Dr. Gridlock

For safety's sake, communication must go both ways

(Stephen Weigand/the Washington Post)
By Robert Thomson
Thursday, May 20, 2010

May is National Bike Month, and Friday is the annual Bike to Work Day. I think that's part of the reason I've been hearing from many of you about the relations between cyclists and other travelers. That, plus the opening of new lanes and trails, and, unfortunately, the death of a cyclist hit by a military truck during last month's nuclear summit.

Many writers call for better communication on all sides.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

As a regular bicycle commuter into the District via the Capital Crescent Trail who constantly rings a bell to warn of my approach, I read the letter [Dr. Gridlock, May 6] concerning the ringing of bicycle bells with great interest.

Like many others, I am appalled at some of the selfish, dangerous behavior of other trail riders that I see every day. The local dialogue on cyclist/pedestrian safety, however, always seems to single out cyclists. Safety on the trail is a two-way street.

Most runners and walkers appreciate when I ring my bell several seconds before reaching them from behind, and often give me a wave to let me know they are aware of my presence. That allows me to pass with confidence, knowing that they will not suddenly turn and end up right in my path, as happens at times, despite my warning.

Some who do that are listening to an iPod while they run and apparently do not hear the bell. Like cyclists, they need to be able to hear approaching sounds to protect themselves and others. If they must listen to music, they have to make sure to look back before making sudden moves.

Groups of joggers will spread out across three-fourths of the trail, and even when they see me approaching from the opposite direction, do not move over onto their side of the dotted line.

A few months ago, I rang my bell when coming up behind a person walking a dog. To make sure the person knew what was happening, I also shouted, "passing on your left, please." Instead of making sure that the dog remained on a short leash, the person let the leash out, and the dog cut across the trail. I had to swerve and ended up crashing.

All cyclists need to exercise care and courtesy and put safety first. But we can't make the trail safe by ourselves. Pedestrians must use care and courtesy, too, if we all are going to be safe.

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