Dealing with on-coming pedestrians while cycling

Cyclists generally know how to indicate their directional intentions a vehicle behind. If one wishes to turn left, one raises and extends one’s left arm till it is horizontal. Likewise when one wants to turn right, except one would use one’s right arm.

But how does one indicate to on-coming pedestrian traffic. Raising either arm will result in a most certain confusion. For example, does the raising of one’s arm serve as an instructional “please modify your path of travel and head in that direction”, or is an informational “That’s where I’m headed, please get out of the way”.

This is an uncertainty that is hard to resolve in the average time that stands between a cyclist and an on-coming pedestrian. It often results in said pedestrian freezing in a less than ideal position, requiring the cyclist to perform a high-speed maneuver to the unpleasant soundtrack of said pedestrian spouting expletives.

No, there is a better way.

When approaching a pedestrian, you first attempt to make eye contact. Thanks to evolution and a general love for life, pedestrians are wired to pay very close attention to sudden and quick motions, making this the easiest step. An exception would be a growing number of people who pedestriate around with their eyes glued to their mobile devices. Not to worry, they’re sufficiently distracted, are quick to admit to being in the wrong, and that they should be more attentive to their surroundings while commuting.

Step two. Once you’ve made eye contact, you need to produce a stare that says “Hey you, yes you! I’m talking to you. pay attention now”. This takes a bit of practice because you’re not allowed to mouth the words. All you have are two eyes and a network of facial muscles to get the message across. Don’t care for coming across rude for this instance, matters of safety trumps courtesy.

Step three, after a firm channel of communication has been established, drop the eye contact abruptly and proceed to look assertively towards the route that you intend to take. Do not use your arms, do not re-establish eye contact to see if the pedestrian got the message, do not go in any direction other than the direction that you’ve look-dicated.

Here’s what this sequence of actions should communicate.

  1. Hey you, pay attention to me.
  2. I know you’re there, I’m not going to tell you where to go, but here’s where I’m headed.
  3. Now that you know where I’m headed, you’re free to decide what you’d like to do.

As the bigger commuter and the one who is able to call the shots in this split second relationship, it is the cyclist’s solemn duty to cause as little inconvenience as possible to his/her co-commuting pedestrian friends. The rule of thumb is to pick a path around the pedestrian, and use the above techniques to assure said pedestrian that he/she is not required to change directions.