A couple months ago, when Angela wrote about courtesy between folks using different modes of transport, a spat broke out in our comments that got me thinking.
I am very much in agreement with your statement that faster cyclists coming up behind slower traffic, either peds or other cyclists, are responsible for making the interaction safe. 100% true. That includes slower traffic that is deaf in one ear, or totally deaf due to wearing earbuds with heavy metal music blasting in them. What I have a difficult time achieving is not startling them, no matter how slow I go, because they seem oblivious.
And Jay responds
Hey John, would you like to cite the law or principle by where pedestrians deserve to be run over, simply by enjoying personal music players on their (our) public spaces?
Are iPods illegal?
I wasn’t aware of that.
They may not be illegal, but I have to say, I side with the biker on this one. Everyone, even slow moving traffic, has an obligation to be aware of their surroundings in busy public spaces. A biker can’t do much not to surprise you if you’re so lost in your private world that she had no way of letting you know she was coming, even at moderate speed. This is doubly true if you are in an area where you can reasonably expect bikers to be present. If you’re on a sidewalk, and thus it’s reasonable to expect to be surrounded only by other walkers, and you can manage not to get hit by a car or walk into other people, then go ahead and listen, but bikers ARE present on bike paths, and you need to be able to reasonably interact with them. At the very least, walk predictably to the right and don’t get pissed when they pass you by but you were unable to hear their warning due to your choice to be unaware of your surroundings.
But as I thought about it, I realized my feelings on this go deeper than a biker vs. pedestrian ipod debate.
I hate ipods.
OK, that’s not quite true. We have one (wait, actually two…) and I love how we can easily keep all of our music without taking up tons of space in our tiny house, as well as the playlists that Angela concocted for H to get ready in the morning (there are songs for every activity: get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth. The woman is a genius). But I’m not a big listener on the go, and I wish other people chose to listen less and participate more in their surroundings when out and about.
I can’t even count the number of times I’ve seen T-riders completely oblivious to the needs of their fellow passengers (say, to get off of a crowded train) because they were so lost in their listening. The other day I saw an oblivious ipod listener with absolutely no clue that a carful of friends was trying to get his attention (and they looked like they were having a good time! He missed out). A couple weeks ago I saw a biker unaware of a fellow rider’s attempt to politely pass on the street because he was so absorbed in his ipod. Come on people. Do you need to listen so badly you can’t pay attention when you’re biking on a busy road? You know the cars can squish you, right?
One of the things I love about the way we’ve chosen to live, transporting ourselves by bike, foot and public transit, is that it connects us with people. I love participating in the world as we get from point A to point B. We see friends and neighbors all the time, and sometimes people even stop us to say they love the blog (Hi Julia in Porter Square! Thanks for reading!). Even in this big city, we effortlessly connect with people everywhere: the college student who made silly faces at R on the bus, the old lady in Davis who struck up a conversation with H, and ended up dancing a cute little jig with her right there in the middle of the square. We have friendly interactions every single day with fellow walkers and bikers, bus and subway riders, and even with drivers; we wouldn’t have them if we were lost in our music or the latest podcast. When folks are too busy listening, they are more likely to do rude things without even knowing it (say, blocking their fellow bus passenger from the door). They’re also more likely to get angry at people who are themselves behaving reasonably (like a biker calling out before passing on a shared path at moderate speed). But more importantly, if all you do is listen, you miss out on the world around you. Sure, it’s nice to escape sometimes, but if you decide to listen on the go, make an extra effort to be aware of your surroundings and don’t assume the world should just get out of your way. Consider listening only in one ear, and work to be dialed in, particularly in shared space and at critical transit boarding times. But you might even consider taking the beans out of your ears every now and then. There’s a whole world out here, and as it turns out, it’s pretty nice.