Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hey you, get off of that sidewalk!

Image thanks to OberWiki, from Oberlin, Ohio.

I was riding home yesterday, after about 40 minutes of excellent conversation with a cyclist member of the board of my local Co-Op. I was showing him my new bike and the features and we were discussing riding habits, how and where a lane could and should be taken, safety and so forth. We parted ways and as it was dusk, I had my full complement of lights flashing away, making me quite similar to a bloody Christmas tree!

I round the corner by the new bike shop and what is technically State Route 9. There is a man, maybe later 20's, I don't think a college student, and anyway he is riding along quite quickly on the sidewalk. Now I hate sidewalk riders and I do try to comment every time I come across one, if it’s logical for me to do so. He also had no lights...

I said, Dude, you shouldn't ride on the sidewalk. Simple too the point, however I could have said something like, dude its safer for you to ride in the road. I thought about this later due to the response.

Oh yeah he was wearing headphones, but heard me...

"Shut the fu*k up, as*hole"
I of course was in no mood to explain the subtleties of subjective vs. actual safety of riding on a sidewalk as opposed to the road. Especially in the situation where he had no lights or other reflective equipment, was wearing dark clothing after sunset, was clearly in a foul mood, and seemingly not interested in talking points.

I kept riding along, thinking that most likely this guy was the type to own a large truck and would normally be passing me within inches going 40 and screaming to get the fu*k off the road. I bet he got a DWI in that truck of his....

Nonetheless, I am out on the 4 laned 35mph (ha, more like 45) section of 9 past the Georgia Pacific plant heading toward Cumberland Head, when I see two more cyclists on the sidewalk.

(note I estimate 1/2 to 2/3rds of cyclists in Plattsburgh are on the sidewalk, for a majority of their ride)

I decided a slightly different tact was needed in this case, they were two young women, maybe freshman in college age or seniors in high school. What made them stand out was the one at the back had a freaking bright light (I saw later that the one in the front had a very strong headlight... I hope they planed that...)

My comment was, "thanks for having nice lights!" and gave a thumbs up :)

My response was, "hey thanks man, sure" with a smile.

I continued on, smiling :)

Now I understand subtleties, and do use them, but is it this simple?
I know in many cases using encouragement or complements can get you further than criticism, but I actually do best with criticism, knowing what I am doing right is great, but knowing what I am doing wrong is so much better, and much more useful to me. Was it the age and social difference between the high school girls, and a late 20's man, that caused the responses? Or was it my tone of voice and positive vs. critical reinforcement...

I have a feeling if I said "dude its safer in the road with me" to the guy I still would have been sworn at, he was not a happy cyclist, hence my thinking he got a DWI and license suspension.

I try to be a showcase for proper cyclist behavior, for motorists, and cyclists alike, but I do understand riding with cars going 45+ past you is not comfortable for many. Nor is taking the lane on this stretch to increase safety on a personal level, comfortable either.

In a way, it does feel safer on the sidewalk. There is the tendency to think of yourself as a pedestrian with wheels, after all that is how we are taught to think at an early age. The true risks of this behavior are not apparent to many motorists or cyclists. I understand why they are riding on the sidewalk, I do, but I also know that they are not dealing with complete information and I feel a duty almost to give them a different way of doing things, and better information.

The ~50% of the population that would ride if they felt safer needs separated infrastructure. 10% will feel safer with bike lanes and 1% like me will ride no matter what is provided. (Data from Albany bike master plan (yep its a pdf), mentioned in previous post)

I know I can’t stop cyclists from riding on the sidewalk through the city and out in the rural routs, but perhaps if I focus on positive reinforcement of proper actions. "Dude its safer in the road with me" "hey, I almost didn't see you because I think you have a light out" I will be able to make some small change in the perception of cycling...

Making fully separated infrastructure, using bike sharrows, blocking off streets for motorists and making counter flow bike lanes is what will really bring cyclists to the roads though, only by doing that will you start to get the cyclists off the sidewalks of America.

Thanks to Olivia for mentioning the sidewalk riding in her comment from a couple posts back. I will talk about the theft rates that she seems to be seeing in a city with lots of bicycles, later too

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