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Gear Prudence: Here’s the scenario: A pedestrian is jaywalking and is right in the middle of the street as you approach on your bike. There’s no traffic in the other direction and plenty of room to pass him on either side. Which is better: passing in front of him in the direction that he’s walking or passing behind him in the direction he came from? This happens to me all the time and I want to know the right way to handle it. —Just Asking You What Anyone Likely Knows
Dear JAYWALK: This is a tough one and your simplified scenario doesn’t take into account whether the street is one way or two, if there’s a bike lane, what side the pedestrian is crossing to and from, whether you are in the UK or a former British colony with a different traffic heritage, the time of day, the level of sun glare, if the pedestrian is wearing headphones, if you’re wearing headphones, or if this is in the not-so-distant future and instead of headphones, everyone is wearing those new weird Apple earpiece things. But let’s take a crack anyway.
On a two-way street, if the pedestrian is in the middle and heading into the opposite lane, let him go and proceed as normal. You wouldn’t want to cross in front of him because that would be silly and unexpected. If he’s about to step into your lane, your decision is trickier. If there’s a bike lane, stay in it. You’ll want to reduce as much potential misunderstanding as possible, and staying in the bike lane keeps you in a predictable and rightful place. If there’s not a bike lane, GP is inclined to say that you should pass behind the pedestrian, heading for the space that he just vacated rather than the space that he’s about to walk into. Obviously you won’t want to do this if it is likely to imperil you (hello oncoming traffic!), but it seems less likely to cause a mishap than riding into someone’s path.
That said, there’s a strong argument for doing the exact opposite and only ever passing in front of a pedestrian so that he can see you the entire time. Even if someone is still walking towards where you’re about to ride, they’ll be more aware of your presence and could take action accordingly. What worries GP about this is two things: 1) if the pedestrian doesn’t see you or 2) it puts another obstacle (you) between the pedestrian and the sidewalk, his ultimate goal.
The whole thing is just so situational, though. In general, ride in a way that doesn’t hit the person in the street or endangers yourself. Give as much space and warning as possible. Don’t get mad that they’re jaywalking because you’ve probably done worse. Ride purposefully, slow down, and get through it. —GP
Gear Prudence is Brian McEntee, who tweets @sharrowsDC. Got a question about bicycling? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.