As we head back out into the world on and in various vehicles, I thought I’d bring this little list back out. It’s about staying safe on the streets, but each rule is an allegory that applies to many things.
I was walking to the UT campus in Austin one day, and I was almost mowed down by a guy on a bicycle. I was crossing a street, in the crosswalk, where I clearly had the right of way, but he rang his bell and blew by right in front of me, running the stop sign on the corner. I’d already been conceiving this post in my head and that was the last close call. Being a frequent rider of bikes on the streets of many cities, as well as a frequent pedestrian, I have come to realize that people aren’t just inconsiderate, a vast majority of us — whether on foot, behind the wheel, or in the saddle — simply do not know what to do when confronted with each other on the road. So, I hereby give you The Rules of the Road.
1. Beware of Bicycles: A lot of people on bicycles don’t know that they’re not supposed to ride them on the sidewalks and in crosswalks. They just don’t. To me, the hierarchy of the road goes Feet, Bicycles, and then Cars, but not everyone agrees with me. Keep this in mind. Also remember that sometimes cyclists are just trying to get away from speeding cars and out of harm’s way. Often the sidewalk is the only (somewhat) safe place to be.
2. Obey the Law: The laws for pedestrians are more clear-cut and better-known than those for bicycles. Follow them and keep yourself safe.
3. Stay Off the Roads Whenever Possible: Cars will kill you. They won’t mean to, but you’ll still be dead. Stay away whenever possible.
1. Assume You are Not Welcome: No matter what the signs or laws say, motorists do not want you on the road. Keep this in mind and ride accordingly. Obey the laws, observe the lanes, be aware, and keep in mind that they can kill you.
2. Do Not Switch Roles: If you cross in a crosswalk or “become a pedestrian” for any reason, do it for real: get off your bike and walk it. This simple move could save your life.
3. Respect the Pedestrians: Remember that in most cases, sidewalks are for walking. In areas of high pedestrian traffic, bicycles should react as such (see rule #1).
4. When in Doubt, Get off the Road and Walk.
1. Assume Cyclists are Idiots: Give them as much leeway as you can manage. In a lot of cases, they know not what they do. Just treat all of them like the loose cannons some of them are, and remember that you can kill them with one misstep.
2. Slow Down: In most situations where you’re likely to meet a cyclist or a pedestrian in your car, you shouldn’t be going very fast. As a frequent pedestrian and cyclist, I find cars careening frighteningly fast through neighborhoods, near institutions with frequent and large pedestrian traffic, and cyclists in the mix as well. Slow down, especially in these cases.
3. Know the Law: Right of way is a lost art. In most cases, you’re the last in line, but will be yielded to by others (i.e., cyclists and pedestrians) because you’re driving a lethal weapon. Keep this in mind when you mingle with the unprotected.
These few ideas don’t cover everything, but they do address a lot of the issues I’ve confronted trying to get from A to B on foot and wheels. Let’s keep an eye out and try to keep each other safe out there.