Be Courteous Out There!

A Westport mother of 3 — soon to be 4 — writes:

We live by the beach for the reason so many others do: the ability to walk and bike to Compo, the close-knit neighborhood, and the freedom all this allows our children at a young age.

However, what should be enjoyable bike rides with my 3 boys — ages 9, 7 and 4 — is constantly ruined by the rude adults we encounter on our rote.

I have had “serious” bikers yell at my children that they aren’t allowed in the bike lane because it wasn’t on the right hand side of the road.

These bikers are wrong. Yes, one should stay to the right of the road — biking with the flow of traffic — but a review of our state biking laws shows there are more than a few exceptions.

One includes “riding on parts of a roadway separated for the exclusive use of bicycles.”

When it comes to biking, no one will confuse Westport with the Netherlands.

I’ve been reprimanded by adults walking on the sidewalk for my boys not having bells on their bikes to warn that they are approaching.

Connecticut law demands “an audible signal within a reasonable distance before overtaking and passing a pedestrian.” Apparently my boys saying “excuse me” repeatedly before cautiously passing a walker is not sufficient.

I’ve seen adults be extremely rude to my 4-year-old when he passes them a little too closely. Shouldn’t we applaud a young child riding without training wheels, not make nasty comments? How will he ever learn to bike courteously like his older brothers if I don’t take him out there with me, and teach proper etiquette?

The beach, the sidewalk and roads around it are for all to enjoy. You’d think the adults of this town would be happy to see a pack of little boys enjoying their bikes, rather than sitting home with their heads stuck in iPads.

15 responses to “Be Courteous Out There!

  1. Dear Mother of Three: Sadly, it doesn’t matter what the rules are, I’m afraid. We were walking at Compo Beach on the South Beach section of the road. A cyclist started yelling out “left left!” as he approached from behind us. There were no cars or other people on the road at the time, as it was off season. We were walking on the far left side of the road. He berated us for not moving out of HIS way. I offered him a few words of wisdom as he whizzed past. We used to cycle all the time in Manhattan when we lived there – I am terrified to cycle here. Walking and driving is no picnic either. Watch Out everybody. Happy Labor Day!

  2. Dear mother of 3 (soon to be 4),

    Glad to read that you are trying to teach your children to ride safely and carefully on their bicycles. Congratulations, also, on having a 4-year-old who can ride without training wheels. However, if he can’t maintain a safe distance from people walking without inducing fear and concern, you should consider keeping him closer to home while he learns and grows and attains greater stability and control.

    I don’t think berating children is appropriate in any circumstance but a suggestion that a bell might be a better notification that bicycle is approaching than a 7-year-old child calling out “excuse me” is not, in my opinion, a bad idea.

    In my experience, as a 43-year-old 5′ 11″ man, most 11-year-olds riding a bicycle on a sidewalk scare me so I don’t have an appropriate answer for that.

    So, in short, you are 100% correct that no one should be rude and that riding in a bike lane in either direction is safer when it is the only bike lane available.

    Other than that, everything you’ve described will continue to be interpreted by me as subject to circumstances and perceived risk.

    Be careful out there and I applaud you for encouraging your children to travel by bicycle and to be out and about rather than watching TV and playing video games.

    • Sorry for misstating the age of your eldest. 11 year olds may not belong in the street depending on his maturity but they still have. A lot of weight if they accidentally barrel into someone on the sidewalk. It is tough to decide when someone is ready to ride a long distance on modern roads with fast cars. But sidewalks are not a good place to practice bicycling.

  3. Susan – Cyclists, when coming up behind another cyclist or pedestrian, should shout out a POLITE ‘on your left’ to let you know they were about to pass you. This is necessary because you don’t hear them coming up behind you. It is NOT meant for you to get out of THEIR way. Bicycles are wheeled vehicles, and therefore must follow the rules of the road. But too often I have seen them ride through red lights, cut in front of my car without hand signals for a left or right turn. As a child I had to take a test (at town hall) for the proper way to ride my bicycle. I even had a little license plate that I hung on my bicycle. It’s sad to see some cyclists become as rude as car drivers. That being said, I have also been ridden off the road by a car sideswiping me on my bike. Perhaps driving tests need to include a section on etiquette and manners 🙂

  4. Lorraine Harrison

    A bell is a good idea.. the excuse me may not indicate that a bike is coming up upon you.. you seem to have the same sense of entitlement that many Westporters exhibit.. The walking paths should be safe for pedestrians.. An elderly or feeble walker might get hurt.. you boys should move father enough away or get off the bike to ensure safety..

