Bicycle Bell Protocols
My daily commute usually includes passage over a section of mixed use path in a powerline right of way. It’s typical to encounter retired couples out for their morning walks together, and a battery of dedicated animal lovers taking their beloved companions out for a romp (and other business). Most don’t expect to encounter a cyclist in winter, so they go about their activity not entirely on the alert.
The last thing I want to do is impair cycling by demonstrating myself a hazard to pedestrians or animals. That is why my bike has a bell, and why that bell is used.
If I am cycling up behind someone and think there is a risk that they may inadvertently turn into my path, I use the bell to warn of my presence. Here is where things get interesting. The signal that is my bell ringing is not a request on my part for right of way. Rather, it is an audible signal of my presence – I am letting the others know that they need to exercise caution if they deviate from their current course and speed. At the same time, I slow down and give as much berth as possible – allowing for as much reaction time as possible should the pedestrian do something I don’t expect.
I confess I feel guilty when I am cycling along, ring the bell, and in turn the warned party makes way for me. It was not my intent to demand right of way. I would not want the public habituated to yielding right of way to cyclists ringing their bells. In scale, this is the same as car drivers honking their horns at me: get out of my way.
If governments are looking for ways to improve integration of cycling into the overall transportation and lifestyle solutions in their communities, here is a good educational opportunity: through consistent messaging, establish bicycle bell ringing protocols as a courtesy from cyclists to pedestrians, not a demand for right of way.
This may seem like a small matter, but my opinion differs. There is a place for courtesy between us, and as an ambassador for cycling in my community, I would feel much more relaxed if I had the confidence that pedestrians understood I was offering them the courtesy of being more aware of my presence, rather than feeling entitled towards having a space to ride as I wish and I hereby demand access to that space.