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One of my destinations in the city has a peculiar access route - I need to descend a very narrow set of steps, a staircase, which has barely enough space to let two pedestrians pass.

I'd estimate its width as 150 cm. It's not as steep as staircases which we use to access higher floors in buildings - its inclination angle is maybe 50%. It's an outdoor set of steps, which connects two streets.

An alternative route exists, but it is longer and is less fun for me.

I have never tried descending there with my MTB, because if a pedestrian tries to ascend the staircase while I am going down, he will probably get scared.

Trying to think from the pedestrian's perspective:

The guy on the MTB doesn't look he is going to stop, and there is absolutely not enough space for him to pass by! So the only way to prevent a crash is to [do something desperate and stupid]!

Objectively, this is nonsense, because I have no problem stopping, and legally and ethically I am obliged to do so. But subjectively, the situation can be very intimidating. I guess that shouting something like "Don't worry, I'll let you pass" will only make it worse.

Can I prevent this situation?

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    If you are talking about riding down a staircase that has substantial pedestrian traffic, don't! Oct 12 '20 at 17:30
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    There is, shoulder the bike.
    – Vladimir F
    Oct 12 '20 at 17:33
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    I wonder if there's a minor issue of terminology here - most staircases are too steep to stop quickly even if you're able to ride down, but many outdoor steps are much less steep
    – Chris H
    Oct 12 '20 at 18:22
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    Can you find a route that goes another way, avoiding this chokepoint completely? The "fun" of a route is separate to how much risk you're under and putting on others.
    – Criggie
    Oct 12 '20 at 21:07
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    How is a pedestrian, seeing somebody riding a bike down some steps, supposed to judge the rider's knowledge of the law, ethics, and morals? The only sensible course of action for the pedestrian is "get the **** out of here before he/she hits me".
    – alephzero
    Oct 12 '20 at 23:53
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I've had to commute routes where I need to use a narrow staircase to go up and down a pedestrian bridge over a highway.

For starters, any place where you have to share narrow space with pedestrian, the polite way to do so is to dismount.

I shoulder the bike or walk it. The bike always goes to the far side ( If there is a fence or wall, the bike goes towards that fence or wall or guard rail. ) so there is less chance to hit another person with a protruding pedal or handlebar.

While going down stairs, I sometimes roll the bike on its rear wheel, holding the handlebar up and using the brake to control it. That way my combined bike+rider width is minimal and that will let another pedestrian pass, even if they are also carrying a bulky load.

Consider that even if you believe to have good control over the bike, there might be something out of your sight that may cause you to temporarily lose control or may need you to perform an unexpected maneuver (e.g. a piece of garbage you ride over and it makes you lose traction). If that happens at the wrong time, you may hit another staircase user. Better to play it safe and dismount.

I've ridden in a city where there are shared bridges (pedestrian/alternative transport) but it is mandatory to get off your bike, skateboard, or whatever you are riding. You mount again on the other side where there is a wider and dedicated cycle path and a walking lane.

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Frankly if you're going up/down steps, you're in the pedestrian's space and not somewhere suitable for cycling.

You know how sometimes vehicle traffic intrudes on our cycle lanes? Parking inconsiderately, putting cyclists at risk?
That's what you'd be doing to the pedestrians by riding in their space. Don't be that-guy.

Your solutions are to either walk the bike (to become a pedestrian with a load, travelling at walking speed) or to find a cycle-safe route that gets you to your destination.

I would not ride in pedestrian areas - that may not even be legal depending on where in the world it is.

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    With very few exceptions, none narrow, this has to be the right approach (counterexample - a tight turn through a gateway on a signed bike route near here leads to 3 steps about a wheelbase apart. The first place you could stop from dead slow, you wouldn't be able to put a foot down as the front wheel would have dropped. But you should see an approaching pedestrian even though the steps can't be seen on approach)
    – Chris H
    Oct 13 '20 at 6:37
  • I downvoted this answer because it's pointless pedantry. “if you're going up/down steps, you're in the pedestrian's space” is a non-sequitur. Stairs are just a means to help people safely traverse steep hills – this can be pedestrians or cyclists (or indeed robots, or whatever). Now, the majority of stairs are obviously designed with pedestrians in mind, and for sure it is unethical to subvert that by making the hill unsafe for them in a new way. ... Oct 13 '20 at 22:08
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    ... But there's nothing unethical about using a stair in some way whilst making sure you don't inflict on pedestrians, like there is nothing unethical about carefully crossing a cycling lane that's following the main road, when joining a road intersection with your car. Oct 13 '20 at 22:08
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because I have no problem stopping

Objectively, this is nonsense. At best, you can stop before you start going down the steps. Once you start going down steps on a bike though, you are completely unable to stop before you reach the bottom, and you have very limited control over your speed whilst you're doing it. And that's assuming you stay on your wheels. If you catch a bar on the wall, skid on a damp surface, or simply lose your balance, you're going to wipe out directly into whoever's underneath you.

Anyone going down this on a bike would be a perfect example of why so many pedestrians think of cyclists as arrogant, selfish, dangerous idiots - because this would be arrogant, selfish, dangerous and idiotic. You prevent this situation from happening by not doing it.

