How To Deal With Pedestrians

Background Reading


Not the cyclist in question. (Jamie_NYC on Flickr)

Not the cyclist in question. (Jamie_NYC on Flickr)

Yesterday’s article featuring etiquette tips for bicycling—don’t ride on sidewalks, be humble in elevators, etc.—sparked a wide range of reactions, from recommendations that cyclists ride three feet away from parked cars to pleas for the city to abolish bike lanes. But one thing everyone seemed to agree on is that cyclists should respectfully give pedestrians a wide berth—or so we thought. As a counterpoint, local cyclist Gene Boccialetti emailed us this modest proposal for ways to deal with oblivious pedestrians:

“As an avid cyclist, I’m glad to see almost any article that does something to support cycling. However, I’m also dismayed by the near total absence of articles that address drivers (of cars), and pedestrians. I know there are many cyclists who are two-wheeled terrors but it, nonetheless, remains an unbalanced conversation.Why is everyone so silent on educating drivers and pedestrians?

Making way for jaywalking pedestrians is an insane encouragement. 
Pedestrians routinely, look at me and then step in front of me when I have NO CHANCE of stopping and am following the laws of the road and moving through an intersection with the light. I am no longer willing to put myself on the pavement to prevent hitting them. I used to do that. But, it seems cyclists have no rights that anyone is bound to respect, even when I’m obeying the law and they are ignoring it!!

How about (just a few of the threats) :

  • Pedestrians who don’t even look for oncoming traffic;
  • Parked cars and cars standing/idling astride of the bike lane that forces us out into traffic (where moving vehicle drivers get pissed off);
  • Drivers inattentively or intentionally driving astride the bike lane; using it as another lane for travel;
  • Cars racing ahead of me and pulling in front of me, jamming on their brakes is also common;
  • Cars racing ahead of me and taking a turn in front of me (forcing urgent braking, often a skid);
  • Drivers racing ahead and pulling into the bike lane b/c they see, think they see, a parking space; They could as easily get that parking space by pulling in behind me;
  • Pedestrians who smash glass, throw tacks in the bike lane.

While I’m a relatively respectful rider, I cannot, will not allow other people to endanger my life. I’ve been put in the hospital three times by the stupid, indifferent and malicious behavior of drivers and pedestrians. Every time, the other party walked away unhurt. Honestly, it has radicalized me since no one seems to think drivers, pedestrians need to be more respectful of cyclists.

I think perhaps many pedestrians & drivers who are non-riders don’t realize modern bikes are easily capable of speeds in excess of 25 mph. They don’t just stop on a dime. I recently had a car pass me, pull in front and hit their brakes. I locked my brakes up and the bike slid for thirty feet (on clean dry pavement).

If I’m forced to get what I need and deserve by frightening them, I’m willing to do that. 
It’s not my first choice but the alternatives are much worse.”

—Gene Boccialetti, Ph.D.

Asked to clarify what he meant by “frightening” pedestrians, Boccialetti tells us, “By frightening, I mean shout…nothing obscene but a short sharp ‘YO!’ in my deepest and angriest tone. They usually jump. Sometimes they feel the breeze too but I always move to pass behind, not in front of them. I want to be sure I’ve eliminated the possibility of collision. Last time I had a collision, it ended with six fractures for me and three months of not leaving my apartment.”

And by the time he got back out there on his bike, you know pedestrians were walking around like they owned the place without a trace of fear.


I guess the reality is that along with motorists, the other nemesis of the Urban Cycling Movement is the pedestrian. We try to hide this fact (even to ourselves) but the ways in which we talk about them on the Chicago ‘Whine and Jeez Club’ Cycling Forum makes it abundantly clear that for the most part ‘they are in our way‘.

It seems ironic then that the so-called bicycle advocacy group that has cornered the Chicago Market claims to represent pedestrians, mass transit users as well as bicyclists. That’s kind of like having the Tea Party decide to create an advocacy group for White Christians, LGBTQ citizens and African-Americans males living in poverty. But hey, stranger things have happened before.

We Dislike Not Being The Youngest Sibling

Family dynamics make it almost a certainty that the ‘baby of the family‘ gets all the attention at family gatherings. Everyone wants to pick them up and bounce them on their knees and feed them all manner of sweet, sticky stuff.

If the kid is not careful he ends up ‘spoiled rotten‘. That is essentially the place where the Urban Cycling Movement finds itself. It likes having been the ‘darlings‘ of the photo-op sessions. In fact here in Chicago it is a bit like Christmas overtime something ‘new‘ happens with respect to cyclists.

Right now we are in the midst of having a tantrum because someone decided to relocate a bike lane that no one really likes, but that isn’t the point. It’s the principal of the thing. It reminds me of the child that has a toy that they have not pulled out for a year or more and suddenly their sibling discovers it lying among the soon to be discarded items and gloms onto it.

Suddenly the ‘baby of the family‘ is kicking and screaming that his sibling has appropriated his toy. If he complains enough his parents recover the toy and place it high on a shelf where nobody can use it and only then does equilibrium return to the home.

The other thing that is really fascinating to see is just how ‘thrilled‘ we are that a BikeShare system that ‘no real cyclist‘ will touch has created a buzz due to the fact that this step child is being distributed to communities that have no idea what to do with it.

And so it goes! We are evidently ‘at war‘ not just with cars, but with pedestrians as well. In fact our complaints about them is not unlike the ones we allege to be part of the general vocabulary of motorists (towards cyclists).

Everyone (including cyclists) is on a mission to arrive at their offices where they spend the bulk of their time griping about the knuckleheads who ‘got in their way‘ on the way in. It is a wonder that the American Worker Productivity Measure is as high as it is.

And we wonder why no one seems to like bicyclists any better than motorists.