Alive, Urban Obstruction

Pedestrians Need To Butt Out of Bike Lanes

Graphic Sebastian Cadieux

My morning route is more of an obstacle course than a commute. If I’m not circumventing a phalanx of construction pylons or slamming on the breaks when someone decides to veer right without using their indicator, then I’m faced with another, more perplexing problem: a human barrier.

For some reason, I often find myself faced with a flock of clueless suits, jabbering and clutching coffees, loitering smack dab in the middle of the road. Completely oblivious to the wheels rolling swiftly towards them, no amount of hollering or critical mass seems to deter them.

“Are they crazy?” you might ask. Maybe they are, but the real problem is that they don’t think they’re in the middle of the road—because they’re only standing in the bike lane.

I am a dedicated cyclist. But like all urbanites, I am also a pedestrian. I understand the frustration, the unbridled disdain that a pedestrian feels towards the cyclist weaving along a footpath, senselessly refusing to dismount while only narrowly avoiding collisions.

“Ride in the road, like a real man!” I once heard an elderly woman yell at a commuter on a wobbly hybrid.
Pedestrians hate it when cyclists don’t respect sidewalks. So why is it that so many Montrealers don’t respect downtown bike lanes?

Segregated lanes, like the one on de Maisonneuve Boulevard, are clearly marked, sometimes even with physical barriers. They are heavily used; studies suggest that the presence of bike lanes encourages more people to ride because they perceive it to be safer than if there were no separate lanes. After a bike lane was added to Vancouver’s Burrard Bridge last year, for example, bike traffic on the bridge increased by 30 per cent. Not only that, but the lanes keep nervous cyclists off pedestrian sidewalks.

Clearly, many people consider bike lanes to be extensions of said sidewalks, especially when they’re in a hurry. Desperate to buy even a half second of time, a pedestrian will run out into the bike lane to wait for the light—forgetting that a green light for traffic means a green light for bikes, too.

Another reason could be that many pedestrians only notice cyclists when they’re behaving badly: the rogue bike courier or the hapless BIXI user, wobbling the wrong way up a one-way street. There are a lot of bad cyclists. Same goes for drivers.

How can the city encourage pedestrians to respect bike lanes? We could get aggressive, rallying Montreal police to ticket these loiterers for jaywalking—which, technically, it is. Cyclists are ticketed for riding on sidewalks and the same should be done for wayward pedestrians. God knows traffic cops love a good ticket.
Or we could be subtler, by introducing more in-your-face signage or road markings at downtown intersections that include bike paths, such as the aforementioned de Maisonneuve route. It’s worth a little paint to unclog downtown’s arteries and improve relationships between walk-and-rollers. After all, at least neither has resorted to cars.

Montreal pedestrians need to be reminded that if you stand in the middle of the road, you will get hit. Just hope it’s with a ticket, and not an angry cyclist.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 13, published November 9, 2010.