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Mind Your Manners

February 6, 2012

Miss Manners takes on a bicycle question:

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Where I live, it is both legal and necessary for cyclists to ride on the sidewalk. If I want to pass a pedestrian who is walking in the middle of the sidewalk, what is the best way to notify that person that I would like him or her to step to the side for a moment?

If I ring the bell on my bicycle, they almost always hear me, but I feel rude dinging at someone. On the other hand, if I say “Excuse me,” they almost never hear until I am practically shouting, which does not feel any less rude than ringing my bell.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that about 75 percent of the people I pass on the sidewalk are walking while occupied with their phones and paying little attention to anything else.

GENTLE READER: This may be the only chance Miss Manners ever gets to correct someone for being too fastidious in worrying about what might be rude.

The purpose of the bicycle bell is not to chastise pedestrians who are on the telephone, or not in the habit of looking back to see what might be coming. Its purpose is to warn people of the danger of an approaching bicycle that may not be able to stop quickly. Use it.

Whatever city this is where it is “both legal and necessary” for cyclists to ride on the sidewalk, I suggest NBBL never schedule a retreat there.

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