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Regarding the "astonished and appalled" post:

I'm constantly frustrated by the dangerous obliviousness of pedestrians (with headphones on, or talking to one another, as a respondent points out), on the CCT especially. *However*, I'm also astonished and appalled at how few of my fellow cyclists bother to signal when passing me and those same pedestrians. How hard is it to say "on your left", or hit a bell? We can do better, people.

Regarding Another biker's excuse: "I often don't warn because I find that many walkers will stop and turn around to find where the noise is coming from, which may cause an accident. It is often, in my view, safer to not say anything." This old canard is what I always hear if I confront a biker about not announcing their presence with a bell or "on your left." This never happens IF you announce early enough, at least 30 or 40 feet before passing. The fact that the majority of times you get a sincere "Thank you" suggests far too few of us are extending this common courtesy.

I agree. From a liability standpoint, if you give a signal and the walker does something stupid, it becomes the walker's fault. If you fail to signal and the walker crosses into your path, it is arguably your fault.

Yes it IS hard saying "on your left" four or five hundred times on a busy trail. I'm glad you guys are doing this - you must not be on the trails I am on.

Yes it IS hard saying "on your left" four or five hundred times on a busy trail.

Which is why I use a bell. And a good bell can be heard from much farther than the human voice.

I always announce for adult bikers, but generally not for pedestrians and kid bikers. I always give pedestrians the full trail when I pass and I have never been thanked by pedestrians when I have announced. Generally when I do announce 30 to 40 feet from behind, I get absolutely no response, particularly from packs of pedestrians. This is why I said from my perspective, it is safer not to announce. It is not a canard. So go confront non-announcing bicyclist all you wish... This is the reason I generally prefer to play in traffic than ride the trails in this area. It is simply too difficult to commute on the trails.

With regard to liability, you very well may be right, but to me it is more important to not get in an accident that worry about blame.

I announce, unless I can tell that the person knows I'm there - like they just looked back at me or something, but I recognize that it's a drag. [Some people get really upset at me when I say this, as if I have to do it AND like it. Life is full of hundreds of things that I think are a drag, but I do them anyway]. And it doesn't do much to encourage cyclists to do so when so few people can hear it. I have even been yelled at for it, perhaps because people think my bell is like a horn and I'm saying "get out of my way" instead of "heads up". So, I get why some cyclists don't do it.

Also, it should be largely a courtesy. Since you should assume that no one can hear you anyway, you should pass at a speed and distance that keeps you both safe assuming they didn't hear you. The bell is at best a belt to your suspenders. It helps you to deal with the rare cases of (1) Someone who can hear you and (2) someone who will suddenly move to the left or turn around without looking at just the wrong moment.

So while I agree that cyclists should do this, and I do it, the only reason it is needed is because you can't count on pedestrians to look before moving. Thus, it is somewhat unfair to then make a big deal about cyclists who don't do it. "Hey you didn't do the thing that protects us from my bad behavior. What's the matter with you?"

Passing too fast and/or too close is another issue.

The trails I ride are not crowded, so it's not a burden to be announcing all the time. That said, dog walkers and casual strollers on the trails sometimes aren't really expecting bikes coming through at speed. I usually start with a good morning or hello, and from a ways back to not startle, and then say thanks(whether they move over or not). I've had quite a few pedestrians thank me back (sincerely I think) -- especially those walking dogs. Fortunately, there are plenty of places on th trail where you can open it up, so the occasional slowdowns for pedestrians aren't a big deal. It does get more crowded when the weather's good -- we'll see how fast it goes this Friday, when afternoon temps are supposed to be mid-70s.

The bell is not only easier than saying "on your left" but it has a distinctive sound. Perhaps more importantly, if you have an accident, is that it is required in most jurisdictions and absence of the bell would be pretty good evidence against the cyclist for failing to warn. The injured other party can point to its lack as evidence consistent with their assertion that you didnt warn, and that you are a "scofflaw."

SJE, I'm not sure it is required. It is often a posted "rule" but is it a law? Besides, bell or not - one party will say they announced and the other will say they did not - regardless of what the actual fact is. [Is that too cynical?]

Maryland law (§ 21-1207) says "may be equipped" but the guidelines that come from SHA etc say "must be equipped."

My point is that when there is a law or policy designed to keep people safe, and a person violates that law, when there is an accident they used that to infer negligence. In some case, it is per se negligent. This principle goes back a long way in tort law. For a modern example, blowing 0.081 is almost a trump card for negligence, even if the driver was careful and shows no signs of impairment, and the other party was being careless.

So, if there is a policy on bells, and you do not have one, you are opening yourself to problems. Yes, it can come down to he said/she said, but if you do not have a bell its a lot easier for the injured jogger to paint you in a bad light, even if she is wearing headphones. ("I was listening for a bell but didnt hear it because he didnt have one").

You can see why I think that a bell is worthwhile $10 insurance.


For another example, when there is a collision with a car the first question is whether the cylist wore a helment. This is neither legally required for adults, nor relevant to many injuries. However, the lack of a helmet seems to be taken as some indication that the cyclist was negligent: they were the sort of person who did not care about their safety/did not follow the law on helmet and therefore were more likely to be at fault in an accident.

In the absence of a video camera or witness, the police and courts look at other signs for infering conduct, and helmets seem to be a biggy. Emotional thinking is a huge issue in court cases, and so you don't want to be painted as the bad/irresponsible party.

There is a law that you must have a bell (or horn). There is no law you must use it.

