Lately I’ve been walking to work more often than biking.
I realized recently that if I just walk our two dogs (Howard and Skully) to work with me, it takes less time than when I walk them first, leave them at home, and then commute by bike. (It’s a 35-minute walk commute vs. a 25-minute dog walk followed by a 15-minute bike commute.)
Part of my dog-walk commute uses a little shortcut that crosses three sets of train tracks that run parallel to Route 66 in Flagstaff, Arizona. Then we climb a short bank, and pop out onto a multi-use path.
About a week ago, when we emerged from our shortcut, a cyclist wearing a face mask was coming towards Howard and Skully. I want to say he was about ten yards away and on the left side of the path. I remember wondering, Isn’t he going to get over to the right?
When he was only a few feet away, he finally noticed the dogs. He made a muffled startled sound.
And he swerved around the dogs, still making muffled curses as he rode off.
I thought it was rather comical, and I yelled back, through closed lips.
My brain went into Rapid Justification Mode and determined the cyclist had no right to be angry with us. It’s a multi-use path. He had enough time to react. If he’d been riding to the right side of the path like he was supposed to be, he wouldn’t even have had to swerve. Then I put it out of my mind.
A couple days later I came across this post, telling yet another tale of shared-path conflict from the cyclist’s perspective.
The short version is that the blogger (by her account) did everything possible to navigate through some pedestrians safely, slowly, and with good communication. Yet she still managed to hit a pedestrian who had moved out of the way to one side of the path, then suddenly decided to run to the other side.
So guess what happened. Yup, I hit the idiot smack on because she literally ran out right in front of me. There was no time for me to react. I flew off my bike, over the handle bars, and landed on my knee and right-hand side. Somehow my feet unclipped in mid-air, but I landed on my right side with my bike laying on top of my left.
I need to make it perfectly clear. I was going slow. I was paying attention. She knew I was there. They moved out of my way. I was going slow. My hands were on the brakes. And yet? She still ran in front of me and I still ran into her with my bike.
And after reading it, I came to the conclusion that this really has nothing to do with cycling. And neither did my minor incident a few days earlier.
The presence of a bicycle does not automatically make any conflict a bike conflict. Many cyclists — including myself — can fall into the habit of seeing ourselves as… cyclists. And our triumphs and grievances become viewed through that lens. The blogger at echoesofcriticalthought even plied for sympathy by showing graphic photos of her owies, as if to say, “I’m the victim here.” And maybe she is. But she’s not a victim of “pedestrian vs. cyclist” conflict.
Sometimes stuff happens. A person makes an error in judgement, and there’s a problem. Sometimes there’s an injury.
Imagine walking down a sidewalk carrying your bowling ball. Someone else walking the other way is distracted, bumps into you, and causes you to drop your bowling ball and smash your big toe. Is this a “bowling incident?”
If you had been rolling your bowling ball down a crowded sidewalk, that would make it a “bowling incident,” and you would be to blame.
If the pedestrian is at the Bowl-O-Rama and walking across your bowling lane, that would also make it a “bowling incident,” and the pedestrian would be at fault.
In retrospect, I’m thinking that in my incident (where my dogs startled the cyclist), I was probably slightly more at fault.
Sure, I can make a self-exonerating case that the cyclist should have been more alert, and should have been on the right side of the path. But really, who expects two dogs to pop out suddenly from behind the bushes when the path seems to be clear?
Rather than mocking that masked man’s muffled scolding, I might have just said, “Excuse me.”
I’ll be more careful from now on.