Ring My Bell: Introducing Ride with Respect

Editors: This story was originally published in Issue 161 of our quarterly Tube Times magazine, one of many perks of membership in the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, when we are out on our city streets we are in a relationship with everyone else with whom we’re sharing that space. Why not strive to make that relationship as kind and respectful as it can be?

It’s this goal that inspires the launch of a new campaign: Ride with Respect. Building off of our popular Light Up the Night campaign (see sidebar), we’re popping up around the city this fall with Bike Ambassador stations to celebrate the simple pleasures of biking with respect for those navigating the city with us. And what better way to celebrate than with free bicycle bells for those who stop by? Thanks to the generous support of LaneSpotter (a new bike-specific navigation app) and Recology, we plan to hand out 75 bells at each of four stations throughout the fall.

So what does it mean to Ride with Respect? On the road, we can remember the thoughts and feelings of others in a variety of ways. People don’t like to be surprised, so remember to pass other bikes on the left, leaving ample space to avoid startling anyone. This is a good thing to keep in mind at red lights too. To ensure that everyone has space to stop behind the stop line, resist the urge to partake in “shoaling,” or pulling in front of someone already stopped at a red light.

And yes, everyone needs space sometimes. Remember that sidewalks are for folks on foot, not for bikes. The same holds true for crosswalks. Those narrow strips are the only spots in the street designated for our friends walking. Just as it’s frustrating when a truck illegally double-parks in a busy bike lane, it’s frustrating to dodge bikes while crossing during a short “walk” light.

Communication is also key. That’s where those bells we’ll be handing out come in handy. Ringing your bell — or even calling out “on your left” — when passing someone allows them to respond appropriately, making everyone safer. Hand signals also let everyone know our intended direction, as does the subtle language of lane positioning.

But why should we bother with these dynamics? I think of a conversation with an ex-partner. “Why do you always leave dirty dishes in the sink?” he snapped at me once. Always? Perhaps two, three times. But those are the instances that stand out. The same holds true on the street: occasional bad behavior sticks in the memory, affecting perceptions. One unpleasant run-in with a person biking could make all people biking look like personal threats to a potential ally.

As with any relationship, our happy coexistence with everyone with whom we share the streets requires a bit of effort. But that effort helps us get to the good stuff. By tending to these relationships, we raise the possibility that those of us on bikes are given the same respect that we offer.

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