Monday, June 7, 2010

Bells vs Yells...Do Manners Matter When It Comes to Safety?

It's June...the weather's calling you from your cubicle. But you're not the only one seeking sunshine and fresh air. You've got more and more company on area roads and trails. And frankly, it can be annoying to have to jockey for position when all you want to do is get out and play--after all, you experience enough gridlock when you're behind the wheel or waiting for the next train on a crowded Metro platform.

So Arlington County's David Goodman, Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs Manager, says it's time to exercise something along with your muscles: your manners. Arlington County's engaged in a public awareness campaign called "Sharing The Way".

Goodman says trail users have to recognize the fact that trails are mixed-use: and since cyclists and pedestrians move at different speeds, they have to make allowances for each other.

Here's an example of why one tip makes sense: Cyclists often call out "On your left!" Seems like a sensible, and courteous attempt at giving a slower moving pedestrian warning that they've got a faster moving bike approaching--on the left. But Goodman says that shout-out often has an unintended, but logical consequence. The pedestrian reacts to the last thing they heard "Left!" and can actually end up stepping right into the path of the cyclist. Instead, Goodman says, try your bike bell.

I see his point, but this approach doesn't give the pedestrian a clear signal as to what you-- the cyclist-intend. They have to figure out where the bell is coming from and then anticipate what you will do. I prefer a sort of combo approach with a small twist. I use the bell, a call, and  something teachers call  'wait time'.  I hit my bell, then call out "Coming up...on your left" and allow for about 3 seconds for the pedestrian to process what they've just heard. I try to sweep wide so that if they do step to the left, we don't collide. All this takes timing, and some consideration, but it sure beats a collision.

The thought behind the Sharing the Way campaign is this: what you give is what you get.

Ever find yourself letting someone else into a crowded lane because another motorist did the same for you about a mile down the road? Goodman says that kind of chain reaction is one we can all use.


  1. Sound from cycle bells has a characteristic decay that signals direction in a way that allows hearers to adjust their position in response. Check out this amusing video:
    Problems arise if pedestrians are hearing impaired or, for example, wearing earbuds.

  2. Thanks! That is a funny video, and reflects how we do actually become conditioned to the rules of our particular roadways. Earbuds are an issue of course. Look for a future post on bells, whistles and other bike-centric noise-makers.

  3. I do both - sound the bell and call out "On your left." I find people will turn around to see who's ringing a crazy bell instead of actually shifting to the right.