How to Avoid Fuss Among Pedestrians While Riding Across Mixed Pedestrian and Cycling Zones

By Adam Marsal

Large parts of downtowns are covered with pedestrian zones where pedestrians share space with other traffic participants. While cars are usually prohibited, cyclists are allowed under basic rules. This article is not only about navigation through pedestrian zones as safely as possible but also about spreading a positive attitude.

While cycling to work, I usually come across several so-called pedestrian zones. I don’t mean pavements where only pedestrians are allowed but rather mixed-traffic areas where pedestrians take advantage of priority. Even though regulation may vary depending on local legislation, bicycles are usually allowed without restrictions. Cars, on the other hand, are only allowed under certain conditions such as shop supply or residency.

While riding the bike, I often feel like being an ambassador for all cyclists as it’s important to me that the whole cycling community preserves a good reputation. Having this in my mind, I try to avoid situations that could divide society between cyclists and those hating or fearing them. That’s why I try to treat all people around as considerately as possible, no matter if they are pedestrians, drivers or other cycling mates.

Everyone had probably witnessed a situation when a fast-riding cyclist zigzagged around people as if they were gates of a slalom course. If everyone behaved like that, sooner or later, tragedies would occur here and there, and cycling would end up blacklisted in most cities.

Urban cycling
Good communication is one of the most important things when riding in traffic. © Profimedia

Pedestrian zones are usually located in historic centres, which makes them crowded most of the time. The basic rule of riding a bike over pedestrian zones is to reduce the speed and, when necessary, slow down even to a walking pace. The important thing is not only to avoid colliding or endangering anyone around but even not to scare anyone either. Pedestrians should always feel as safe as on the pavement.

Good communication is one of the most relevant factors in traffic. I always try to make eye contact with people where possible. Even though it might seem insignificant to some, eye contact can often tell where the other person is heading in less than a split second. Just a blink and everybody involved knows that everybody can avoid each other comfortably.

It’s also possible to communicate with people with limited visual contact – usually with those walking in the same direction, so they can’t see you until passing them. If I realize that they should know about my presence, typically to prevent them from unexpectedly stepping into my lane, I draw their attention to myself by ringing the bell. If I don’t have a bell on my handlebars, I whistle a tune just to let them know.

In the case of doubt about who goes first, I always try to give pedestrians the right of way. On the other hand, if someone lets me pass, I always say hello and thank you. For personal reasons, I believe it’s appropriate to spread positive attitudes around while cycling.

Cyclists should pay special attention to children, dogs and hikers who have a lot in common. All of them tend to be confused, distracted and jolly. They often change directions unpredictably or stop out of the blue to look at their mobile phones (hikers), jump into a puddle (children) or grab a lost snack on the pavement (dogs). I prefer to ride at a distance than seems exaggerated at first but could help avoid potentially dangerous times. While passing by, I always look over my shoulder before taking evasive action to prevent crossing into someone else’s lane. I always find it way better to come to a halt abruptly than to cause a critical moment. There’s nothing in the world that could not wait a while.