Bike & crosswalk rules and behavior in Somerville/Cambridge, MA
August 14, 2013 3:27 PM   Subscribe

What is the legal and/or good behavior when you are riding a bike and come upon a pedestrian crosswalk (no lights) and want to cross the street? What about as a rider who is riding on that street, and there are other riders right behind you, and you see the person trying to cross the street? I'm in Somerville, MA, very close to the Cambridge border.

I rode my bike down a side street and came upon the larger road. There are no traffic lights, just the markings on the road for the crosswalk. So I dismounted off my bike and prepared to walk it across. Rush hour, so cars were not being very friendly, not stopping for me even though I was standing at the edge. Lots of bikes too, nearly unbroken line of them. I waited and looked for a gap in both cars and bikes, and started walking my bike across. Guy approaching me from his left on his bike doesn't slow down and instead yells at me as he passes behind me. I curse back - shouldn't have done that, needless escalation, but I was already feelig short-tempered. He cursed back. Grar.

How should I have done this differently? It would have been avoided if I was patient and waited for when there are no bikes and cars for a long period of time. I know I should have done that if I want to be totally safe and avoid all the annoyance. Between all the cars and bikes, I didn't see a totally empty segment coming up, so I decided to start crossing the street whe I saw a reasonable gap. I didn't cut off the guy on the bike suddenly - he could see me trying to cross the street from a little ways back. He had a bunch of people behind him so I can see how he doesn't want to stop on a dime, but I didn't force him to, anyway. He just didn't want to even slow down, and called me out for making him do so. But isn't he required to stop, legally speaking? Help me untangle so I can do better next time.

FYI this was on Beacon St, near the Walgreens just past Inman Sq.
posted by miomiomio to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total)
I used to live near there and crossed plenty of streets as a pedestrian. I wasn't walking a bike, though I agree that I would handle the situation the same way you did — I assume you were trying to make a left turn onto Beacon. Anyway, cars are supposed to stop for you at a marked crossing, but no one is going to even slow down unless you make them. I would always take a step or two out into the road and stare down the oncoming traffic. Step back to safety if they don't slow down, but ideally they'll realize you're in their way and stop for you. The other lane almost stops right away once you're halfway across.
posted by stopgap at 3:35 PM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would have done the same thing. Probably including the cursing. :)
posted by reddot at 3:38 PM on August 14, 2013

How should I have done this differently?

It sounds like you crossed the road completely legally and appropriately. It appears Massachusetts law does not explicitly allow cyclists to bike across a crosswalk, so walking across as a pedestrian is the correct action. Vehicles are required to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, so anyone not doing so is acting inappropriately. However, as stopgap notes, some motorists/cyclists don't notice pedestrians that are not obviously crossing the street, so taking a step into the road is a good way to indicate your intentions.

He had a bunch of people behind him

He was leading a paceline; slowing down reduces the efficiency of the group and makes it difficult for the group to stay together. That said, that's horrendously bad cycling behavior and it makes cyclists look dangerous. As a cyclist myself, I give you permission to consider the guy to be a bad representative of cyclists in general and I hope his rude behavior doesn't recur.
posted by saeculorum at 3:42 PM on August 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

You were walking in the crosswalk; you had the right of way and it was their responsibility to stop and let you cross. Stopgap's right, though; a lot of people aren't going to give you the right of way that's legally yours unless you declare your intention to confidently take it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:07 PM on August 14, 2013

You have two legal choices: ride across like any other vehicle (aka in the street when there's an opening), or dismount and become a pedestrian and use the crosswalk. That intersection is awful for the former when there's traffic, so what you did was entirely appropriate and legal, and your only mistake was not being assertive enough.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 5:02 PM on August 14, 2013

It doesn't matter if "slowing down reduces the efficiency of the group and makes it difficult for the group to stay together"; cars or bicycles, if pedestrians in a crosswalk have the right of way, then BOTH cars and bicycles are required to stop for those pedestrians.

True, they often DON'T stop, but that doesn't change the fact that they are SUPPOSED to stop.
posted by easily confused at 5:06 PM on August 14, 2013

You're in the right. The only situation where you do not have the right of way in a crosswalk as a pedestrian (which you were because you were walking your bike) is if there were a don't walk signal against you.
posted by justkevin at 5:35 PM on August 14, 2013

You're in the right here - some cyclists are just assholes.
posted by rainbowbrite at 5:57 PM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Other side of the Charles River, here, but similar encounters for me. I will usually act like a car when I am riding but with me closer to the side of the road. Yes, I am that rare Boston cyclist (or driver for that matter) who actually obeys the traffic laws. I also try to be fully aware that every other vehicle out there is trying to kill me and values my life only as far as their bumper can send me flying. I have had other cyclists curse me out for actually stopping at a red light and consequently blocking their ability to blow right through the light. I've been rear-ended by other cyclists for stopping at a light! The one exception is that I will sometime ride on the 'walk' signal at busy intersections if it seems the safest option. Safety trumps laws in my opinion.

When I am in a similar situation to yours, I do basically the same thing as you but with more assertiveness. I will dismount and act like a pedestrian and use the crosswalk. This sometimes requires being a little forceful by walking into the street in front of traffic in a way that forces them to stop for the pedestrian or hit me. Boston drivers value keeping their insurance rates low far more than human life, but at least they do care about something. And besides, they sure wouldn't want to get blood on their Red Sox vanity plates. They don't have to stop for side traffic on bikes or in cars but they do have to stop for pedestrians. A dismounted cyclist IS a pedestrian. I never put myself in actual danger, but it is a way of reminding the typical egocentric, self-centered, distracted, entitled, jerk Boston driver (in other words anyone with a Massachusetts driver's license) that there is actually a crosswalk there.

The number one priority is to avoid getting hit. If that means pissing off a driver or other cyclist, then go for it. If that means having to arrive a couple of minutes late to where you are going, then do that. If that means making other people a few seconds later to their oh-so-very-important-don't-they-know-who-I-am appointment, then that is what must happen, too.
posted by BearClaw6 at 6:57 AM on August 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies. It seems I was doing the right thing but could have been more assertive. Some cyclists (and drivers of course) can just be so annoying. I can't read his mind, but that biker's tone when he yelled out just dripped contempt, like "come one man, how can you - one single person crossing the sidewalk legally - dare to slow down me and all of us who are trying to get places?" Like I was being rude for slowing down their commute.
posted by miomiomio at 8:27 AM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Left turn onto Beacon/Hampshire at an intersection with no traffic light? Gotta love those signs in the middle of the road that tell drivers to respect pedestrians in the crosswalk, said signs being completely ignored by drivers on that street, of course. You bet your bippy I do the same thing as you and walk my bike across to get repositioned. I wouldn't have done anything differently from you; though the cursing back might not be smart, realistically, nobody's perfect :)

I hope the proposed cycletrack option goes through, and with it, improvements for getting cyclists onto and off of Beacon/Hampshire safely and sanely. Ideally, without us having to get off our bikes!
posted by Pandora Kouti at 12:20 PM on August 15, 2013

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