  5. Bikes do not belong on a sidewalk. If your boys must be on the sidewalk because they cannot ride on the road for some reason, they should walk their bikes.

  6. If many adults have suggested bells on many occasions, there might be something to it, no?

  7. I had the same observation as Bobbie: Bikes are NOT allowed on sidewalks. Not sure why the posting references Connecticut state law to justify riding in a bike lane, but fails to recognize that riding a bike on a sidewalk is a violation of the state law:

    Ch 3 Section 14 – 286: “No person shall operate a bicycle upon a sidewalk”

    Pedestrians who walk/run in the road when a sidewalk is available are also in violation of CT state law:

    Ch 3 Section 14 – 300c. “No pedestrian shall walk along and upon a roadway where a sidewalk adjacent to such roadway is provided”

    So the law is clear: Bikers must use roads, not sidewalks; walkers/runners must use sidewalks, not roads. And of course, cars must obey speed limits.

    I’m not taking sides here — we’d have a more orderly society if everyone followed the rules. I suspect most people “bend” the rules every now and then.

  8. How are we going to solve the bike problem, when we gave up walking at the beach because young adults (40’s) would bump into us and refuse to share the sidewalks? !! We would go into the street while the young crowd refused to move to one side.
    What ever happened to manners and respect for others—-especially seniors.

    But I do think it is great that you are out doors with your children. I just hope you stay safe in this busy town.

  9. I’ve always thought it okay to allow young children to ride their bikes on the sidewalk, especially along busy roads. As long as they are taught to do so politely and cautiously, I think it’s socially acceptable regardless of official rules, which I’ve assumed pertain more to adults. Riding on the roads around here feels dangerous, especially when small children are less visible. Good for you for taking your boys out for bike rides and teaching them how to navigate the rules of the road at their young ages. I’d much rather deal with sidewalk curmudgeons and nasty cyclist behavior than risking life and limb to speeding and erratic drivers. Plus, it’s another teaching experience for the children: often, rude comments are not usually about the people they are directed at but about the people who make them and their own issues. I run down hillspoint road to the beach several times per week, and I see speeding cars and trucks driving in the shoulder all of the time. Be safe out there, and have fun!

  10. I saw a similar trio in Longshore yesterday riding with a grownup. They looked like they were having fun!

    I am not sure what the writer means when she says, “I have had ‘serious’ bikers yell at my children that they aren’t allowed in the bike lane because it wasn’t on the right hand side of the road.”

    Is she making an argument for riding against traffic?

    A quick Internet search reveals a document on bicycle safety from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which states, “Your child should always ride on the right, with traffic.” It says that bicyclists’ riding against traffic surprises and confuses drivers and says that about a fourth of bicycle accidents are caused by cyclists riding against traffic instead of with it.

    • Riding against traffic when only when bicycle lane is available is preferable to riding with traffic without a bicycle lane according to Connecticut law. That appears to be regardless of the age of the biker and I would think particularly true of a young biker.

  11. All of the writes on riding are good…but, to make it easier on all, following the laws are best. They are usually know more by many and take away doubt/new cycling ideas that are strange to some.

  12. There are some areas along Hillspoint Road which have barely a shoulder or no shoulder at all. There is a joke of a shoulder near the pond leading up to Elvira’s, and there is no shoulder at all, nary a white line, along the stretch of water approaching Compo Beach. Let’s keep our mothers and young children on bikes safe by graciously allowing them to cautiously and courteously use the sidewalks along our busy roads which are often populated by swerving sightseers, texters, and wide service and construction trucks. Let’s also work together to get some proper bike lanes painted on these well loved roads so we can better share and enjoy one of our favorite places to be. Again, I applaud this mother and all mothers who bravely and enthusiastically take their young children out for bike rides in our town. Children who learn to share sidewalks and roads grow up to be adults who share sidewalks and roads.

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