And in DC, by law, whether one is or is not wearing a helmet can not be used as a sign of contributory negligence. "Failure to wear a helmet shall not be
a admissible as evidence in the trial of any civil action, nor in any way
diminish or reduce the damages recoverable in such action."

The resistance of some to mounting and using a bell confounds me as much as the helmut / no helmut debate.

The NPS requires a bell on the C&O:
http://www.nps.gov/choh/planyourvisit/hikingandbiking.htm

Since the NPS also has jurisdiction for the DC portion of the CCT I've heard it said that they require it there too.

Why doesn't voice count in the list (bell, horn, etc.) under etc.?
How 'bout a squeaky chain? :)

Washcycle:
The fact that they had to make an explicit law shows the power of helmet wearing to prejudice the jury.

I think the issue is that you are thinking like a scientist, rather than how this will play in the court.

Your possession of a bell versus use of a bell makes sense to me. The lawyer in me thinks otherwise.

The use issue comes down to competing witnesses and testimony. Possession of a bell, OTOH, is pretty simple matter to determine. So, if you are on the other side in a legal dispute I will note first that you bring in evidence of all the requirements, guidelines, recommendations about having a bell. Then, I will note that your lack of a bell is indicative of your lack of respect for the laws and lack of respect for the safety of others. You are another scofflaw cyclist.

The jury nods its head at "scofflaw cyclist," and your case is not looking good.

This is playing to the emotional thinking of the jury. It has nothing to do with whether bells are better than voices, or whether the bell was used. Unfortunately, a lot of cases are won and lost on such emotional thinking.

Personally, I doubt that Alice Swanson's family would have won a large settlement without the evidence that the driver was involved in numerous accidents around the same time, and the fact that Alice was a nice young white girl.

SJE, I think the issue is that when you said "it is required in most jurisdictions" I thought "it" referred to using the bell, since that is how you used it in the previous sentence, but now I see you meant only the possession of the bell, in which case I agree.

This is the reason I generally prefer to play in traffic than ride the trails in this area. It is simply too difficult to commute on the trails.

I feel safer riding in the right-hand lane on Pennsylvania Ave in PG County from the DC line to Andrews AFB than I do on a warm weekend on the Capitol Crescent Trail. Terrifying

Fred, I think I am on the same trails as you, and I do signal, usually by voice, sometimes by bell, several hundred times on a typical weekend ride. What's hard about that?

I warn everyone about 2-5 seconds in advance of passing (longer for groups), unless it's already obvious they've observed both my presence and my speed. Here's what I see (these numbers aren't formally measured; they are just my impression. I've put in about 800 miles so far this year so I think I've got a reasonable basis for my estimates):

- About 90% of pedestrians don't acknowledge my signal at all. Maybe a third of those seem genuinely oblivious (maybe I can see they have headphones on), in which case I warn again just before I pass.
- Around 5% of pedestrians acknowledge my signal with a gesture of some kind, or by drifting to the right. There is the odd pedestrian who doesn't understand the protocol and goes left instead of right, especially if I use the bell, which is one reason I favor the voice. Rarely, there's someone who isn't sure if "on the left" is a warning or an instruction. For children or people who are obviously unaware of the protocol, I'll often use "Passing on your left" (or "right", in the case of the bozo pedestrians who are walking on the left) in order to be more clear. The existence of these protocol-unaware pedestrians is a sign not enough cyclists are giving warnings, since every pedestrian should be learning the protocol within the few miles of trail walking just from habituation.
- Less than 5%, but definitely a few, pedestrians actually thank me for signaling. Occasionally someone will *earnestly* thank me, which means some other cyclists have been buzzing them without warning recently.
- Maybe 1% of pedestrians seem slightly startled. This is another clear sign that not enough cyclists are giving warnings--warnings should be commonplace for pedestrians, and they should be inured to them. I'm pretty confident that these same people would also be startled if I passed them without warning, as some of the oblivious peds with headphones are. No one has been startled into my path, but if they were, we both would have at least 2-5 seconds to react, thanks to my warning--not so if they are startled by my actually passing them.
- Once or twice a year, I will be passing a runner who has reached some arbitrary turnaround point and makes an abrupt U-turn without checking. I have learned to be more vigilant for what seem to be landmarks for these people, and I tend to use the bell loudly and give a little more lead time when passing a lone runner who seems to be breaking right a little as if to prepare for a U-turn, or checking his or her watch.
- I haven't hit anyone yet (touch wood).

Yes, the CCT on a warm weekend isn't appropriate for high speed, and your bell may get a workout, especially between River Road and Bethesda Row. Other trouble spots I encounter frequently:
- The W&OD in the Four Mile Run park area and around Vienna.
- The MVT at Gravelly Point (where people seem completely unaware that a trail even exists), near Alexandria, and near Mount Vernon.
- The RCPT from Lake Frank up to Lake Needwood, and from Tilden Street down to Georgetown. (I mostly stay on Beach Drive where it is an alternative to the RCPT.)

Every pedestrian, like every cyclist, is a distinct individual. It makes no sense to stop warning people just because the majority seem oblivious. Lumping them together because of the behavior of some is exactly what we decry when drivers do it to us. If you see pedestrians startled by a warning, or uncertain how to react, that is not a reason to stop warning--it is a sign that not enough people *are* warning. Warnings are a matter of habit, not liability, and they aren't difficult--they are both an appropriate courtesy to each pedestrian individually, and collectively a way to teach slower traffic to stay right so no one gets hurt.

@wash - "I announce, ... but I recognize that it's a drag.

Perhaps it's time to install an automatic bell ringer.



(yes, I've been working on that joke for a month now)

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