When a Cyclist Comes at Me, Which Way Do I Move?

 iStockphoto.com

iStockphoto.com

Dear Dumb Runner,
What's the etiquette when a runner and a cyclist cross paths on a road with a shoulder? Should the runner always go to the left to be at the edge of the road, even though this puts the cyclist closer to traffic? Does the right answer change depending on whether the runner sees cars approaching?—Megan P., Ithaca, New York


Dear Megan,

This is a good question. I've encountered this scenario many times, and it seems like either way you go it's dicey, for you or the cyclist or both.

First, let's stipulate that you, the runner, are running against traffic and that the cyclist is riding with traffic. (As it should be.) Put another way, you are running against traffic and in this case "traffic" means everything coming at you—motor vehicles, bicycles, horse-drawn carriages, everything that isn't a fellow pedestrian. Even if those things are using the shoulder.

In this case, I advise moving left for an oncoming cyclist, for three reasons:

  1. The cyclist can (legally) travel in a traffic lane; a runner really shouldn't, for everyone's sake.
  2. When a runner "threads the needle" between a cyclist and a motorist she puts the cyclist in a needlessly fraught place, suddenly having to thread a needle himself, between the edge of the road (debris, sewer grate, ditch, curb?) and a pedestrian.
  3. If things get hairy, it's much preferable in this scenario for you, the runner, to have an emergency "out"—i.e. to be able to leap away if need be. If you're the middle of a traffic sandwich, you've got nowhere to go.

Does this advice change if there's no other traffic, like on a flat rural road? Not for me it doesn't. When it comes to matters of etiquette, especially where safety is involved, I'm a fan of consistency and predictability. So I try to behave the same way no matter what.

Besides which, while it's easy for you to see there's not a string of cars approaching, the cyclist can't. Not unless he's just glanced over his shoulder. All he'll see is a runner coming toward him and moving to her right, forcing him to either thread that needle (between her and the very edge of the shoulder) or (b.) move even further to his left into the lane of travel. Both of those options suck for the cyclist. I say this as a former longtime cyclist myself.

So, to recap: Move to your left to let an oncoming cyclist pass. Slow or even stop for a few moments, if need be. While you're at it, smile and wave! The cyclist will appreciate it, you'll both be safer, and the world will be a little bit nicer.

Thanks for your question. Stay safe.

Yours,
Mark


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