Thursday, 21 April 2011

Frightening the elderly

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I rode down this shared-use path this morning. It leads to a pedestrian crossing, where I rejoin the main road, at a short section of cycle lane. This is a bit of a tricky junction for both cyclists and drivers, and in the past I've thought of this shared path as a handy way to keep out of the way of traffic. Presumably that's why it is there.

Normally there's nothing very remarkable about any of this, but this morning, as I approached the pedestrian crossing there was a rather frail elderly lady approaching it from the opposite direction. Seeing me riding (slowly)  towards her she looked absolutely terrified, and froze on the spot until I was back on the road again.

I should probably mention that I was moving at about walking pace, and I was some distance away from her.

She was using a stick, and she didn't look altogether steady, so it is perfectly natural that she would be cautious. But the frightened expression on her face went far beyond what I would expect from somebody who is feeling a bit vulnerable. I stopped, tried to make it clear that I wasn't heading in her direction, and moved off slowly while she remained frozen. Perhaps I should have called out something friendly, but that could have made things worse.

I have no idea, of course, what was worrying her. I don't think I look any more scary than any other (late) middle-aged man wearing a cycling helmet. Maybe she has had a bad experience in the past. This junction is at the bottom of a hill, and it's perfectly possible that somebody has ridden too quickly around the corner and given her a fright. It may just be that she has seen some of the recent press coverage about dangerous cyclists.

Whatever the reason, she has given me pause for thought.

I don't often use shared footpaths. If there are any pedestrians around it's normally easier all round if I keep out of their way. On the other hand, there are places where separating cyclists and cars can also make life easier for both. In places like that I will use a shared path, carefully.

However, it's not difficult to choose between scaring the elderly on a shared footpath, or forcing cars to travel briefly at my speed on the road.

1 comment:

Tejvan Pettinger said...

Interesting. I too avoid shared use cycle paths whereever possible, even though it means you will occassionally get motorists shouting at you to be on cycle path.