In the deep dark forest primeval

Yesterday afternoon, I was walking west on Miller when I was startled by a bicycler directly behind me on the sidewalk. He said something like, “On your left.” I know that this is the proper protocol for a bicycler to notify a pedestrian of his approach but he was so close behind me that it had the usual effect of scaring the bejabbers out of me. Left? Whose left? Do I move left? Or right? Or what? I jumped but I’m not sure which way I jumped. Fortunately, we did not collide. He continued on his merry way and so did I. And then I posted about it on Twitter and Facebook and, well, I certainly didn’t go viral but more comments than I usually get ensued on Facebook and the discussion also spilled over onto my blahg.

Some clarifications may be in order. I am all FOR bicycles and bicycle riders and biking to work and the whole works. I don’t bike a whole lot. In fact, the only bike ride I have been on since the last time I took girl scouts to Mackinac Island (1998, maybe, and it was RAINING and I FORGOT to pack my long pants and I was FREEZING) was when we biked the Golden Gate Bridge last October. I LOVED it but I was SUPER cautious, especially on that long, often steep, downhill into Sausalito.

There are a few reasons I don’t bike frequently. One is that I have an old piece of crap bike from the 1980s. (Yes, I could buy a new one but a new laptop will probably happen first and then maybe another kayak or two and yada yada…) Also, I am terrified to bike anything but the quiet neighborhood roads around here. The main roads are terrifying. There are a few bike lanes around but it isn’t uncommon for them to end abruptly. And traffic? I have no words.

I would LOVE to see our cities plan for bicycles, not to mention pedestrians. Unfortunately, that kind of planning has been haphazard around here and I can understand why some people ride on the sidewalk. Now, I am not sure why my friend from yesterday was on the sidewalk, since that particular stretch of Miller is very wide with a defined bike lane going in both directions. But that is where he was riding. I don’t *think* it is illegal to ride on the sidewalk on the Planet Ann Arbor. I know I have done it but that was when the beach urchins were young bike riders.

Yes. I do like to have a warning if a bicycler is coming up behind me when I’m walking. Absolutely. It would be better though, if the warning came a little earlier so I have time to process it. When I am walking, I am usually thinking. Sorting through whatever it is I’m doing at work. Or some project at home. Or what I’m going to cook for dinner for the next few days. Or life, the universe and the precession of the generations (or whatever the heck you call that). I am not totally out of it. If I see someone approaching me, I can manage to spit out “good morning” or some other appropriate bit of conversation. I am on the alert (usually) for skunks. I can hear motorized vee-hickular traffic blocks away. The salt truck, the crazy newspaper jeep, the little Mini Cooper, and whatever. I can hear the little beeeeep beeeeep beeeeep of the pedestrian traffic signals on the bigger roads, also blocks away. Bikes are usually silent and an unexpected voice from behind? Yipe!

I have a bicycle friend that I encounter occasionally on my early morning walks. He whizzes down through my west-side walking neighborhood to his work somewhere downtown. The first couple of times he whizzed by me, he tried the “on your left” thing. As usual, it startled the bejabbers out of me and I jumped in a random direction. One morning, he tried something else. About half a block back, he rang his bell. I heard that! I turned to figure out what/where the sound was coming from. Oh! Bicycle rider! And I happily, safely moved out of his way. No words to process, no jumping wildly in a random direction.

In other news, I spotted the first trillium of the season in “my” woods this morning. JITP too.

3 Responses to “In the deep dark forest primeval”

  1. Margaret Says:

    I would hate to be on a bike on our roads now, but I also hate being at the mercy of bike riders when I’m driving or walking/running. So, I’m torn about how I feel–except that I’m always angry when bicyclists don’t signal or stop when they are supposed to. If they want to be treated like a moving vehicle, then ACT like one!

  2. isa Says:

    When I ride a bike I don’t want to be treated as a moving vehicle, but rather as a *cyclist.* As someone who rides a bike: I always, always slow down at intersections and stop a red lights (or extremely busy stop signs), as well as using lights when biking at night. I always wear a helmet.

    Part of the problem is that cyclists sort of *do* need different rules. Riding a bike is totally different from riding a car. You’re not enclosed, with music or talk radio playing. You can’t be talking on the phone unless you’re an idiot. You can sense your environment much more quickly than from inside a car. Every time you stop you have to use leg-power to get going again — it’s exhausting. There are cities out there which have instituted “rolling stop” laws and the like for bikers and found that it works out well. Bike lanes don’t always make you feel safer. Bike paths or bike lanes with a barrier between bikes and cars are much more comfortable (and encourage women in particular to bike more).

    I find that animosity from the general public toward cyclists is disproportionate to the number of cyclists out there, and even more disproportionate to the number of cyclists who are actually reckless and rude. Especially when I think about the reckless drivers I see all the time. As a pedestrian I feel much more endangered by drivers in automobiles than by bicycles. While walking you can communicate with a biker, which you can with someone in a car.

    I might be biased, but the world also needs to become less car-centric and it’s not just about walking or biking, but about our natural resources and cultural mindsets.

  3. Dona Says:

    I could have written this!

    I once got into an argument with a bike rider who nearly ran over my toddler (after shouting “on your left” or something) and then scolded him for not listening. I asked the bike rider if he knew his right and left when he was 2 years old.

    Most of the bike riders I encounter around DC seem arrogant and don’t follow any rules, as far as I can tell. My husband rides a bike to work and he agrees with me (although my husband does follow bike rules, or so he says).