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East County Wednesday, Apr. 21, 2021 3 weeks ago

Lakewood Ranch sidewalk debate runs in cycles

Cyclists and pedestrians put different spins on sharing sidewalks.
by: Brendan Lavell Staff Writer

A pedestrian walks down the sidewalk while listening to music on AirPods.

A cyclist rides toward the pedestrian from behind, ringing a bell in an attempt to catch the pedestrian’s attention.

The pedestrian doesn’t hear the bell, so the cyclist speeds past on the open but narrow portion of the sidewalk, startling the pedestrian.

Who is at fault for the close encounter, which could have resulted in injury?

East County residents — some cyclists, some pedestrians and some who fall under both categories — have a wide variety of opinions about how the two parties should share the sidewalk. One community organization has weighed in as well. Though state law requires cyclists to yield the right of way on the sidewalk, The Meadows Community Association encourages pedestrians to remain alert and step off to let cyclists through.

MCA President Jan Lazar said the association has erected signs and included notices in its community newspaper, the Meadows Word, instructing pedestrians to step aside.

"It's easier, given the fact that you've got dirt and grass next to a sidewalk, if the pedestrian steps off and lets the bicyclist go by," Lazar said. "With bicyclists, sometimes it's a little more trouble if they're going off a sidewalk onto dirt or something."

Michael Cox is a resident of The Meadows and a cyclist who said 85% to 90% of pedestrians he encounters step off the sidewalk and acknowledge him, so he knows it's safe to pass.

“The Meadows Community Association has been very, very good and proactive putting out the information that everybody (should think) of the other person,” Cox said.

Del Webb resident Margie Meyer is wary of cyclists when she walks with her two blind dogs. That being said, she prefers to see them on the sidewalk because it’s safer. It’s very easy for her to move aside if the cyclist coming from behind rings a bell or calls out, “On your left.” In her mind, the problems start when cyclists make no effort to alert pedestrians.

“When somebody goes spinning by, it's dangerous for everybody,” Meyer said. “I mean, if my dog gets stuck in their bicycle, they're going to go over (their handlebars).”

Country Club East resident Larry Appell rides on the sidewalk along the vast majority of roads because, bike lane or not, he is terrified of getting side-swiped. When Appell comes across pedestrians, he views himself as an interloper. Therefore, he either rides to the other side of the street or he gets off his bike and walks around them.

Janet Savar rides in the grass around Gene Savar as he walks through Del Webb. Janet Savar said she doesn't mind riding in the grass to pass pedestrians if they don't hear her. Other cyclists say it is inconvenient.

Del Webb resident Janet Savar is a walker and a cyclist. Savar always calls out to pedestrians when approaching from behind. She understands some people are hard of hearing, so if the pedestrian doesn’t move, she has no problem slowing down or riding around someone in the grass.

When she walks, Savar often wears AirPods. Sometimes, she doesn’t hear cyclists coming from behind. It doesn’t typically bother her, but she said some give her dirty looks.

“They are indignant,” Savar said. “They think they're practicing for the Olympics for something.”

Lake Club resident Clark West has almost been hit by a car while cycling on multiple occasions and refuses to ride on busy roads. He said riding on the sidewalk can be difficult, too. West always rings his bell and calls out when approaching pedestrians from behind, but many don’t hear him or ignore him. In those cases, he slows down or rides in the grass.

“It's like they’re self-centered, like the sidewalk is built just for them,” West said. “They get really disturbed sometimes when you're on your bike. They act like they're just so inconvenienced because you're on your bike getting ready to pass them.”

Brendan Lavell is a general assignment reporter for the Observer. He earned degrees in journalism and history at the University of Missouri. He has visited 48 of the 50 United States, has a black cat named Arya and roots for the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, 76ers and Chelsea FC.

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