crash boom bang

January 27th, 2006

I didn't think I would say this, but 2 years on (sorry, 2 days on) I have to register my first grievance. I was hit by a bike today. I'm walking on the side walk, there's two guys walking in front of me. Now, I walk faster than most people do, so I have to overtake people all the time. The problem is (as we learnt 2 days ago) that the sidewalks are narrow here, because they decided to accomodate the bikers by giving them their own section of the sidewalk. So I step onto the bike-sidewalk and then I hear a bell from a grandma bike behind me. I step to the right, to let the bike pass me on the left, I can't literally get back on the sidewalk cause the two guys are in the way, so I just walked up on them and expected the grandma to ride along. Next thing I know my right sneaker is hit by a wheel. I feel the impact of a wheel on my new. clean pants. The word "Jesus" is heard behind me. What the hell, I just kept on walking. I turn around, yell "sorry". The lady, 25-30 years of age, is looking at me like I just slapped her. Ok, I admit I pulled that one out of thin air, I've never slapped anyone so I don't know how they react, but let's just say for the sake of argument that it's that look of disbelief actresses put on when they're slapped around in soap operas. I wasn't hurt, my sneaker suffered momentarily but the impact barely broke my gate.

Now let's analyze the situation for a minute. I'm walking on the bike-sidewalk because I'm trying to get past people on the sidewalk. Tell me how often it happens that people walk past other people on the sidewalk, pretty damn often, right? I wasn't trying to do something noone ever has before. I hear a bell behind, I go right, in the direction of the sidewalk, I do not step out into the road, there's traffic. I do not turn around because by the time I turn around, I will already have been hit, it's much quicker to just get out of the way. Now, set aside the logic of me moving right, in the direction of my real place in traffic, the sidewalk, there is another striking fact about this incident. You see, bicycles are not vehicles at the mercy of inertia, they do have steering. Some are even fitted with a mechanism perfectly appropriate for this situation, usually in the form of a lever of some kind, to the rest of us they're called brakes. So cry me a river, lady.

The thing is, if you drive a car and you hit a pedestrian, you're fucked, no matter where you're driving. If you're on the freeway, you can't possibly stop in time cause you're going too fast. But pedestrians never, ever, ever appear on freeways. So the point is moot. Now, in inner cities, with two sidewalks, one for pedestrians, one for bikes, you are forced to step into the bike zone ever so often, when crossing the street, getting around a pile of bikes on the sidewalk which block the way, other people on the sidewalk etc. So it's no great shock that pedestrians find themselves in that zone from time to time. In fact, in places that have no pedestrian sidewalk, that's the only place to walk. See, as a biker since the age of 6, and a fairly reckless one at that, I know that pedestrians deserve biker's attention because bikes go much faster (yes, even the grandma bikes go faster than pedestrians). The rule applies for every faster vehicle over a slower one, the faster has quicker steering, it's up to the faster vehicle to steer clear. And I respect that principle, I don't ram into people when I'm driving or biking or skiing. Sometimes the only way to avoid it is by engaging the brakes.

One disturbing fact: motorized scooters also ride on the bike-sidewalk, those things are capable of doing much more damage considering their weight and velocity.

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11 Responses to "crash boom bang"

  1. erik says:

    Crucial error in thinking there, buddy; the 'bicycle side walks' as you call them are actually 'bicycle lane' and, in Dutch traffic laws, are regarded as additional lanes to the lanes for motorised traffic on three or more wheels, rather than an addition to the pedestrian side walk.

    It's illegal to walk on a bicycle lane, those are specifically designed for bicycles, scooters and invalid carts etc. It never happens; but officially speaking, a police officer could fine you for walking on a bicycle lane the same way he could fine you for walking on the road/free way.

    Welcome to the world of cultural differences

  2. numerodix says:

    If that is so, then why are they at the level of the pedestrian walkway? Why are they not segregated from motorized traffic by say a line in the street or such, to indicate greater distinction from pedestrians? In cases where motorized traffic is not linked with pedestrian walkway, these special lanes follow the direction of pedestrian walkways, rather than the motorized ones. I do not object in principle to the existince of bicylcle lanes, what I take issue with is 1) motorized vehicles ride in them and 2) the lack of adequate distinction from pedestrian zones. In many cases "bike zones" are prioritized over pedestrian zones, amounting to pedestrians having no choice but to step into the bike zones to get across. Nevermind crossing the street or other such hazardous propositions.

