Cyclists versus pedestrians: for once, a nice story

Some holiday cheer from an unexpected source.

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.

Comments (7) Add New Comment
out at night
Dear Mr. Dunphy,

I am sorry to learn of your injuries suffered at the hands of that SOB a few years ago. I ride constantly and it breaks my heart and makes me somewhat nuts to see so many cyclists still on sidewalks. Had I been in your shoes I might not have been able to limit my "expressions" to the merely verbal; so if you never get that chance to apologize I'd say you're still on the plus side of the karmic scale.
Rating: -2
In Vancouver there is too much verbal aggression because we don't know each other that well or expect to see that person again. In this case, you saw the other person again and that created familiarity.

As the Moody Blues spoke: "...and with his eye of compassion, he saw his enemy, like unto himself... and he learned love"...

Rating: -3
The Biker
Everyone just needs to take a second to breathe and not get so defensive. We are not always right! Would you talk that way to someone if you knew them? I'm guessing not! Be nice and share the road/ sidewalk. We all have the same rights.
Rating: -1
I have witnessed other positive stories, such as the time when a classic car broke down near 4th and Burrard. Countless cards honked and swerved around, but it was a cyclist, who had the decency to try and help the car owner with a push to at least get it going again to take to a repair shop.
Rating: -8
One thing with cycling, too many go "hell for leather". We generally don't do that on foot or in our cars, at least not safely. We should not ride our bikes that way in the city either. They are bike lanes, paths and routes. Not raceways. It just takes a few racing jerks to cause issues and get everyone smeared.
Rating: +9
The Pedestrian
Yes, bikers should be much less defensive when pedestrians assert our right to a vehicle-free sidewalk. You guys just need to chill out, dismount and walk your vehicle if you want to share the sidewalk.
Rating: +9
You are not going to effectively police bad cycling behaviour--the lack of danger compared to bad driving behaviour simply doesn't warrant enough police attention to make a difference. Only a kind of public shaming will have any effect, and certainly not for all cyclists. And the ability to let go of a defensive position also does wonders. General courtesy. Let's hope it's increasing.
Rating: +9
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