Ten Tips from an Avid Pedestrian and Cyclist
As a spiritual successor to one of my previous posts about good city driving habits, I think it is a good idea to address some good walking and biking habits as well. These are things that I've observed and/or tried in person that just make sense. As much as the onus falls on the driver to be responsible while operating a dangerous machine, we shouldn't forget some of the little or overlooked things that provide a more pleasant experience for fellow walkers and bicycle riders, as well as drivers. I would love to hear any tips you may like to add as well; leave a comment here or on Facebook or Twitter as well.
1. You belong. Don't ever feel out of place by crossing the street, riding your bike, or stopping and lingering at a public place. I often see people try and rush across the street hurriedly as if they are in the way. If the cross signal is lit, or traffic has yielded for you at a crossing, why break a sweat? Enjoy the walk.
2. Look (four) ways before crossing. This mostly applies at intersections. Always be aware if there are any drivers failing to yield when trying to make a right on red, or if anyone riding a bicycle may be coming through the intersection before crossing. This means looking at cross traffic, as well as traffic flowing with you and against you; a 360-degree grasp on your surroundings.
3. Riding on crowded sidewalks is discouraged. The only place I'm aware of that has a (rarely enforced) ordinance on sidewalk riding is on North and South Street in Pittsfield. To be fair, I have seen bike cops do it too. In these areas, I always walk my bike if I am on the sidewalk, just due to the number of doorways, intersections and people walking. If the street seems intimidating, please know that a person biking on the sidewalk can also be intimidating for those walking.
4. Take the lane. To follow up on this last comment, a best practice for riding a bike in the street is to "take the lane," or stay toward the middle of the travel way. For North Street, the right lane is marked with a "sharrow," which indicates that bicycle riders may be present in this full lane. Despite the marking being off to the right, the full lane may be used. This encourages drivers to fully pass into the left lane, rather than try and straddle the white stripes and pass a bicycle rider unsafely. This takes practice and a boost in confidence. Try it on a Sunday morning, or after work on a weekday evening.
5. Go with the flow. In most circumstances, riding a bicycle with the flow of car traffic is the best practice. This is safer for riders, and more predictable for drivers, who are used to looking for traffic coming from the left when stopping at an intersection, or looking behind them when opening a car door. One-way streets may be an exception to this, but use extreme caution and stay aware of all your surroundings.
6. If crossing against a light, be smart. I will not encourage nor condemn "jaywalking," a term which has a storied history on its own. However I may feel about it, though, it is written into our city's laws. On this note, I will just say that if hypothetically doing this, it is extremely important to again take in a 360-degree sweep of the environment, since it is likely at least one direction of traffic will have a green light. Find out which direction that is before stepping out to cross. More times than one I have been traveling through downtown only to see a person step out in front of the travel lane that just received the green light. A quick glance at the traffic signal heads would have helped to alleviate this problem. Familiarize yourself with the signal patterns of the intersections you are crossing so you can be confident and safe, whether there is a cross signal or not.
7. Keep the lights on. Just as I recommend drivers leave their headlights on all the time, I strongly recommend (and believe it is the law in most places), that bicycle riders use a tail light at minimum, and get a front light as well. For night time riding, it is very important to see and be seen, whether that is looking out for potholes, animals and curbs, or drivers looking for oncoming bicycle traffic that may be moving faster than expected. I personally use a rapid flashing taillight and a slow blinking front light at dusk and night. There are many to choose from, so be sure to make it a priority!
8. Lock up properly. Make sure your bicycle is secured through the frame when locking to a bike rack or pole. Many bicycles have quick-release front wheels that can be easily removed, so be sure not to just lock through the wheel spokes and call it a day. More in this informative video.
9. Don't cut corners. An easy one; if you are rounding a blind corner, be sure to stay to the right to avoid any run-ins with people walking the other way. I've had it happen once or twice, through both my fault and others'.
10. Walk the walk. Get your friends and family out walking and biking with you, even just for a quick visit or workout. There is power in numbers!