Skip to main content
2010BlogRoad Rights

Road Rights – The Messages We Send

By August 18, 2010October 23rd, 2021No Comments

If you ride near pedestrians, you may be doing the rest of us a disservice.

By Bob Mionske

I was returning from a ride, but one of my main routes home was closed for bridge repairs, so I had to use another bridge to cross the river (with eleven bridges connecting the city across the Willamette River, there’s a good reason Portland is nicknamed “Bridgetown”). The alternate route I chose was a bridge with a multi-use path that is wide enough for about three or four pedestrians standing side by side. It was noon, and there were people walking, jogging, and pushing strollers. And of course, cyclists were present.

I was passed by a cyclist, and fell in behind him. As we approached someone walking in the same direction in which we were traveling, I slowed to pass, but the cyclist in front of me just kept his speed. When he was about 10 feet behind the pedestrian, he moved over to the left just enough to avoid hitting the pedestrian from behind. Then he careened back to the right just in time to avoid riding head-on into a jogger. I waited until it was safe to pass, and then proceeded with caution past the pedestrian at about 8 mph. Coming from the opposite direction, I saw another biker doing better than 15 mph. He overtook a pedestrian by swerving over into our half of the walkway, causing me to brake hard to avoid a collision. This behavior was repeated by other cyclists for the duration of my ride across the bridge, and it got me thinking about how we cyclists treat other traffic.
When we’re on the road, we are the underdogs, and I applaud cyclists who stand up for themselves when their rights are being violated. But if some of us are standing up for our rights while simultaneously violating the rights of others around us, that’s hypocritical, and makes for terrible public relations with the majority of the public that doesn’t ride. Further, demanding courtesy and respect from a non-cycling public while not respecting those people will only make it that much harder for us to achieve gains for cyclists.

Beyond this pragmatic perspective—that bad PR is bad for cycling, this isn’t just about PR. At it’s core, this is about common courtesy and respect for the rights of other people.

Ironically, I think that some of the behavior we are seeing is generated by “sunshine cyclists.” These are the people who only ride in the fair weather of the summer months; most of the year, they are in their cars. Now, I think it’s great that people are riding, even if it’s only for a few months out of the year, and even if it’s only because everybody else is doing it. And I think there may be a lot of different reasons why some cyclists seem to ride so discourteously. Some may just be utterly clueless about riding, beyond the basics of keeping the bike upright; some may believe the hype that that’s how cyclists ride; and some may just be self-centered people who ride the same way they drive—with utter disregard for anybody but themselves.

Regardless of which type of cyclist the fair-weather rider is, they are all less invested in relationships between cyclists and others, and therefore, in the affects of their behavior. Fair-weather riders especially seem to have no regard for pedestrians or motorists as they blithely weave around motorists, pedestrians, and other cyclists—and the brunt of any ill-will created by these riders will be borne by year-round cyclists. A pedestrian on a multi-use path doesn’t see somebody who just got on a bike for the first time in 10 years, and is just plain clueless about how to ride around others; all the pedestrian sees is a “cyclist.” And the same thing is true of the “cyclist” who drives most of the year, and thinks that riding without regard for the rules or for common courtesy is part of “the freedom” of being a cyclist. And what about the bully who pushes people around regardless of whether he’s driving or riding? All the pedestrian sees is a “cyclist.”

Of course, not every discourteous cyclist is a fair-weather cyclist. Some year-round cyclists really do believe that their “freedom” means they have rights without corresponding responsibilities to others. And some percentage of people are just inconsiderate, regardless of their chosen mode of getting around; you’ll find them driving, you’ll find them walking, and yes, you’ll find them riding a bike. In my experience, there are fairly few cyclists who are this callous, but again, the impression they create about “all cyclists” is lasting. And of course, because they don’t care about anybody but themselves, they also don’t care that they are creating lasting negative impressions that affect the rest of us.

This means that it’s up to the rest of us—the vast majority of cyclists—to set a better example. One place to begin is on the multi-use path. For cyclists who are used to riding on the road in traffic, the multi-use path can perhaps present a difficult mental transition. On the road, we are at the bottom of the “food chain.” However, once we are on a multi-use path (or “MUP”), we are suddenly the “top predator.”

And even though time spent on the MUP may only represent a brief portion of our ride, the impression about cyclists we are leaving is much greater, relative to our time spent on the MUP, because we interact so closely with pedestrians when we are on the MUP. And of course, these pedestrians are also in all likelihood motorists (and probably voters, too), which means that impressions we create on the MUP will continue to reverberate long after we’ve left the MUP.

It makes sense then, for us to make an effort to create a better environment for everyone (and in the process, improve our P.R.). We can do simple things, like taking care not to frighten or endanger pedestrians when we’re passing them. Besides not creating a lasting bad impression, riding courteously around pedestrians will mean that we are lessening the risk of collisions. And it also means that we are exercising the due care that the law requires of us. It’s a win-win, and it doesn’t cost us a thing.

Connect with Bob on Facebook.

(Research and drafting provided by Rick Bernardi, J.D.)

This article, The Messages We Send, was originally published on Bicycling on August 18, 2010.

Now read the fine print:
Bob Mionske is a former competitive cyclist who represented the U.S. at the 1988 Olympic games (where he finished fourth in the road race), the 1992 Olympics, as well as winning the 1990 national championship road race.
After retiring from racing in 1993, he coached the Saturn Professional Cycling team for one year before heading off to law school. Mionske’s practice is now split between personal-injury work, representing professional athletes as an agent and other legal issues facing endurance athletes (traffic violations, contract, criminal charges, intellectual property, etc).
Mionske is also the author of Bicycling and the Law, designed to be the primary resource for cyclists to consult when faced with a legal question. It provides readers with the knowledge to avoid many legal problems in the first place, and informs them of their rights, their responsibilities, and what steps they can take if they do encounter a legal problem.
If you have a cycling-related legal question, please send it to Bob will answer as many of these questions privately as he can. He will also select a few questions each week to answer in this column. General bicycle-accident advice can be found at
Important notice:
The information provided in the “Road Rights” column is not legal advice. The information provided on this public web site is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors to this web site. The information contained in the column applies to general principles of American jurisprudence and may not reflect current legal developments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and therefore should not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Understand that reading the information contained in this column does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Bob Mionske. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained in the web site without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.