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When riding on bike paths or mixed-use paths, there are usually pedestrians walking along them as well. Pedestrians tend to be somewhat unpredictable; they may suddenly turn around or step to the side.

What is your preferred method of warning pedestrians when you are overtaking them? I've been taught to say "on your left" or "passing on your left", but many times when I've tried that, the pedestrians have misinterpreted me and stepped to their left, or turned around to look in a way that actually caused them to move left as well, putting them closer to my path.

More recently, since my current bike came equipped with a bell, I've tried the approach of just ringing my bell once to indicate that I'm there. I worry that this might indicate to pedestrians that I'm impatient to pass them, and I recently had someone yell at me to "say something" when I did so.

What is your preferred method safely overtaking pedestrians you are passing? Verbal warning, a bell, no warning at all and just giving them a wide berth at low speed?

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I am impatient to pass, when the lane is bike-only, and someone decided to walk their dog/parents/baby-cart there. –  Vorac Nov 22 '13 at 17:13
    
@Vorac Sometimes it's a bike only lane, but a lot of times when this happens it's on a mixed-use path. –  Brian Campbell Nov 22 '13 at 22:00
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11 Answers 11

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Probably the most important thing isn't what signal, but when you signal. Try to give the pedestrians several seconds of warning. I've notice that many cyclists don't give the pedestrians enough time. The pedestrians you're about to pass need to hear the signal, look around trying to figure out where the signal came from, decide with their friends whether to step right or left, move to the side, decide that the other side is better and move to the other side... And that takes a few seconds... ringing your bell when you're 10 feet (3 meters) back and moving fast doesn't really help. This may mean needing to slow down on paths in general, and especially needing to slow down (or at least stop pedaling) as you approach pedestrians.

  1. Bell. From a good distance back. And maybe again when getting closer if it didn't look like they noticed the first time.
  2. "Good Morning (pause) Bicycle" as a vocal warning. (adjust the first part as appropriate). That way you get their attention with the greeting, then once they're paying attention tell them that you're a bike.

What I usually do is ring the bell ("ding") when I'm a good distance back, then again twice ("dingding") if I'm getting closer and they don't seem to have noticed. I do this whether they're in the way or not, to warn them not to suddenly step into my way. If they did have to move, or especially if had to go to some effort (holding a dog back, keeping their child on the right side of the road, etc) I say "Thank You" and smile as I pass. Otherwise I just say "good morning" or something like that.

I would avoid anything like "on your left"; most people will move right when you say that, but a small percentage will just hear the "left" and move left instead.

Also, avoid horns: they confuse people.

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"On your left" works for me almost all the time. It's the one-in-a-[big number] pedestrian that worries me. –  Neil Fein Oct 2 '10 at 19:31
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@neilfein: it's that "almost all the time" thing that eventually leads to either running over an innocent pedestrian or hitting a tree. :) –  freiheit Oct 2 '10 at 20:42
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+1 for ringing the bell once with enough notice and saying Good Morning, etc. This generally works well and people don't mind so much when you greet them. Saying "on your left" works well with other cyclists but doesn't work so well with pedestrians. My guess is that cyclists hear this often; pedestrians don't. –  Wayne Johnston Oct 3 '10 at 1:48
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Also kids generally don't have the reflex to move to the right. So be aware around smaller kids. –  Richard Tasker Jan 12 '11 at 17:56
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I'll ring my bell once or twice. If the pedestrians move over, all well and good. If not, I'll slow down a bit and call out "on your left". If that doesn't do it, I'll slow down to walking speed and politely tap someone on the shoulder.

Of course, every situation is different. If there are dogs or kids, I get even more cautious. Pedestrians with headphones... I assume they to be erratic. There's no perfect way to handle this, and that's why bike paths aren't my preferred way to get around. (Except in the rain. It's amazing how a little rain empties the paths!)

Above all, keep in mind that pedestrians usually have the right of way over bikes and be polite.

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I usually just ring my bell and say excuse me, then once I'm actually passing them I'll usually say thanks.

I tend not to tell them which side due to the unpredictableness of the pedestrian and then just play it by ear depending which way they step.

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As a hiker on mixed use trails, I've been hit from behind once and sideswiped on another occasion. Both instances were "Hit-and-runs". An amazing number of bikers overtake me completely silently. Marginally better ones say something like "left" as they are actually passing me. That's zero notice.

I know from experience that If you're wearing a full frame backpack you can not hear any of the typical "bike noise" a bike makes.

A bell is mandatory in my state, though I suspect it's only selectively enforced.

