Tuesday, January 10, 2017

It’s not only motorists who should be more considerate

Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, 1/4/2017 

Dan Moser
As expected and on right on time, winter snowbirds and tourists have arrived en masse. Our restaurants, beaches, parks and, of course, roads are going to be at or near capacity until at least Easter. Locals know to avoid going to certain dining locations until they go home and hope their few obscure favorites not yet overwhelmed remain undiscovered. Likewise, a trip to the beach or park may have to wait. And eliminating unnecessary trips in a motor vehicle is a wise move. Walking or biking to the store or other destinations that don’t involve lugging lots of items is something to seriously consider this time of the year.

Along with the roadway congestion comes busier sidewalks and shared-use paths. While certainly not to the degree our roads experience congestions — Sanibel Island’s pathway network and the sidewalks of downtown Fort Myers, Bonita Beach and Fort Myers Beach being exceptions — the uptick in numbers and mix of user types on our sidewalks and SUPs have their own issues. The main problem, in my opinion, is bicyclists who do not behave appropriately around pedestrians or slower moving cyclists. Inconsiderate pedestrians are sometimes guilty of a similar conduct but they are far less dangerous than those on wheeled vehicles traveling at speeds of 10-20 mph or even higher.

Florida law is quite clear about the rights and responsibilities of cyclists operating on sidepaths (FSS 316.2065(9) (10)) and allows local governments to dictate if and when bikes are allowed on certain ones (FSS 316.008(7)). Regarding the latter, unless prohibited by local ordinances, one may operate a bike on a sidewalk or SUP. In Lee County, other than on many privately owned commercial sidewalks (shopping centers, big-box stores, etc.), the only places I’m aware of where such prohibitions exist are the core of downtown Fort Myers and the north side of West First Street between Centennial Park and McGregor Boulevard. That ordinance, however, appears to be universally ignored, as is evident by the number of people on bikes routinely weaving their way along downtown streets crowded with café tables and pedestrians trying to navigate the tight space left where chairs, tables and their servers, other street furniture, and unnecessary oversized potted plants create quite a challenge for everyone. That environment aside, the same Florida statute requires cyclists to yield the right of way to pedestrians and provide an audible warning prior to passing.

Whether on SUPs intended for a mix of users, or on narrow, meandering sidewalks meant specifically for foot traffic (pedestrians include those in wheelchairs and others using assistive devices) what I and many others routinely deal with is inconsiderate and sometimes dangerous behavior by bike riders in our encounters. To be clear, cyclists are not simply “pedestrians on wheels” when off the roadway proper. As cyclists on pathways we still retain the status of a “bicycle rider,” meaning all other bicycle regulations remain in force. One provision that’s not applied is a requirement to ride in the direction of traffic along adjacent facilities, although it’s the prudent thing to do in order to reduce the possibility of conflicts with motor vehicles exiting and entering side streets and driveways. Using lights between sunset and sunrise is a provision that’s specific to wherever one operates a bike.

Florida law says: “A cyclist riding on a sidewalk or crosswalk must yield the right of way to pedestrians and must give audible warning before passing.” Unfortunately, too many cyclists are ignorant of the law, fail to heed it or don’t provide a warning in a way that’s heard by those being passed, oftentimes startling them or causing a collision when the pedestrian steps into the cyclist’s path.

Whether it be a bell, horn or one’s voice, simply providing a warning without receiving some form of acknowledgement by those being passed is risky and inconsiderate. Ambient traffic noise is something that must be taken into account, as well as the possibility of diminished hearing or that ear buds may be in use (although legal for pedestrians,

I don’t recommend the use of these or other devices that reduce one’s ability to hear). If it’s not clear that a pedestrian or even another cyclist is not aware that they are about to be passed the proper thing to do is slow, stop or even dismount and walk the bike around them if necessary.

Not to let pedestrians completely off the hook, folks running or walking two or more abreast, meandering back-and-forth or those moving faster than others should also be aware of others, especially when encountering those who have mobility limitations or are otherwise vulnerable. And to reiterate, the fact that wearing earbuds or using electronic devices is legal for pedestrians doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, not only because it makes it difficult to hear others but those distractions and loss of an important sense also creates unnecessary risk for the user.

There’s no doubt that being courteous and safe can sometimes be inconvenient but it’s the right thing to do when sharing public space. As is the case when driving on our roads or where we park our cars and trucks, being considerate of others makes life better for everyone. Until next time, I’ll look for you on the roads and pathways.¦

- Dan Moser is a long-time bicycle/pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him at bikepedmoser@gmail.com and 334-6417.

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