Bicycle Driving and Pedestrians
by Bruce Drees, League Cycling Instructor (LCI) #2605
I learned recently of a cyclist-pedestrian crash that took place in the middle of January along Bray Rd in Va Beach. According to residents who were not witnesses, a "fast" cyclist struck a walker. Reportedly words of blame were directed at the walker and then the cyclist left the scene.
The incident was substantial enough that the police responded and tried to locate the cyclist involved.
The crash reportedly took place mid-block on a dead end residential street with little traffic. There are no sidewalks or shoulders but nearly 22 ft of usable road width. Both parties had a right to lawful use of the road. These were seemingly excellent conditions for safely walking and riding. Yet a crash still occurred.
Unfortunately, substantial injuries and even deaths occur every year from such encounters throughout Virginia. It can be a very serious matter.
We sincerely hope that both parties are recovering swiftly from whatever injuries may have been received.
Steering clear of questions of fact or fault above, what can we do to prevent such crashes in general? And if one happens what are our obligations? Here is my list as an LCI. It is based upon feedback from both riders and walkers/runners who have been involved in similar cases including near misses:
Cyclists: we have no right of speed, just as there isn't for motor vehicle drivers. We are expected to slow down or even stop when conditions suggest or are ambiguous. In the proximity of pedestrians this is often a wise choice.
Pedestrians: Virginia code 46.2-928 requires facing oncoming traffic while walking on a roadway (i.e. on the left side). This is a safe practice with vehicles of all kinds, including bikes. It allows cyclists and pedestrians to better see and communicate each others intentions and movements.
Cyclists: ride on the right with the flow of traffic except when passing, avoiding road hazards or making a left turn. This is also state law and one of the best safe practices we have. It puts you in a position where others, including pedestrians, are looking.
Both: use of headphones ("ear buds") is a very unsafe practice for cyclists and pedestrians alike. Leave the buds behind for use at home or in the gym. In fact, state law prohibits cyclists from blocking both ears. And it doesn't do much good for cyclists to give pedestrians a verbal alert when they are bopping along to a tune during a walk or run.
Cyclists: when approaching pedestrians from behind, always give an audible warning such as a bell or verbal callout ("bike passing on your left"). Do so in sufficient time to be understood and responded to. But be warned: pedestrians will often pivot around one way or the other to see you visually, so leave an extra allowance for this. And leave an allowance for the hearing impaired. Your alert may not have been received.
Pedestrians: before crossing even the quietest residential street, look in both directions. Don't rely on your ears alone to warn you of vehicular traffic, which includes bikes which can be very quiet.
Cyclists: create a margin of safety by giving pedestrians a wide clearance. The unexpected happens very quickly. You are just as likely to incur injuries as the pedestrian you hit. More often than not, it's a lose-lose proposition regardless of fault.
Cyclists: in the aftermath of a crash, Virginia code 46.2-894 requires you, as the driver of a vehicle, to stay around and render aid, provide information to law enforcement etc. Think: bicycle=vehicle. Hit and run laws do apply to us.
Both: where the law leaves off safe practice and common courtesy kick in. Roadways are a shared public space. Treat them as such.
We all have a common law duty not to cause harm to others. As bicycle drivers, let's treat pedestrians with the same care and due regard that we expect from motor vehicle drivers.