Pedestrian “Fear and Loathing” of Cyclists

Background Reading


Gun Bike

Gun Bike

Cyclists are quite adept at “fear mongering” when the subjects of “closer than 3 foot passes” or “near misses” surface. And despite the fact that the recounting of these tales is ever so much “dangerization of cycling” and quite likely to reinforce the stereotype that cyclists are kooks for even being out on bikes in city traffic, the “beat goes on“. It is almost as if the greater the “perceived danger” from closely passing automobiles the more “street credibility” a cyclist earns in the eyes of his peers.

In fact on Facebook recently a respondent took umbrage at the notion that the danger from automobiles is even termed “perceived danger” preferring instead to call it “actual danger“. OK, let’s change the terms. Cyclists feel threatened because the “danger is real“. And of course we have the bodies to prove that point.

In the ChainLink thread titled Kar Kickerz the ante gets raised when the discussion turns to retaliation. One wag proposed using a machine-gun equipped tandem where the stoker is the gunnery mate. Others try to make the point that slapping hoods of cars or even deliberately kicking or otherwise defacing car doors is a perfectly acceptable practice. One even talks about deliberately trying to damage the very side view mirrors a car driver needs to drive safely! Yikes!

So what then do pedestrians have the right to do when they “perceive danger” from a bicyclist who refuses to stop when they are in the crosswalk? Who instead shouts at them that they “are in the way?” To illustrate the problem let me cite a recent thread in which a cyclist exposes the notions that pedestrians have of cyclists when it comes to “real danger“.

Reply by David P. on October 25, 2013 at 11:15am
I was waiting at a red light on EB Chicago at halsted yesterday in the late afternoon. Halsted went red and the left turn arrow for traffic turning from Chicago onto Halsted went green, and then a woman on an upright bike cruised through her red light and full speed in the face of turning traffic in a state of utter, blithe oblivion. What are people thinking when they do this??

Indeed what are cyclists thinking when they show the same disregard for traffic etiquette as do the motorists whom they despise for these very same actions. My guess is that there are essentially two kinds of cyclists who behave in this manner:

  • arrogant souls who have a sense of entitlement
  • those who sincerely believe that certain traffic laws should not apply to them as a member of the class known as cyclists

You can search the literature to find articles from reputable publications where the notion is proffered that indeed cyclists should not have to obey all of the traffic laws that pertain to automobiles.

Reply by Cheryl on October 28, 2013 at 9:28am
You: the pedestrian standing in the southbound bike lane on Milwaukee by the bus stop just south of California. Me: the bicyclist who called out to you to please move from the bike lane. I couldn’t hear what you yelled back at me but I’m quite sure from the tone it wasn’t “Thanks, you’re right, I shouldn’t stand in the street!”
As an aside, I’m tired of the anti-bicyclist rants from pedestrians who know someone who know someone who got hit by a bike and was maimed. If pedestrians are so concerned about their safety, they’d do well to 1) look before crossing the street, 2) not jaywalk between large vehicles, and 3) not stand or walk in the street.

This response is troubling because it shows the very same callousness of spirit that cyclists seem to think is at the very core of the being of all motorists. Of course that is more a viewpoint of those interested in “dangerization” in an effort to bolster their arguments for inflicting mayhem on motorists and their vehicles.

Reply by David P. on October 28, 2013 at 9:57am
Last week as I was riding down the Dearborn lane in the loop, I stopped at a red light at which I was about to turn right once crossing traffic cleared. A gaggle of women walked out into the lane and stood there chattering, and i said, nicely, “ladies, you’re standing in a traffic lane.” They excused themselves and stepped back, and as I turned I heard one of them say to the others, “….they’ll run your ass over!…” Well, yeah, that can happen when you stand in traffic 🙂

One aspect of crosswalk law is that when pedestrians are in them they are now a “protected class“. Pedestrians are considered “vulnerable users” for the purposes of sorting out who is in the right should there be a collision while they are using that crosswalk.

