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July 27, 2010

'Splaining the BTV Sidewalk Stencils

IMG_5001Sometimes pictograms can be hard to understand. What, with all those symbols and images making things hard to figure out and all. Luckily, I'm here to help decipher some for you. Well, really just one. This one: 

This is an image that details a gender-neutral amputee standing next to a cocktail table with some stairs behind it. This neuter person, who has preternaturally long legs, is inside a crosshairs of sort. This is a warning. It suggests that if you are a lower-arm amputee with inexplicably tall limbs standing at a bar in front of some stairs, then you might risk assassination.

A couple weeks ago, these pictograms showed up on sidewalks all over Burlington's City Center (bounded by Main Street, St. Paul Street, South Winooski Avenue, Pearl Street). I suppose they're meant to warn people who fit the aforementioned description that imminent danger awaits them downtown.

 Only joking! I kid because I love. These handy bits of municipal graffiti were actually put there by the a collabo of folks: the Burlington Walk/Bike Council, the Department of Public Works and the bike/ped advocacy group, Local Motion. Here's what they really mean:

Got it?  

If you want to get all crass about it, what the sidewalk sign really means get the eff off your bike so you don't kill those mothereffing tourists who are far more important to our city's economy than you are. Charming.

The stencils first appeared a little more than a year ago to encourage cyclists to follow the damn rules and not ride their bikes on the sidewalk like a sissy in the city center. In addition to the fact that sidewalk bike riding in the city center is insanely dangerous and not the least bit bad-ass, it's also in violation of Burlington's municipal ordinances.  (You can read the full text of the ordinance at this lively and riveting website.) It's also not kosher to ride your bike on the sidewalk in the Inner Fire District (King, Grant, Pine and Union Sts.), if you're over 16 years old. Also not allowed if you're over 16 y.o.? Listening to Justin Bieber or wearing anything from Hot Topic.

Unfortunately, most people have never read Burlington's municipal code and therefore don't realize you can't ride your bike on the sidewalk. Fair enough. I've never read the ordinances either. Frankly, I've been too busy chatting on Battlestar Galactica fansites and teaching my cats to read to have time for that noise. But thanks to the stencils, I don't have to.

The pictogram stencil is new this year. It replaced a stencil that said "Walk Bikes on Sidewalk." Apparently, that wasn't clear enough. Or maybe people felt it was too aggressive. Or that people who don't speak English or are illiterate wouldn't get it. Whatever the reason, the new stencil is meant to encourage friendly compliance with the rules.

Has that been that case? Not exactly. Instead, I've seen about 900 bikes (with riders astride) roll right over the signs with impunity. Recently, I saw a person who was walking his bike look at the sign and the hop on his ride and pedal away. Maybe he was dyslexic.

I realize that compliance takes time. Cultural shifts need to happen. People need to get with the program. Streets need to be made safe for bikes. I dig it. But if everyone got off the sidewalk and rode in the street, as uncomfortable as it might feel, it's a hell of a lot safer for everyone. Plus, it ups the visibility of cyclists. The more cyclists on the road, one might presume, the more resources might go into creating safe cycling infrastructure.

But what do I know? Honestly, not that much.

For the complete rules of the road for Burlington, click here.

PS- Please notice how good the dirty sidewalk gum looks in those photos. Yum. 

I thought it meant "Stand here to pose with your unicycle."

LOL, Michael.

It's really scary the number of close calls I see (car v. bike and bike v. pedestrian) because of bikes on the sidewalks, not obeying stop signs/traffic lights, riding with no headlamps, veering randomly in and out of traffic, etc.. It would be nice if they would just follow the law because it's the safe, considerate, and sensible thing to do, but there wouldn't be a problem to begin with if that was what governed these people's behavior. I'm typically the last person to advocate a punitive system of deterrence, but I really think civil tickets are the only way the situation will be improved. Not making the roads and sidewalks a silly minglemangle of abstruse graphics.