As a biker, I ring the bell (one ding) about 3 seconds from behind to let them know I'm a bike and I'm overtaking them. One second before, I'll say "on your left". And then if they look like they are trying to share the usage of the path at all with me (staying on the right-hand side, or not walking 5 abreast) I'll say "thanks" after I've passed.

Share the trail with pedestrians people.

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When I first started cycling more than casually I bought a bell to warn pedestrians. I found that the bell was ignored about ten times out of ten. I now almost always shout "On your left" (or right, where appropriate).

As stated, the trick is to announce your presence early enough, as pedestrians will usually jump a bit and wobble back and forth before they process what you said. (This is especially true if you're right behind them when you shout out.) I find that if you announce yourself early enough you have little trouble.

Additionally, if you regularly bike the same route then the other regular users of that route become used to your announcements and know how to respond to them. So it's worthwhile to always announce yourself, even when the way seems reasonably clear, as a sort of teaching exercise.

I regularly get irritated at other cyclists who pass me without notice. On a bike it's damn hard to hear another bike approaching, and on the trails where I often bike the birds are chirping too loudly to hear a bike bell. Maybe one in 50 cyclists, when passing me (I'm kinda slow), give an audible warning (and a lot of those that do just yell "Left!" in your left ear -- thanks a lot!). So give cyclists the same audible warning you'd give peds.

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Yeah, there are definitely places I ride where "on your left" is almost always understood and places where it's not. Where it is, I gauge the distance by the type of pedestrian: the more likely it is that space will be an issue, the earlier I say it and the slower I approach. (More caution when approaching groups, pedestrians with dogs, and people listening to music.) –  Dave DuPlantis Jun 8 '11 at 19:00
    
For dogs on the loose with apparently clueless owners I shout "Mind your dog, please!" For large groups I shout something like "Coming up behind you!" And I generally shout loud enough to be heard through headphones, especially if I see them. Don't be bashful about using a loud voice. –  Daniel R Hicks Jun 9 '11 at 11:15
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I've noticed that sound of tires works a way better than bell or speech :D

Actually, the best way is to keep your speed low.

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A squeaky brake?

I make this kind of "bip-bip" noise, not quite as aggressive "beep-beep" but more than just a timid, polite cough.

I've never liked bells - they seem to imply that you can't summon the courage to actually talk to someone and would rely on mechanics to bridge that gap!

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Bells say "bicycle" better than any other noise. There's a lot to be said for the human touch, though, and I often thank people for moving over as I pass them. –  Neil Fein Oct 3 '10 at 18:48
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If you've got disk brakes and it's a bit wet then pulling the brakes creates a noise like an articulated lorry screeching to a halt, which tends to make pedestrians jump out of the way rather than step. –  Amos Oct 3 '10 at 20:04
    
Yeah, squeaky brakes do seem to get the point across, but my brakes don't squeak reliably, only usually when it rains, so I need something a bit more dependable. –  Brian Campbell Oct 4 '10 at 4:11
    
Some of the bike paths where I ride have quite a bit of ambient noise (near busy roads and such), so it's not uncommon that a pedestrian isn't going to hear anything said at normal volume even if they're not listening to music. –  Dave DuPlantis Jun 8 '11 at 18:55
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Where I live, it's actually mandatory to have a bell on your bike, although I don't recall anyone ever getting a ticket for not having one. It seems to be common courtesy to just ring the bell. Most people understand what it means, and I can't recall anyone getting angry because they think I'm being rude. Although I live in an area where cycling is quite popular. The main problem I find is from people with headphones on. Usually they won't hear a bell, or anything else. Make sure you have plenty of time to steer out of the way, or stop in the case where they don't/can't hear you (some people are deaf). Just because you rang your bell, don't expect that they won't step out in front of you.

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A friend of mine has an AirZound; a very loud air horn for bikes. He pecks the trigger to emit a short chirp when about 100 feet behind pedestrians. It's loud enough to get peds' attention, brief enough not to cause pain, and far enough away to give peds time to turn around or step aside.

If they don't respond to the chirp, a half-second blast makes them scurry out of the way pretty quickly.

Bells are fine at low speed but people might not hear them over traffic noise until you are quite close.

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I've been experimenting with pedaling backwards for a bit to get the freewheel to click, which has the advantage of creating a distinctly 'bicycley' sound. OTOH, it's not very loud. Also, not advisable on a fixie.

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I generally go silent. In case the road is blocked completely I slow down, choose a side and say "Excuse me." just behind the ear, so it's clear where I need my space. If going in the opposite direction, I lean my head to my chosen side. It's is clear enough signal to allow me to pass on the left in my right-hand traffic country, when I choose.

Adults are pretty predictable, in case they stand sideways I pass behind. For children I leave at least 1m space, slow down and look for possible distractions and points of interest, to predict unpredictable.

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