    A good idea is demonstrated not solely in the foundation of its rationale, in fact it requires a well reasoned implementation as well, should it be considered "a good idea".

  3. erik says:

    It's often hard to lay down a good circuit of bicycle lanes in historic city centres and I have to agree that Utrecht's version is particularly dangerous indeed. More common is this approach:

    http://www.fietsvarianten.n...

    In historic city centres or other urban environments where room doesn't allow for clear distinctions between all three different lanes (pedestrians, bicycles and cars), policy guidelines are to put the pedestrian and the bicycle lane closer together and make a clearer distinction between those two and the car-lanes for the simple reason that a collision of any sort between bicycles and pedestrians tends to be less lethal than a collision between bicycles and cars.

    And if, as how all Dutch children are taught growing up, pedestrians don't leave the sidewalk or pay attention when they do; there's no problem or safety hazzard

    PS. Scooters are supposed to be on the car-lanes since January 2004; needless to say this law hasn't quite been massively distributed

  4. numerodix says:

    "(..) policy guidelines are to put the pedestrian and the bicycle lane closer together and make a clearer distinction between those two and the car-lanes for the simple reason that a collision of any sort between bicycles and pedestrians tends to be less lethal than a collision between bicycles and cars."

    I'm afraid that this results in a pragmatic conclusion which is known both to bicyclists and pedestrians. Since the potential damage resulting from a collision is far less significant between a biker and a pedestrian, pedestrians will pay much less attention to keeping out of the way of bikes than they will of cars.

    "And if, as how all Dutch children are taught growing up, pedestrians don't leave the sidewalk or pay attention when they do; there's no problem or safety hazzard "

    There are two interesting points in this comment. Firstly, are you suggesting that I am excused from the burden of knowing this since I was never a Dutch child? Secondly, are you suggesting that the responsibility of paying attention falls squarely on pedestrians rather than bicyclists?

  5. erik says:

    I'm afraid that this results in a pragmatic conclusion which is known both to bicyclists and pedestrians. Since the potential damage resulting from a collision is far less significant between a biker and a pedestrian, pedestrians will pay much less attention to keeping out of the way of bikes than they will of cars.

    Not entirely certain about that. People like you would still overtake others by stepping onto the road for a minute I'm sure

    There are two interesting points in this comment. Firstly, are you suggesting that I am excused from the burden of knowing this since I was never a Dutch child?

    Yes you are

    Secondly, are you suggesting that the responsibility of paying attention falls squarely on pedestrians rather than bicyclists?

    No, but in this case you were wrong when you left the pavement and stepped onto a bicycle lane; which is technically speaking illegal and the type of action a cyclist would neither expect nor see coming.

    You've got blood on your hands in this one, buddy

  6. numerodix says:

    Not entirely certain about that. People like you would still overtake others by stepping onto the road for a minute I'm sure

    No, I don't step out into traffic, that's dangerous

    No, but in this case you were wrong when you left the pavement and stepped onto a bicycle lane; which is technically speaking illegal and the type of action a cyclist would neither expect nor see coming.

    If there ever was a time to say "lol".. Let's take 'expect' first. A bicyclist would not expect a pedestrian to step into the bike lane? What are you nuts? Of course they expect it, it happens all the time. In a week of living here, I've seen it tons of times. Then we come to 'see coming'. If I walked into a stationary bicyclist in the bike lane from behind, I can see how they would not see that coming. But if someone is biking behind me and they see a person step into the bike lane 20m ahead of them, how do they not see that coming? The beauty of the bike is that the direction of velocity is at the angle of eyesight, so you see everything ahead of you. If someone were to dash into the bike lane right as a bike was passing, I could see the problem. That's like if you're driving a car and this other car comes speeding from the right into your path and you have no time to stop. But if you're driving a car and you see a tractor ahead, what do you do? You slow down.

  7. erik says:

    What is this? A Grisham novel?

    You stepped onto a bicycle lane without paying proper attention. End of story

  8. numerodix says:

    I think you're forgetting something. It's a basic rule of traffic, so obvious that it's not even in the rule book:

    You do not run people over

    Chew on that

  9. erik says:

    Piss off. The justice system is about blame, which, in this case, lies with you.

    Now quit acting like a victim, Susan

  10. Diana says:

    Ok now boys, enough is enough Conclusion: You shouldn’t have walk on the bicycle lane, but others shouldn’t run you over too. So… you both are to blame End of the story

  11. numerodix says:

    [9] In as much as it supposedly lies with me, it also does with the offender who hit me, there's no way getting around that, Marge