Courtesy is a Two-Way Street

Cyclist stops for pedestrian (walking his bike) in Sherbrooke/571 crosswalk.

The WWBPA applauds this opinion piece that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer that calls on bicyclists to be more courteous toward pedestrians. The author is Robert M. Kelley, and Inquirer editor.

If you walk much in Center City, this will sound familiar: You wait for the light to change, start crossing with the walk signal. Then – at the last second – you see a bicycle bearing down on you against the light. You stop just before it hits you – even though you had the right-of-way.

A close call for you, but here’s the bicyclists’ side: They are trying to keep up with the fast flow of motor-vehicle traffic – often not by their own choosing but because of the shortage of bicycle lanes – yet they do not feel bound to observe lights or crossings.

Taking the long view, if half the drivers switched to bicycles, the city would be a nicer place with less pollution and noise. If this happened in other cities, the nation could slash its use of fossil fuels. But let’s not pave the road to energy independence with injured pedestrians.

I see both sides of the issue, having spent years navigating heavy traffic on a bicycle. Now, because of a visual disability, I’m mostly a pedestrian.

If anyone should be sympathetic to the bicyclists’ perspective, it’s me. In my teens, I used a bike as my main transportation and covered considerable distances in the Baltimore area. At one point, I was hit by a car that came out of a side street without stopping and was thrown into the middle of York Road, which is the main commercial artery into the city, roughly similar to Broad Street. The driver didn’t stop, but I got the tag number. I had to walk the bike home while holding the front wheel off the ground because the forks were destroyed. When I went to the police station with the tag number, they told me to get lost.

In another episode, I assembled a touring bike from a basic kit and once got thrown over the handlebars after too much experimentation with the gear-shifting derailleur.

More recently, I have been riding motorcycles and have been cut off in traffic more than once.

I understand how it feels to be outmatched and bullied out there, so my default position has long been to see the bicyclists’ point of view.

But some things are too much.

I saw a line of pedestrians on Market Street wait until well after the light had changed to cross. But then a racing-type bicycle with a highly elevated seat came tearing through the light, which had turned red several seconds earlier, doing what appeared to be more than 30 m.p.h. The pedestrians saw the rider just in time to stop, but at that speed, he probably couldn’t have swerved to avoid them, and stopping would have been out of the question.

From behind the wheel of a car, I once came upon a couple riding side by side, taking up a whole lane where there was only one lane in each direction. They meandered along at less than 15 m.p.h. They looked back and noticed the car but refused to drop back to single file to let it pass.

Pedestrians can be annoying, even to other pedestrians, when they don’t move efficiently, but they’re on relatively equal terms.

But when it comes to bicyclists or motor vehicles, we’re not all able to react as quickly as we’d like. In my case, I lost much of my peripheral vision and all of my depth perception because of a head injury, and I can’t drive at night. When I cross Center City on foot to my night job, I can see cars but must try hard to read the flow of other pedestrians. And I will often miss bicyclists running against the light.

So bicyclists, remember that as much as you’d rather not have all those people in your way, many of them are not there by choice. And while it’s possible that some drivers are out to get you, that’s no reason to take it out on the foot traffic.

A little more civility all around would go a long way toward fostering better relations among us non-motorists. It’s not like we don’t have a common enemy or two out there stalking us on four wheels.

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