This is a guest post from reader Tim Frank
I regularly use a shared path, often with my children. I constantly have to look over my shoulder to see whether a fast bike is coming. From a pedestrian or slow cyclist view, some of the bikes come up very quickly indeed. When we return home after school, often on our bikes, but sometimes with a baby buggy and the older children on rip-stiks, it’s difficult to talk about the school day. Somewhere along the way a cyclist may come along and complain that we are cycling or walking alongside each other rather than in a single line. Our shared paths are not a relaxed place for youngsters.
And yet, it could be so easy. A friendly ring with the bell from the distance and most children will more or less consistently move to the left. Parents will know that they need to interrupt the conversation briefly and can continue it again a few seconds later. Dog-walkers would hold their dogs a bit closer. There is no need for people getting out of the way abruptly to let cyclists pass. There is no need for complaints from cyclists or the call “Coming through!”.
On shared paths, cyclists theoretically should give way to pedestrians, but through the use of bike bells the apparent conflict can easily be resolved and pedestrians will normally let cyclists pass. Yes, we need to be aware that there are people with hearing difficulties and that some walkers use ear phones. Not everyone will respond to bells. But I think it would be good for cyclists to “announce themselves” when passing slower users of cycle lanes or shared paths. Overall, I think it would be beneficial if we could create a culture of ringing bike bells in Christchurch. I think it should not be considered rude, but rather the expected way to courteously let somebody know that a bike is coming up, even if they are not obstructing our way. I think it would make using our roads, cycle lanes and shared paths more enjoyable and safer. There might be more noise around bike thoroughfares, but I hope that neighbours won’t complain too much (I certainly wouldn’t and a shared path runs not far from our house).
I am not sure what the research on this subject is, but the little I could find seemed to suggest that bike bells are normally sufficiently associated with bicycles by those hearing them and are not perceived as very intrusive. That’s why it is important to keep using bells, rather than some modern warning device such as a horn.
To achieve greater use and acceptability of bicycle bells consistent messaging and a small bike safety campaign might be helpful. Could Waka Kotahi or ACC be behind such a campaign, which could target also sports cyclists and micro-mobility device users?
I’d be interested to know about your thoughts, experience and knowledge on bike bells.