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Pedestrians and Bicyclists


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I like to think of myself as a good pedestrian, bicyclist, and a driver. I know that doing so help keeps others and me safe. By obeying crosswalk signs, stopping at a stop sign on a bicycle, and slowing down for pedestrians about to cross a street I’m contributing to order on our nation’s street system.

I feel though, that when I’m on a bicycle everything is far more dangerous. Unusually, it’s not cars I’m all that worried about….at least here in Chicago where buses, taxis, daily commuters find our presence common place. But to the pedestrian, a moving bicycle is not often perceived as a danger. Certainly bicycles are not as dangerous as even the most compact of vehicles, but they can cause serious injury to a pedestrian (or rider) when traveling at certain speeds.

As I do my best to obey traffic laws, I don’t think many pedestrians reciprocate these actions in Chicago. Technically, our traffic control system allows our paths to cross one another by giving priority to a particular mode of travel. While cars pass through an intersection, pedestrians should not, and we have lights to tell them that. However, when traffic is clear, people’s life priorities seem to take more importance than safety. Maybe it’s arriving those extra 30 seconds to work early, or just being bored at the intersection. What’s not fair is my priorities of proceeding to get through an intersection on a bicycle are not considered because people feel the need to cross before they are signaled to.

I believe that when a traffic light says “Do Not Walk” pedestrians should stay out of the street. It’s interesting that I will see people stop for a car, but not a cyclist. Either people think the cyclist will go around them, or simply they just were not seen. I can understand in a city like Chicago with chaos all around downtown, it can be difficult to see a cyclist, but should it be the cyclists fault when the pedestrian strays out into the intersection without looking, especially when they were signaled not to?

Our laws are very telling of this. Despite that bicycles have been around for such a long time, we still have very few laws to protect safety. In fact the typical default is to have bicycles abide by the same laws as drivers on the road. The problem is those laws assume very different relationships between pedestrian and driver when those laws were created. Pedestrians tend to perceive bicycles as less of a threat making the cyclist "the violator" in situations beyond the control of his or her actions. If my bike were 6 feet wide and 4000 pounds, I’m sure people would reconsider crossing the street.

If our laws were really about protecting everyone's safety then tell me why this is the case: It’s illegal for any vehicle to block a bike lane, but nowhere does it say anything about pedestrians standing in the bike lane. Technically it is blocked by ‘People,’ except one individual happens to be in a car. Interestingly, the law only seeks to protect one human injury (the cyclist) as opposed to an expanded law that protects two people (cyclist and pedestrian).

The truth of the matter is, if everyone obeyed the laws of the road these types of conflicts would not happen. However, I feel laws regarding pedestrians and bicyclists need to be more specific to ensure safety to the rider and walker.

Your thoughts?

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I think you've said it quite well...the laws for protecting pedestrians and cyclists need revising or be completely rewritten. Our nation is a nation with laws for the automobile and death to anything that stands in its way.

Just this week I was on my way home and saw a car nearly hit two pedestrians as they were turning onto an intersecting road. The pedestrians had the crosswalk sign lit but the person driving the car obviously didn't care if it was walk or don't walk.

I've seen cops park their cars in bicycle lanes...aren't they supposed to be the ones that influence us to obey the law? We look to them to enforce the very laws that they are breaking, and that is an unfortunate circumstance.

I'm really not sure what can be done about it since those driving automobiles obviously have the upper hand in society...at least here in America.

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well said both of you. as our laws are currently structured and interpreted, 'happy motoring' is king. most of our urban planning focuses on motor traffic control rather than self propelled human activity. this is a great topic for discussion as there is dire need for restructuring the laws needed to allow multi modal transportation (yes walking is transportation).

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I'm a pretty militant pedestrian. I have no qualms about interrupting traffic flow when I have the right of way (like at a crosswalk when I have the walk sign or at the entrances to parking garages. To that end I'll correct a motorist if they've cut me off. I think that in urban centers, if peds aren't king, then the whole urban environment will go to crap.

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