Cyclists have been fighting for their right of way for a long time, but now it is time for us pedestrians to make sure that we too enjoy our right of way.
People around the world have been thinking anew about what a modern urban environment should be. They have been trying to work out a more balanced way of life that causes minimum harm to the environment and avoids excessive plundering of natural resources. More and more towns and cities have been gradually discarding the mainstream North American urban model of one person per car. Instead, they are reducing city dwellers’ dependence on private transport by expanding and upgrading their public transport systems. Apart from unclogging a city’s roads and streets, such measures can also clean up the air.
This wave of urban rethinking has revived the feasibility of bicycles as an everyday means of transport. Many urban authorities have set up citywide bicycle rental and parking stations and set aside bicycle lanes and tracks, giving people a new commuting alternative.
That is all well and good, but the return of bicycles to our city streets calls for a new set of good manners from road users.
During the first year after a bicycle network was set up in Paris, the city experienced an unexpected upturn in traffic accidents. This turn of events was caused by cyclists’ total lack of awareness that they were riding a “vehicle.” Consequently, many cyclists refused, or just did not bother, to ride their bicycles the right way down the street. They thought they could ride wherever they wanted, willy-nilly, ignoring traffic lights and signs, and even riding the wrong way around the Place de la Concorde during rush hour.
Since Taipei set up its YouBike bicycle rental system, pedestrians have found themselves sharing the city’s sidewalks with cyclists who weave their way in and out among them. Instead of keeping to a reasonable speed, they often get impatient with the slow pace of people walking in front of them and try to force them out of the way by ringing their bells just like honking motorists.
If you are a pedestrian in Taipei these days, in addition to looking out for buses, cars and scooters, you have to watch out for bicycles zipping in and out and occasionally bumping into you. Just as car drivers bully scooter riders and scooter riders bully cyclists, while cyclists take the environment-friendly moral high ground, they unconsciously mimic the bad habits of those who use other kinds of vehicles by bullying pedestrians. Considering how much Taipei loves to boast about its quaint and quiet lanes and alleys, it is ironic that the pedestrians who walk its streets do not enjoy the right of way.
A pair of legs was the first means of transport that mankind ever had. Walking around on your own two feet and following your own path is such a natural thing that pedestrians seldom realize that they, too, are a group that needs to claim its right of way.
Everyone is furious when motorists bully cyclists, but when a cyclist knocks someone down and kills him, people think it is a freak case and laugh it off. Cyclists think of themselves as pedestrians because they do not have four wheels like a car has. What they forget is that they also have wheels, albeit only two. The best way to get around our crowded city streets is by walking, but unfortunately pedestrians these days find themselves at the bottom of the pile as far as their right of way is concerned. People on foot are the most disadvantaged road users of all.