On Your Left!

On Your Left!

That’s the cry we cyclists use to warn pedestrians and slower cyclists and skaters that we’d like to pass. We may get a little tired of constantly repeating this call as we ride on the Clarkston Green Belt and Lewiston Levy Trails. Boise’s Bike Nazi has an opinion on the subject ocassioned by this tip for using the Boise Green Belt System:

Bicyclists and skaters who wish to pass other users along the Greenbelt must notify others that they are passing, either verbally (example: “passing on your left”) or by other audible means (bell, horn, etc.). The person wishing to pass is responsible for passing freely and clearly around others, and not hindering approaching users.

The Nazi aruges that it is rude to honk excessively. How would cyclists like it if every car on the road honked as they passed? He has a point. But he is missing his own distinction between well-behaved vehicular traffic on the roadways and the entirely perverse flow of traffic we find on bike paths. He borrows from someone named Danielo the appellation Zombies for the entirely distracted users of the trail system.

Its the very fact that they are so distracted and unpredictable that makes the bike path a dangerous place to bicycle.

The Nazi claims it is a compliment when he passes a pedestrian without signaling his intent. He’s saying they are behiving like traffic, staying to the right, maintaining a straight course.

I disagree. I ocassionally have had words with other trail users about proper use of the trail. One of the angriest responses I ever got was the time I followed a slower cyclists for a ways observing that she was riding a straight line and staying well over on the right-hand side of the trail. Being tired myself and concluding she was a predictable trail user, I finally started around on her left with out first calling out any warning. Though I had followed her for half a mile and she hadn’t wavered from her straight line, this was the moment she decided to veer to the left.

We were both startled but avodied a collision. Still she was upset that I hadn’t warned her and despite my presenting the Nazi’s argument, I think she was probably right.

We have not evolved conventions of bike trail use like those on the highways. In fact grandma sees nothing wrong with stopping in the middle of the trail to study the birds. Little Johnny assumes everyone will move out of his way as he tricycles towards me. He doesn’t know or care about staying to the right.

So I give two calls. “Bicycle Back” and then “On your left” if the walkers actually move to the right. They are just as likely to step to the left so I’m ready with “On your right” or even “Okay, down the middle.”

I’m often thanked for the warning. What I hate is after giving the warning, I see no acknowledgement that the walker has heard. Sure there’s plenty of room for me to pass, but how do I know that walker won’t suddenly turn into my path as that woman on a bike did?

Some few walkers have this down. They hear my warning and give a flick of  the left arm without turning, slowing or alterting their line. These folks I thank as I pass.

That’s why now when I spot a big box truck in my mirror while on the road, I give ’em a wave. Those truckers know where their rigs ride. I’m not worried that they’ll hit me. But they also are aware of the wind-shear in the draft of a passing truck and what it can do to a cyclist. They need to know that I’m aware of them and will be prepared for that wind-shear. In response I usually get to hear the sound of eighteen-wheels crossing the center-line rumble strip to give me more space.

Yeah, if every car honked, it be pretty miserable on the highways, but the bike path has no well-understood and followed rules. Give ’em a honk.! They’ll thank you for it.


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