It is a problem that cyclists are very slow to address because from their point of view anytime a “protected bike lane” intersects with a pedestrian crosswalk the presence of a pedestrian impedes their forward motion. Many cyclists are under the delusion that they have a “right” to be able to move unimpeded in city traffic at all times. That is in fact one of the perks they perceive in being on a bicycle. You get to legally “pass on the right” when traffic is stalled and that of course translates in their minds to being allowed to meet their goal of beating automobile traffic across town, especially during Rush Hour.

Do Pedestrians Have A Right To Retaliate?

We have the bodies to prove that bicycles can kill pedestrians. So we must not bother to quibble over that reality. But even more troubling are the number of non-fatalities that leave pedestrians maimed or otherwise injured following a collision with a bicyclist. What that “gaggle of women” was conveying is their version of the “near miss” mentality that has gripped virtually all of Cycledom. It is now considered Gospel that cyclists are in imminent danger every time they venture into traffic.

But it would appear that pedestrians have had enough “bad encounters” with cyclists in the crosswalk that we have now ascended to the same level of “fear and loathing” in the eyes of pedestrians as the motorists we hate. So would pedestrians be justified in reacting in fashions similar to those espoused by cyclists towards their motoring counterparts?

What Is The Proper Level Of Retaliation?

Setting aside the idea that cyclists and motorists should begin to address their grievances by exchanging bullets or punches let’s instead focus on the “private property” types of reprisals that cyclists see as justifiable when dealing with motorists who pass too close or honk to loudly or yell obscenities or throw drinks.

Some cyclists think:

  • that scratching the car door or a passing vehicle is fine
  • others believe that yelling back is justified
  • some slap the hoods or roofs of motorists to show their displeasure
  • some like the idea of rapping on the glass windows of the car with a coin
  • even more direct is the attempt to damage or remove the side view mirrors of cars driven by offending motorists

So what moves can pedestrians take? They might include:

  • hitting the rear wheel with a cane or baseball bat as the biker passes
  • yelling at the cyclist as he passes inches away
  • tossing a stick or bicycle pump into the spokes of either front or rear wheels as the rider passes
  • slapping the rear or front rack of the moving bicycle
  • rapping on the helmet of the rider with a coin
  • bending or snapping off any mirrors on the bicycle handle bars or riders helmet
  • tossing out a handful of carpet tacks just as the rider passes
  • or perhaps giving the cyclist a shoulder block from the side to throw him from the bike

Obviously Escalation Is The Wrong Direction To Take

It helps to put ourselves in the shoes (literally) of the pedestrians we enrage (often without even being aware of the problem) on a daily basis. We are often so intent on taking umbrage with each close pass that we fail to see what sorts of problems we create for pedestrians. Now of course cyclists will complain that they themselves are not guilty of negligent behavior with respect to pedestrians. But the same could be said of motorists.

They are driving past a cyclist who just had a “close call” from a taxi driver and suddenly are experiencing outrage that they have no idea of regarding its source. Likewise cyclists who are suddenly accosted in the crosswalk by a pedestrian who has simply had enough of cyclists not stopping for them as is proscribed in law are surprised at the level of vitriol.

We all need to stop and take a deep breath and figure out better ways of dealing with one another. We can stop the mayhem if we are armed with the facts:

Education and Training Needed

Cyclists must yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.

Cyclists must yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.

What is sorely lacking in the preparation of motorists and cyclists and pedestrians is an acute awareness of the limitations of the other guys on the roadway. Each of these groups needs training and education regarding how to best avoid collisions. Pedestrians need to know how best to use crosswalks in busy cities. Cyclists need to know and understand that pedestrians are below them in the pecking order and as “vulnerable users” always deserve the benefit of the doubt. Motorists who are unaware of passing distances need to actually experience the terror of riding in traffic.

We need to get out of the business of coming to the financial aid of groups who prey upon our fears of one another. Bicycle Advocacy groups are notorious for finding ways to turn the terror of riding in traffic into a financial windfall when they frame their arguments for additional bicycle infrastructure in terms that scream “we will keep you safe from those nasty, vicious and uncaring drivers“. Likewise motorists need to know that what they perceive as harmless actions on their parts can cause a cyclist to experience the same kind of stresses that leave soldiers suffering from PTSD ineffectual in their daily lives.

If we fail to keep each other safe we collectively (as society) are worse for it.