Cyclists versus pedestrians: for once, a nice story
Whenever the topics of bike lanes or cyclist-motorist (or cyclist- or motorist-pedestrian) interactions come up in a blog item or article here, the comments usually reflect a lot of animosity from both sides.
There are anecdotes about rudeness, accidents, injuries, threats, and even fights, and there is no shortage of them.
That’s why I’m glad to relate something that happened to me today that illustrates the relatively rare flip side of such rancour, even though it shared those combative roots.
The Christmas holidays usually bring at least a few feel-good encounters with strangers, and I’ll count this as my first heart-warmer of the festive season.
A bit of background. I used to cycle, many years ago, and I used to drive, not so many years ago, so I understand the opposing viewpoints. People on all sides have valid points to make, though most of them tend to generalize and stereotype their “opponents”.
Myself, I use transit almost exclusively now, and I rely on my own two legs otherwise, so I approach these things from a pedestrian’s standing.
Across the street from the Straight’s West Broadway office, the sidewalks are double-wide in front of the large chain drugstore and electronics and home-furnishings stores. Cyclists tend to hop onto the sidewalks to lock up in front of the stores or the coffee shop, and many of them keep riding instead of dismounting and walking their bicycles.
I’ve got no problem with that as long as they slow down and, ideally, use a bell as they approach people from behind. Broadway can be dangerous, and I never expect cycling kids to venture onto the street either.
But I was struck from behind by a cyclist (who didn’t even stop or say sorry) there once before, although my only injuries were a sore hip and bruised dignity.
And three years ago, I was hit by a speeding bike and rider a few blocks away, on a hill on Burrard, and the result was much more serious: a few cracked ribs, a broken foot, a cracked tailbone, broken toes, and numerous contusions and bruises. If my head hadn’t smacked down hard on a cloth bag of newspapers and magazines I dropped on the pavement, I might not even be here today. That rider, dressed entirely in black with no lights or reflectors, picked himself up and also took off. I missed a lot of work.
So I am, understandably, a bit nervous when I see or hear a bike bearing down on me when I’m on a sidewalk. I can’t help it; often I let them know it.
A few weeks ago, a male cyclist sped close by me from behind in front of Starbucks. If I had turned abruptly to grab a coffee (and I often do stop in there), I would have been struck, and hard. Children will change direction quickly for much less important reasons, and there are a lot of seniors who shop at the drugstore.
I told the guy, who had dismounted and was locking up, to get a bell and use it—and to slow the hell down or walk his bike. That is, after all, the law.
He decided to get argumentive, said he saw me from a long way off, and sarcastically complimented me on my visual acuity for noticing he had no bell. Then he walked into the drugstore--with me.
I called him a crude name (nothing too bad, probably “asshole”); he reciprocated with gusto. When he passed me later while I was in the checkout line, I gave him a parting “jerk” or something. He upped the ante again with his coarse reply. He was gone when I exited.
Today, after leaving that same store, I heard a loud “Excuse me! Excuse me!” from behind. I glanced over my shoulder as I readied myself to jump to the wall. It wasn’t a bike rider but a guy on foot. I thought he was one of the Greenpeace or Doctors Without Borders canvassers who often engage passersby there.
But it wasn’t one of them. It was someone walking to catch up, someone who looked familiar, and as soon as he started out with, “A few weeks ago, I was riding my bike on the sidewalk and you...” I thought, “Uh-oh, this is it. It is on.”
It wasn’t a showdown, though. He said: “We had some words, and I just wanted to apologize. I’m not like that, and I was in a bad space that day. You were right; I shouldn’t have been on the sidewalk.”
I was kind of at a loss for words, but I did manage to say thanks, said that I was a little crabby on that topic because I’d been hit before, and that I was very glad that he had apologized. And I shook his hand and went on my way.
But I felt really good as I walked away and went in for a coffee. Really good.
Then I felt bad about not apologizing for my language.
I’ll save that for next time we meet.