I have been walking the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River since long before it was finished, when it was all raw earth and drip irrigation, plastic anti-erosion material and bulldozers. There was a lot of construction, but not a lot of people. In time, the construction stopped, the plants grew in, and the people came.
They walk, they bike, they skateboard – I even had a lady pass me today on inline skates, fishing pole in hand. I walk every day of the week. Eight miles a day, Monday through Friday, and on the weekend my husband, Marshall, and our children (Adele, 9, Tres,7, Wells, 5) join us on their bikes for a six-mile route on Saturday and a four-mile route on Sunday. I can count on two hands the number of days in a year I miss my walk if I am in town.
I have friends who meditate, I have friends who medicate. I walk – probably about 10,000 miles in the last four years since we bought our house on the river in King William.
For me the walk never gets old. It is endlessly fascinating to watch the steady march of change happening in this part of our city. I watch roads improve, bridges get built, houses get remodeled, apartment buildings go up, trees get planted, etc. I love my hello waves to the San Antonio River Authority folks, Mike Casey‘s mom on her porch, and all the people I see on a daily basis. I wait for the whistling ducks to come back in the spring, the Egyptian geese to appear in ever-increasing numbers, the Yellow-crowned Night-Herons to return, the ubiquitous diamondback water snakes, the occasional cottonmouth after a particularly heavy rain, and one time each – a nutria, a fox and a turkey.
With every passing week, it feels like I see more animals, more people, more cyclists. All this life happening on the river is proof that the significant investment our city, our county, our state and even our federal government made in the San Antonio River Improvement Project was well worth the cost. But with this increased traffic of life there have to be some protocols in place so that all of us can safely coexist. For me, one worrisome way in which this is not happening is the lack of announcement by cyclists, either with their voice or with a bell, when passing pedestrians.
It happens to me every day almost without exception. I am walking along and all of a sudden – and yes, it feels all of a sudden – a cyclist comes into my peripheral view, parallel to me, close enough to touch, having made no sound. It scares me. It makes my adrenaline surge. Every. Time.
I need to make this clear to cyclists who might not understand this otherwise: We can’t hear you approaching. Someone, no doubt, could explain the physics of this to me, but until you are too close for me to do anything other than have you whiz past me, I cannot hear you.
I understand that cyclists are not trying to be dangerous. They see the pedestrian the whole time, from a long distance away. It is easy to think that you have the situation in hand and that there isn’t a need to announce yourself. But let’s say there is a rock, a snake, a baby field mouse, cormorant leavings, dog leavings, a stink beetle, a puddle – any of these things in front of me. Let’s say I have to move a foot or two to my left to avoid something. If you are silently riding behind me and you have not announced yourself, you can guess what will happen as I move left and you keep coming.
Just recently, I read an article about a woman who was walking in Central Park. She was hit by a cyclist on a path. The force of the collision threw her to the ground and the ensuing head injury, after a few days in a coma, proved fatal. Reading that story made me realize how lucky we are that this hasn’t happened here and how much we need to raise awareness of this issue.
Cyclists, please announce yourselves. I love those of you who do. “On your left!” you call. “Ding-ding” goes your bell. My favorite, “On your left, there are four more behind me,” such lovely specificity. And yes, we can hear you, even though we have headphones on and music playing. I can’t tell you how often I hear this argument, “you are listening to your music, you don’t hear me anyhow.” Yes, I do. You know how Bose makes those absurdly priced “noise-canceling” headphones that don’t actually cancel out all the noise? It’s because you still hear noise with headphones on. I hear your bell and I hear your voice over my Spotify playlist of the week.
Another argument I hear is that pedestrians don’t stay to the right, or they walk side-by-side, or they meander in the middle of the path. I see it, I understand, I know it’s poor pedestrian etiquette. Pedestrians need to stay right, tight right. But the average non-cyclist adult on a multi-speed bike will maybe average 9-12 mph at an easy pace, and the speeds go up from there. With my speedy-ish 14-minute miles I’m going about four mph.
As a cyclist, the reality simply is that you’re on a metal object going much faster than pedestrians, so you need to be cognizant of what’s happening in front of you. In my 10,000 miles of experience I would say roughly 20% of the cyclists passing me announce themselves, 80% do not. I count them on my hands as a diversion. On the river in front of Big Tex is a sign from the San Antonio River Authority that reads, “Bicycles – use voice or bell when passing.” It is the only one of its kind that I have ever seen.
We are living on borrowed time. It is not a matter of if a terrible accident will happen, but when. I will leave the arguments about path width, cycling speed, and cycle types to others. I ask only for cyclists to please, please, please use your voice or bell when passing. It takes only a moment and it could save a life. This is easy stuff, folks. We all love the river, we all want to use it. Please just let me know that you’re coming up behind me.
*Featured/top image: Cyclists ride on the Eagleland Reach. For the record, these particular cyclists are quite courteous to pedestrians. Photo by Steve Wood.