I admit I sometimes ride on the footpath. Never at more than a slow jogging pace. Never ever when I’m in a hurry. Never without the utmost attention and priority to people on foot and shop doorways. Never without a genuine smile and a thank you if people choose to step aside to let me pass. Sometimes with a polite tinkle of my little bell to let people know there’s a bike behind them. Usually at walking speed – pushing the bike takes up more space. Always striving to make a good impression. Never an issue.
With half an hour to kill, all my errands run and no destination in mind, I decided to enjoy the sunshine and simply meander round town. I was moving at a time-wasting pace, peeping into the odd shop window and people watching from my saddle. Not wanting to get hit by a car or bus while doing this, I rode on the footpath. It was wide and only one other person was on it the whole length of the block.
Oh, wait! A middle-aged gent steps onto the footpath. He glances daggers at me and strides determinedly toward my tiny (Brompton) front wheel with eyes that say ‘I’ll run you off the road’. “It’s a footpath, you know,” he seethes, just loud enough to hear.
Technically what I’m doing is still illegal (in some countries, including here). In Japan, everyone rides on the footpath at some point. The footpath Japanese ridewith utmost attention and priority to people on foot and shop doorways – but if you want to go fast, you get on the road. Same in most countries: it’s illegal but tolerated, as long as you’re causing no danger. This is my principle.
I meander easily out of his path and ignore him. He changes direction sharply so he doesn’t continue headlong into a brick wall.
This is where I made a decision. From now on, my efforts to make a good impression of bicycle users will be a full-on charm offensive.
There are so many ways I could have dealt with him. Here are some, from least effective to (perhaps) most.
- “Grow up.”
Argue / Play with his words:
- “What’s making me move – my hands?”
- “Are wheelchairs not allowed here? Mobility scooters?”
- “It’s a sidewalk: are jogging and skateboarding not allowed?”
Try to understand his attitude:
- “Why do you hate bicycles?”
Help him see the bigger issue of infrastructure:
- “Ever tried walking along the road here? There’s a good reason people choose not to mix with cars.”
- “How safe do you consider the bicycle paths that New Zealand provides?”
- “Consider why bicycles mix better with people than with cars.”
Build a relationship in which I listen to and try to understand him in order to build enough trust that he might listen to and try to understand me:
- “Excuse me, hi, I’m Adam. What’s you name, sorry? Do you ever ride? …” And a productive and understanding relationship (hopefully) starts.
I might also have been able (largely in jest) to point out that he had just ‘jay’ walked across the street, which is technically still illegal (in some countries, including here), and is just as daft a law as flat-out banning all bicycle use on the footpath.