An exchange on the street about biking Uptown

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You may know about the ongoing conversation about safe bike riding in Uptown Richmond (the business district). At the end of last year, there was a nice improvement when signs that appeared to prohibit biking on that stretch of Main Street came down. I had an interesting related exchange today while walking on the sidewalk. A young man on a bike was riding on the sidewalk, headphones on, coming toward me quickly, and I saw him at the last minute with barely enough time to jump out of the way:

Him: "Excuse me!"

Me, shouting after: "Could you ride your bike on the street instead of the sidewalk?"

Him, stopping and halfway turning around: "I would get hit by a car."

Me: "Well, it's actually not legal to ride on the sidewalk."

Him: (Shrug, rides away)

I felt bad that I didn't have any more to offer than "don't do this" and "it's illegal." It was already hard enough to step outside my comfort zone to say something at all. So I can sympathize with people who prefer an official looking sign to point to, though, in the end, I prefer that we have to interact with each other on our own terms.

I worry that the young man will be more likely to reflect on how some stuffy older dude tried to tell him what to do than he will about cycling and pedestrian safety. But perhaps that's not giving him enough credit - he did respond and immediately note that he was concerned for his own safety while riding in the street, which I can very much identify with in this town. Other kids with whom I've tried to talk to about not riding on the sidewalk on Main Street seem to take it as an affront to their independence.

In any case, I wonder what other folks experience or desire when it comes to exchanges amongst strangers about what's proper and safe for cyclists, pedestrians, motorists, etc. Any advice for more positive ways to have that conversation when it happens?

If you're interested in issues related to cycling in Richmond (with a focus more on transportation than leisure), you can join the Bike Richmond Google Group.

One thought on “An exchange on the street about biking Uptown

  1. I've been thinking about this a long time and decided eventually that riding in dumb ways is hard to stop.

    The thing is, sure they're riding in a way that is dangerous, rude, and dumb. But is there a way to teach them that won't create defensiveness and animosity? After all, it's great that more people are riding their bikes, and at least they're not driving!

    I've decided that the best thing I can do is to be a good example and look cool doing it. I ride my bike all over the place in ordinary clothes doing ordinary stuff, looking good and fast, staying safe, and respecting traffic laws and other road users.

    And the fact is that it is really hard to start riding in traffic right away. You have to develop skillz like riding in a straight line and looking over your shoulder without swerving--not as easy as they sound! It takes a while to build up the confidence to take on some of the busier roads like US40.

    But it's a natural progression. People work their way from riding on sidewalks to riding on quiet neighborhood streets, to slightly busier ones, to even busier ones. The best thing is to make sure that people are enjoying getting out on the bike and getting practice in. Sure, it's a pain watching them learn, but it's difficult to teach people these days.

    Here's some other options: I don't know if Richmond has a Critical Mass, but that could be a good way to start. I can't imagine that it would get so big as to cause the problems you find in bigger cities, but would provide a good way for people to get together and ride bikes.

    The second is to start a recreational bike club. Richmond already has a racing bike club, but I don't know if they're really accessible to people on hoopty bikes or hybrids who just want to ride slow. Every town needs one of those.

    On-road bike lanes can help, as can wide shoulders. A Richmond bike map would be quite handy. And wide curb lanes (like for parallel parking but slightly narrower and without cars) is probably one of the best ways to encourage bike transport. So there's a lot that government can do to help.

    Finally, extending the Greenway and connecting off-road trails helps get more people on bikes, which gets more bikes on the roads, which (eventually) helps people learn how to ride well. The more bikers there are in an area, the easier it is to learn how to ride. Minneapolis and Chicago are good examples of this.

    I'm trying to make South Bend more bike-friendly as well, so shoot me an email if you have more ideas, questions, etc.

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