I almost hit somebody yesterday on Riverside. I had the green light to turn onto Riverside, and she just rode her bike right in front of me, across the access road to the Intervale. Didn't even slow down at the intersection.

Cathy, it's simple: just learn how to drive.

Yeah, I guess I should learn how to understand traffic lights better -- I get so confused. I mean, does green mean go? Or does red mean go? It is so hard sometimes to understand these signs and signals!

I agree with Molly that the most effective way to enforce the rules would be to ticket offenders. Sadly, being a human who is safe and considerate is less of an incentive than money, for most people.

Cathy you're totally right. Biker Posse you're a dildo.

I agree with the sentiments in this thread, but the learning curve needs to go both ways. I can't count the number of times I've been literally yelled at by drivers who were pissed at me because my bike *wasn't* on the sidewalk, where they thought it belonged. Cyclists need to obey traffic rules better, but drivers need to realize they don't own the road and need to share it. Drivers REALLY get pissed when you stop your bike in front of them, making a left at a stop sign. It's what I'm supposed to do, but I get yelled at for it a lot.

Very true, Bill. I like to keep my digital camera on hand to snap a photo of the motorist's license plate, or commit to memory their plate #, make/model, and description of the driver. If you make a report the police are supposed to follow up with the driver to explain that he or she is a bullshit muncher. You can make a report by calling the SafeStreets recklessness reporting line at 861-3344, or fill out the online reporting thingy here:

Conversely, I like to keep my digital camera on hand to snap a photo of the bicyclist, or commit to memory a description of said bicyclist whenever s/he makes turns or changes lanes without signaling, or runs a stoplight and/or stop sign, or rides up and down Church Street. Local Motion's online reporting thingy is also good for that.

I tried that, but was told there was no way for the cops to do anything about it. They said that if you know of one person who habitually offends in the same spot every day, you can try to get an officer to hang out there and catch them in the act, but otherwise they can't do anything.

Yesterday, while waiting at a stop sign on my bike, I had to wait as a line of four motorcycle riders in a line cruised through the stop sign like a parade, not taking turns with the rest.

A few days before that, I was riding my bike in the bike lane on North Winooski when two pedestrians went walking right through the middle of the street in front of me. One guy even put out his hand, not in a "thank you" wave kind of way, but an angry, entitled "stop you crazy biker, even though there is no stop sign/crosswalk here" kind of way.

And if I had a dollar for every time I've been waiting at a crosswalk as a pedestrian, while car after car completely ignores stopping at it...or for every time I've seen a driver screw up because they were too busy texting behind the wheel...

My point isn't to defend the actions of bad bikers, or to condemn everyone else. But it's a fact of urban living that there are lots of people around you, on all modes of transport, who are traveling without your convenience in mind. It's kind of like that old George Carlin bit, how everyone who drives faster than you is an maniac, but everyone who drives slower than you is an idiot.

Whether you're traveling by bike, car, foot, or skateboard, just be alert at all times and try not to get too bent out of shape when someone does something stupid, because rightly or wrongly it's an unwinnable fight.

Having said all that--with the exception of Route 15 and Shelburne Road, riding a bike on the sidewalk really is for sissies. :)

BTW, I'd love for the city to start another "education program" for bad bike riders, and maybe ticket bikers who are riding in a really stupid/dangerous manner, but I'm not sure who would do it. I would suggest the Parks Patrol people except that today I saw a yellow-shirted Park Narc riding his bike on the Pearl St. sidewalk between Winooski and Church--which is, of course, in the stencil zone. Alas.

The unfortunate part is, if you get a bicyclist who drives like a moron (driving through red lights, down one way streets, on sidewalks where they shouldn't be) and you happen to hit them or even worse kill them, you are going to have to go to court; you could face being sued; you could face manslaughter charges. I absolutely dread driving around some of these idiots. And I know not all of them are, but those are the ones who stand out. There really needs to be a crackdown on these kinds of bicyclists. If a driver rear ends another driver at 5 mph it's not a huge deal, but if you hit a biker doing the same, well...

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