Always remember the golden rule of doing tricks. Hurt yourself trying it, you're a hero. Hurt someone else trying it, you're doggie doo-doo (censored :). If you want to have "fun" going down steps like this, station a buddy at the bottom to let you know when the stairs and approaching paths are clear. Then do your stunt and move on.

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    to keep pedestrians out of your way whilst you do it, no. OP and buddy have no right to keep pedestrians off the stairs, unless they have special authorisation (maybe shooting a film with some stunts). At best buddy can stand there and report to OP that no pedestrians are in sight so OP can hope to stunt down before any arrive.
    – gerrit
    Oct 13 '20 at 13:28
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    @gerrit I completely agree, they have no right to do it. As you say, they're just making sure it's clear - or with the cooperation of pedestrians, asking them to voluntarily give the psycho cyclist a clear run. Knowing what some Youtubers get up to, I'm not taking a stand on legality, only on safety and sanity. :)
    – Graham
    Oct 13 '20 at 17:52
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Yes, you can prevent this situation. Don't go down the stairs on your bicycle (and most likely not even carrying it, if it is so narrow).

It's not possible that there are only two ways to get to your destination, unless you live on the very top of a hill. You are presenting us two options:

  • boring way (path A);
  • short, fun, most likely with an illegal stretch (path B);

I guess you are simply comparing the two shortest path, one fully legal and one which is short and allowing access to some fun section after (or just before) the stairs you mention. Think out of the box: let's assume path A is boring and it takes 25 minutes to complete it, while path B is fun and it takes 35 minutes to complete (walking the bicycle down the stairs, 33 minutes if you pedal down the stairs). I cannot believe that you cannot find a path C that would take you to the destination in 40 minutes, being fun and legal/acceptable.

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Its highly advisable that you do not ride your bike down a narrow staircase where pedestrians are present. People will get very mad with you, and it very likely could be against the law/city ordinance. Additionally, you could be destroying or damaging the stairs by doing this. Either walk your bike down, or find an alternative route. Hope this helps you make the right decision!

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    Not just about them, they will start complaining about cyclists in general! Much more could be at stake.
    – Vladimir F
    Oct 14 '20 at 8:41
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Being myself somebody who rides down various stairsets pretty much daily, I obviously disagree with the answers stating that this should categorically not be done.

However I do agree that it's a no-no to ride down a narrow stairset when there's someone below you, or might appear below you. I.e., I only start descending if I can oversee the landing, and know for sure I'll reach the bottom before anybody else can reach the stairs.
Could I slow down or stop on the stairs, if somebody appears out of thin air? Probably / it depends – on stairs that aren't super steep this is indeed perfectly possible. But it's not reliably possible: a slight imbalance, slippy surface, unexpected brake response, and you can quickly find yourself going much faster than intended. Now, it's one thing if this leads to a crash involving only yourself and a wall. It's an entirely different thing if this leads to a crash involving somebody else.

A bit of a corner case is if it's a stairset consisting of multiple flights in a row. I suspect this is in fact the situation you're talking about. In such a case, if the flights are separated by at least 4 meters of flat ground, I'd say it is safe that you can stop there even in adverse conditions (in the worst case, by crashing), yet somebody coming up the next lower flight could very well be scared by the prospect that you might not stop but just thunder down the entire thing.
In this case, my advice is: stop immediately when you see someone, and either wait to let them pass and then continue the fun, or else switch to carrying/pushing the bike the rest of the distance as per Jahziel's answer.

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  • I'm not particularly surprised to find myself downvoted here, but it would anyway be productive to also see a comment regarding what particular part you disagree with, and why? Oct 13 '20 at 21:45
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    Please don't worry too much over downvotes - generally they're because someone disagrees with your answer, or some significant point. If it was a comment or reply or rant rather than an answer, it would just get deleted. There are some excellent points raised here, but I'd suspect the DV was because you've said straight up in para1 that you ride up/down pedestrian stairs/steps. There are 4 answers saying "don't do it", one saying walk, and one primarily about the difficulty of stopping. By comparison, yours is the only answer saying "I ride down stairs" probably why it got downvotes.
    – Criggie
    Oct 14 '20 at 7:52
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    I have requested a photo/link from OP
    – Criggie
    Oct 14 '20 at 8:07
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    I've voted for this (how to do it sensibly) and for not doing it. It all depends on the specifics.
    – Chris H
    Oct 14 '20 at 19:39
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    A narrow - 150cm - staircase is extremely unsafe to ride down unless it is very, very short, which doesn't appear to be the case. A single slip is enough for total loss of control and badly mangling your legs, your bike, and your head even if there are no pedestrians present. Remember - there are two rails very close to you, ready to break your bones...
    – T. Sar
    Oct 15 '20 at 19:48
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I see three answers saying "Just don't do that" with variations. They may be right. Nevertheless, I would like to suggest another answer.

Slow down!

Seeing a bike coming towards you at full speed is indeed scary. You should try to avoid scaring people.

If you slow down to walking speed, the scare goes away. By going slow, you both indicate that you are in control, and also the consequences of a collision would be much less.

If you can see for a fair distance, slow down well in advance of meeting pedestrians. If you can not see well, just assume there are pedestrians and slow down anyway. In fact, assume that small children are playing there and deliberately trying to hide from you.

If the staircase is really narrow, you might want to stop entirely and let them walk past you. You can squeeze closer to the railing that way.

... or find another path.

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