This is not — I repeat, NOT — another opinion about how bikes and cars get along (or don’t) in Philly. There is one solution to a safer commute, and it involves everyone sharing the road. Like, actually sharing it.
This is not — I repeat, NOT — another opinion about how bikes and cars get along (or don’t) in Philly. Because we have enough of those and because that’s not really the issue.
I’m a fairly evenly split cyclist, pedestrian, driver and SEPTA user, and let’s get something clear: We’re all jerks, OK? No matter the method of transit, we’re all guilty of doing the wrong thing at some point and earning a middle finger or expletive from some other type of commuter.
When we talk about road-sharing issues, the loudest voices seem to be coming from cyclists. And they’re yelling about cars. I get it. When you’re on your bike and a car near you isn’t paying attention, there is a palpable feeling of holy crap this dude is not even looking for me and is totally going to hit me and then I’m going to be lying in the street in the middle of traffic and probably get run over.
Cars are big and powerful, and they’re the scariest-looking thing on the road. But it’s all relative. Ask the pedestrian who sees a cyclist whizzing toward her on the sidewalk. Ask the driver who was about to make a legal right turn on red and had to slam on his brakes when the pedestrian/cyclist/Segway tour group is suddenly in the middle of the intersection.
There is one solution to a safer commute, and it involves everyone sharing the road. Like, actually sharing it. Not just begrudgingly admitting that other people are also allowed to get from point A to point B.
In the spirit of sharing and having fewer expletive-filled commutes, let’s all agree to do the following:
Make it a priority to look before crossing against the light. Don’t just listen for cars; look for bikes.
No sidewalks. Ever. It’s illegal (for adults), and it’s rude. If you don’t want cars and other obstructions in your lanes, then don’t terrorize pedestrians in their space.
Know how wide your car is. There is almost always room to pass a bike, so do not ride a few feet behind them and then go speeding through the intersection. Proceed with caution, and don’t honk. And if you think your car can’t fit, ride farther behind the bike.
A dog’s leash does not need to be 20 feet long, and that cute little pup should not be standing in the bike lane while you wait on the corner to cross the street.
Lights. Hand signals. Bright clothing. Lights. Hand signals.
Those mirrors on either side of your car have a purpose. Look in them before you change lanes, leave a parking spot and open a door.
Pedestrians (of the jogging variety)
I don’t care if you’re technically allowed to run in the street against traffic. Use the sidewalk and get out of the bike lane. The bike lanes might be wide, but that’s so cyclists can pass one another and avoid glass and potholes. And don’t run anywhere during peak commute times unless you like being hated by pretty much everyone.
Thanks to reader Jim Dosset for encouraging me to clarify this. Runners are supposed to use the sidewalk when there is one. I think this behavior has become something that’s lamented but accepted because we see it happen so often, and because many non-urban areas don’t have sidewalks. If there’s a sidewalk and you’re traveling by foot, use the sidewalk.
Be generous at intersections. Pedestrians crossing legally have the right of way, and you really should let them go. Don’t cycle past them or turn in front of them, even if you have enough room to do it. And when you arrive at the intersection at the same time as a car on the cross street, let the car go. You’ll barely need to stop your bike, and you’ll send the message that cyclists are as aware of drivers’ needs as much as they expect drivers to be aware of theirs.
Commute with purpose and use signals. How many times have you been at an intersection unable to predict which direction someone else will go? Is that car sitting there because the driver is letting me go first? Is that pedestrian waiting for a bus or waiting to see if I’m going to run her over? Use body language and turn signals to let people know what your plan is.
And for the love of God, put your phones away, all of you.