My story on riding a bike in Madison has generated a lot of discussion. What caught my eye the most, besides the writer who complained about my "wrinkly middle-aged butt," was the number of pedestrians who have been abused by bicyclists.
"I have been yelled at, called a "f------ bitch" and told to "f--- off," says Betsy Hambrick, who frequently walks the Southwest bike path, in a letter to the editor in response to the story. "I have had my sleeve torn by a biker who passed me so close and at such a high speed that, had I been an inch closer, I would have ended up in a hospital with a badly injured arm."
Ted Voth Jr e-mailed to complain about bicyclists who use the sidewalks, "especially those who ride me down at full tilt from behind."
"Automobile vehicles are a threat and a danger to bikers, but bikers (on the sidewalk) are a danger and a threat to us pedestrians," he says.
Andrea Miller says: "I am a pedestrian. That does not mean because I have legs I can run out of the way for bikes going full tilt down a crowded sidewalk. I have been hit by a bike standing in line to get on a bus. Is it a foreign language to bikers that when there is a sidewalk full of people, many of whom are not facing your direction, to walk their bike?"
There's a lot of bad behavior out there by bicyclists, and I tried to make a point of not sugar-coating that fact when I wrote my story, "Let's call a truce," about the conflicts between motorists and bicyclists. My personal conflicts with motorists have occurred almost entirely at moments when I was following all the traffic laws. And that was the perspective from which I wrote the story.
But pedestrians have a legitimate beef. On Thursday my family and I were crossing Lake Street from State Street to Library Mall -- an intersection that one bike cop told me was the most abused by bicyclists in the city -- and I saw at least three bicyclists blow through the stop signs as I approached. My wife and I stepped off the curb with our 8-year-old daughter in tow and a young woman on a bike didn't even brake at the stop sign and cut us off with a right turn.
Sure, some pedestrians on the bike paths pose problems: walking on the left, walking down the middle, taking up both bike lanes by walking three abreast. But I don't see that a whole lot, and I give them their space.
But too many bicyclists don't, and they're giving us all a bad name.
Here's a comment I pulled in its entirety from the comment board on my story:
"A few months back I'm walking down the left side of a road in rural Dane County. There's no sidewalks since it's a rural area, so I'm following the law and walking against traffic on the left side of the road. Then along comes some dude on a bike. Some random dude in his 60s sporting a white beard and hair. I only give a brief description in hopes that Mr. bike jerk reads this. This jerk is heading straight towards me, playing chicken you could say. He's 10 feet in front of me before he decides to swerve out of the way and in passing he yells at me for being on the wrong side of the road. Me a pedestrian walking on the left side of the road, and that is supposedly wrong. 20 minutes pass and the jerk returns from the other directions, this time just spewing profanities at me until he's out of earshot. This is why I hate you bicyclists, this is why I will never call a truce."
Hear that? Never call a truce.
Some bicyclists are jerks, to motorists and pedestrians, and those are the ones pedestrians and motorists remember. So do us all a favor, bicyclists. Follow the rules and be courteous.
And you could try being courteous to other cyclists as well.
Marathon runner Amanda Berry broke her leg last spring, and since she couldn't run she decided to stay in shape by bicycling. While cyclists sometimes gave her a hard time when she was running, she thought that would change when she started biking.
"I was wrong," she says.
She says she's often yelled at, gets nasty looks, and she has no idea why.
"I am learning that biking in Madison sucks because the same courteous people I meet out at local events turn into complete jerks on the paths," she writes.
And that's a black eye for a city that's bending over backwards to boost bicycle ridership with bike lanes, bike paths, bike boulevards and other biking facilities.
"I would love it if Madison was the bike-friendliest city in the world," Berry writes. "But the bikers have to be friendly, too."