Posted by Elly Blue (Columnist) on December 12th, 2006 at 8:42 am
About two years ago, I invested $3.50 on a bell for my bicycle. It was one of those “I heart my bike” ones. It has a tinny but audible double ring. And it is by far the best bicycle accessory or bit of gear I have ever had.
I got the bell after talking with an older woman who said she loved bicyclists but was fed up with them zooming past her with nary a warning on her daily walks across the Broadway Bridge. When she was a girl in the ’40s, she told me, every single bicycle was equipped with a bell, and every person in her generation still automatically reacts to that sound by moving to the right to make way for a cyclist passing on the left.
“Widespread bell use increases traffic safety and road sharing far more effectively than expensive infrastructure or a public education campaign.”
People her age are some of the most vulnerable when it comes to pedestrian-bicycle conflicts. She pointed out that older folks often can’t hear verbal cues, such as “on your right!”, and that it takes them longer to process the meaning of verbal input. A bell, however, is easily heard and automatically interpreted.
Most of us may no longer have this same reflexive understanding of a bell meaning “cyclist on the left.” This is probably because most cyclists don’t even seem to have bells anymore. The result is that whenever cyclists and pedestrians share close quarters — on bridges, on sidewalks, and on multi-use paths like the Esplanade and the Springwater Corridor — confusion often reigns, and the chances of a crash go up.
I propose that we bring the bike bell back into style. Every new bicyclist ought to be sold on the advantages of this cheap yet effective device. All children’s bikes should be sold with bells. Heck, all bikes should automatically come bell-equipped. Those of us with bells ought to use them and model their use to others.
A bell can be understood by anyone, of any age, in any language. Widespread bell use increases traffic safety and road sharing far more effectively than expensive infrastructure or a public education campaign.
Bell or not, it’s inexcusable not to warn people — pedestrians or slower cyclists — when you’re going to pass them with less than a couple of feet to spare. It’s not only legally required to yield to traffic in front of you, it’s good manners, and good public relations for cyclists.
Don’t think you need a bell? Try walking over the Hawthorne or Broadway at rush hour before making your argument. The rules and guidelines for using such paths ought to be clearly understood by everyone. The current haphazard situation just doesn’t work.
Cyclists and pedestrians ought to be natural allies, but until we share a common language of traffic signals, we’ll be at odds. I’m convinced that within a few years, bells could become commonly understood and used again — but it won’t happen without our efforts.