkers. If you want to go fast, get back on the road. And do some research on quieter, safer roads to use.

  • Walk predictably when cyclists are about – and don’t try to dodge them. If they’ve seen you, they’re planning to miss you. Jinking left and right only confuses matters.

  • Cyclists who treat pedestrians as a slalom course are idiots. You know who you are. Don’t be the fool whose actions get bicycles banned from a useful thoroughfare.

In the end, it all boils down to mutual respect and better facilities. The situation is becoming increasingly urgent as more and more people choose bicycles to get to work. Often, the "quick fix solution" of designating areas as shared-use isn't ideal, and creates tensions between commuters.

In Victoria, spending on dedicated cycling infrastructure was recently slashed. In NSW, Lord Mayor Clover Moore’s plans for a more liveable, user-friendly city are being blocked by the state government.

Rather than squabble, cyclists and pedestrians should work together to demand better infrastructure for all forms of active transport. And keep looking out for each other.

Do you have any suggestions for better interaction between cyclists and pedestrians? What's the best way for bike riders to warn walkers they are approaching?

Follow Michael O'Reilly on Twitter

 

421 comments so far

  • I think I can easily sum up all sides of this argument.

    Cyclists: "Everyone's an idiot except me."
    Motorists: "Everyone's an idiot except me."
    Pedestrians: "Everyone's an idiot except me."

    Commenter
    Done and Dusted
    Date and time
    February 11, 2013, 1:53PM
    • Well Said.

      In my experience there are a minority who always ruin it for everybody else.

      Most cyclists are responsible, most drivers are, most pedestrians are, most cops, most teachers, most Caucasian, most Ethnic, most blokes, most women, etc
      We only remember the idiots doing the wrong thing.

      People don't accept criticism from outside, so I believe it is our responsibility to keep the roughly 10% of morons in our demographic in check.

      Cut the apathy Australia, or do think the Government will enact policies to stop people acting like idiots? The only evil is when good people do nothing.

      Commenter
      All Modes
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 11, 2013, 3:05PM
    • Not far off. Cyclists need to help themselves though. I ride past UTS Rowers on my way into work. It annoys the hell out of me that cyclists do not dismount as the footpath asks. 10 seconds out of your day will give us a better image when the walkers you ride past get in their cars. I am a pedestrian, cyclist, motorcyclist, ferry and bus user.

      Commenter
      Franky
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 11, 2013, 3:20PM
    • And just a few hundred metres down the road, you have the divided cycling/pedestrian sections of the bay run, where the cycle only section is fully occupied by mothers with prams walking three abreast, or joggers thinking the pedestrian section is not aimed at them.

      I think Done and Dusted has hit the nail on the head.

      Commenter
      Ian
      Date and time
      February 11, 2013, 3:31PM
    • the sooner cyclists have to register their vehicles the sooner they will be accountable to the road rules like car users. I am sick of cyclists treating the road rules as optional. Last week a cyclist pulled out in front of my car with no warning. When I caught up to them and abused him, he acted as if I was an idiot, put his middle finger upright, and just rode off.

      Time for registration so that the coppers can chase these people down

      Commenter
      Gaz
      Location
      Yarrawonga
      Date and time
      February 11, 2013, 3:42PM
    • "In 2006, a pedestrian in Melbourne was killed by a cyclist in a tragic, controversial incident"
      What was controversial about it? a cyclist rode through a red light and killed somebody!

      Commenter
      john
      Date and time
      February 11, 2013, 3:57PM
    • @Gaz, that whole rego thing works wonders for you car drivers doesn't it? No one speeds, runs red lights, knocks over pedestrians, fails to indicate and all the rest hey? Get real, it will make ZERO difference.

      Commenter
      James
      Location
      Lane Cove
      Date and time
      February 11, 2013, 4:01PM
    • "When I caught up to them and abused him, he acted as if I was an idiot."

      @Gaz: if you pull up to someone and abuse them you ARE an idiot. Honk your horn or wind your window down and say "mate I didn't see you just then, and almost hit you, keep an eye out next time". If you abuse them you're not the one in higher moral standing.

      Commenter
      Jen
      Location
      Earth
      Date and time
      February 11, 2013, 4:01PM
    • Hi Gaz - registration is such a magic bullet, worked a treat with motor vehicles. Never see motorists breaking the law, in fact I think the road toll is 0 right?

      Next time you go for a drive Gaz please write down all the rego plates from vehicles who infringe by drivers talking on their mobiles, queue across intersections, fail to indicate, fail to give way, roll through stop signs... wait, what's that the Police don't want to know?

      Thanks for "adding" to the debate though.

      Commenter
      Sydguy
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 11, 2013, 4:05PM
    • @Gaz: Last week a car driver almost ran me over on my bike. What are the police going to do about that, really, if I call them up? How is registering bikes going to cange that? If you do register bikes, expect bike riders to take up lanes completely and throttle traffic... if I were paying registration for my bike, I would fully expect to have the entire lane to myself - after all, I'm paying for it. I doublt you want that.

      Commenter
      allan
      Location
      redfern
      Date and time
      February 11, 2013, 4:16PM

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