Explaining “swerving” on Nextdoor

April 16, 2023

I’ve been collecting videos on my bike for years now, enough that I can collect them into collections with various themes.  Lately I started poking around NextDoor, which I can best describe as “the social network for old people who like to confirm all the stereotypes about old people”, and I’ve started to use the videos to illustrate points.  Not sure if anyone clicks through or not.

Here’s a reply in response to someone complaining about cyclists “swerving around” pedestrians:

“Swerving around” is an other way of saying “carefully not running into”. People on bikes often get routed into areas where they share space with pedestrians (Cambridge Common, Minuteman Bikeway, Harvard Plaza, other paths) and what we do there is nothing but swerving around, again and again.

Here’s an example; notice the speed adjustment to time passes, and how I choose the “far” sidewalk to get to the crosswalk because it has less foot traffic on it:

Now imagine trying to do all these things in a car — it would be completely impossible, the car is too wide, cannot make the turns, darn-sure cannot fit on the 2-foot wide scrap of sidewalk between lamppost and curb. The lamp-post pass points out another thing, which is that someone who’s been biking on Boston-area streets for a while has a lot more tolerance for tight clearances than the “average” person, and what seems perfectly safe to them will seem much less safe for the average person — that is, I need to make a conscious effort to pass wide (it’s becoming a habit). What’s a little weird is that it depends on whether you’re on the bike or not; I was walking across an intersection, and someone on a bike (oncoming) passed me, and it felt notably close to me (you can see me moving out of her path several times, little handlebar nudges, and she just keeps consuming the extra space. I knew exactly what she was doing, but it still felt “bad”):

Example close passes, where my handlebar is passing above the flex bollards and I am brushing them with my thigh as I ride past. Yes, experienced riders can really do this, I am not kidding or exaggerating:

Here’s another video, helmet camera, notice always moving away from pedestrians, especially children and dogs, plus the bonus jerk-on-a-scooter at the end:

The point here is that it is not about “swerving”, and not about whether someone decided to put a red light over the mess of bikes and pedestrians; what actually matters (for not-cars) is speed control, and clearance. Changing the situation from a park to an intersection does not magically make the bicycle more dangerous; the intersection is dangerous because it ALSO has cars in it.

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