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Category Archives: bicycle safety
We who ride our bikes every day to work, to coffee and to meetings have had experiences and close-calls along a spectrum of “danger ranges.”
Not every encounter is life threatening, some are simply stressful.
The most common of these stressful experiences involves the phrase “Get off the road” or “Get on the Sidewalk.”
I don’t know if everyone thinks that just because a bike lane or trail is nearby that the cyclist must use it. There is no law in the DC Metro Area stating cyclists must use bike lanes. In most cases, the cyclist WILL use them because they are at least some space set aside. But the times I don’t are when my line of travel is taking me in a different direction than the trail “trails” and I must be ready for narrow roads or some kind of obstacle I must negotiate up ahead – an obstacle most drivers take for granted as a non-problem.
There are a hundred case-specific arguments in favor of not using the trail or sidewalk while on a bike. The most important one is that sidewalks are narrow and MUST be given over to pedestrians for their safety. Just think when the trails are ridden, say the Mt Vernon Trail, the Capitol Crescent or the W & OD, the walkers and joggers move so much more slowly than cyclists and prove to be a little challenge to negotiate from time-to-time. It’s even more dramatically different on sidewalks. It is simply safer for pedestrians and children on bicycles to be able to “own” the sidewalks. That being said, it is perfectly legal for a bicycle to ride on the sidewalk in some places even while it is illegal in others.
I much prefer to think of bicycles as machines designed for roadways (except certain highways and interstates). There should be some places that cars can also expect to get up to full speed over distance.
It is also perfectly legal for bicycles to ride on the road – either toward the right of the lane or taking the whole lane. Each scenario determines what is most safe. That is what matters mostly – safety – not impatience or perceived right-of-way by motorized vehicles just because hey are motorized. The truth is drivers of motorized vehicles HAVE NO RIGHT to yell at bicyclists to get off the road or to get on the sidewalk. They don’t even have the right to arbitrarily honk behind them as they speed by (though many drivers do choose this option). Honking creates more of a problem than just passing safely with three-feet separating the vehicle from the bicycle. Bicyclists ALREADY know there are drivers all around them. Honking does not help the cyclist.
It also does not help if the driver opens their window and screams “Get off the road” or “Get on the sidewalk.” The bicyclist may choose to ride on the sidewalk, but it is the cyclists choice. What if the cyclist yelled those same words at each car they passed or that passed them? Might this be an absurdity? In fact, with the status of bicycles in contemporary culture and their legal status as a transportation mode, it is just as absurd to yell them at bicyclists.
Thank you for reading.
Virginia Law asks that cyclists ride on the right side of the road except in situations when it is unsafe to do so, when passing another vehicle of any sort and on narrow roads where there is a single lane going in each direction. The question of where to ride in the lane arises each day for those who ride to most places they visit. This question is not simply asked explicitly by the cyclist to himself or herself. Rather, it is asked indirectly through the experience and stress by watching motorized vehicles (e.g., cars, cargo trucks. SUVs and lots of smaller vehicles pulling trailers) pass quickly and closely. Guess what? Most drivers of motorized vehicles ask themselves the same question.
Yes or No?
Rory McMullan in his short but useful text, BIKING TO WORK, part of the Chelsea Green Guides series, describes two types of lane use by bicycles in an effort to answer just this daily-asked question.
McMullan writes, “There are two main positions for on-road cycling. You can ride in the traffic stream (the primary position) or to the right of it (the secondary position).” (47). He goes on to define these two ideas in ways that are clear and work well in getting dialogue going on the topic for all “road users” (a phrase I lifted from BMC professional cyclist Cadel Evans). McMullan argues cyclists pedal in the second position, to the right of traffic, not because they have to but as a concession to the traffic. Of course, many cyclists pedal way too far to the right, in the gutter sometimes, because of low confidence or a feeling they are not supposed to be there. This is not the case as Virginia Department of Transportation has published.
Groups such as Active Transportation Alliance in Chicago and Washington Area Bicycle Association in the DC Metro Area have discussed in their literature another facet of how bicycles should safely negotiate roads with the flow of traffic. Their idea covers that slightly tricky space of streets with inconsistently parked cars along the side. The question is asked whether a bicycle should get off to the right during a gap in the line of parked cars on a narrow street so cars can pass at the speed those drivers want. This response seems like a good idea. But as soon as the gap ends, said cyclist must enter the flow of traffic again – an action which only compounds the constant attention the cyclist must use to ride safely. No, as far as I can tell, most advocacy groups promote the holding of a line in the flow of traffic by cyclists. Most drivers would laugh at the cyclist who asks them to pull over into one of these gaps so bike traffic can continue safely and at speed. Yet some of these same drivers will honk incessantly from behind a bicyclist for a variety of reasons. Yes, believe me, we on the road riding our bikes KNOW there is a car right behind us. I would hope each bike rider will gain the confidence to stay in their planned line along the street in these situations of cars parked inconsistently along the side of the road.
The other evening on a 5 lane street near where I live (there are also 3 turning lanes in this same section). It’s a busy road. On the most right is a lane that angles in from a small state highway – it continues for about 200 yards or so then angles right as it merges onto another street going east. I was in the 3rd most right lane – a lane which ends in a few lights from where I was riding toward a couple errands. It was dark and rush hour was essentially over – though traffic was still plenty. Nobody was moving inordinately fast. To my right was that lane I just mentioned above. A car was riding along behind me and to my left. For some reason as this car got to the point of where that lane ends and merges right, it suddenly “ran aground” a median separating this merge from the rest of the through-lanes. This happened surely because I was there, though this driver must have thought he or she was going to pass me super quickly on the right (which is extremely unexpected for a cyclist and thus dangerous). I must admit I was startled to hear this, look back and see this car beaming its lights at me with its bumper banged upon the median. I followed the most sensible route along that section because it’s the lightest traffic segment of these through-lanes because it’s technically not a through-lane. Like I said above, this lane ends in a few lights by fading into the two “main” lanes.
But let’s make believe I had gone to the right for two hundred yards into that lane. First I would have had to make sure no cars were flying around from the exit off the state highway. If it was “safe,” I could have entered. Of course any cars coming off the state highway would still have to pass me quickly if they were not going into the oncoming merge to the east. And most cars at that segment DO want to get into the straight-lanes. Then I would have had to look back over my shoulder in order to get back into the straight lanes myself. And believe me, these cars DO NOT want to let me get into “their space.” No, it was the right decision and seems a good example of taking the lane in the flow of traffic when it is necessary. And given the structure of the road, I would even call this right side of the road. Any more to the right and I would have been on a street going in another direction into another road.
There are no prescribed rules in actual everyday riding for when it is “best” to take the primary of secondary positions. I alternate back and forth depending on the style of road and the width in particular. But I definitely advocate for cyclists to take the lane when they deem it best to do so. Use your best judgment. And the more you ride your bike, the more comfortable you will be handling your bicycling in every situation – riding with the flow of traffic and take the lane is just one of those situations.
Thank you for reading. J.L.
Safe cycling to you all.
Don’t hesitate to leave reasoned comments if you so please.
Active Transportation Alliance. http://www.activetrans.org/ (accessed 02 March 2013).
McMullan, Rory. Biking to Work. Dartington, UK: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2008.
Washington Area Bicycle Association. http://www.waba.org/ (accessed 02 March 2013).
Helmet manufacturers usually state their helmets should be replaced every three to five years. The reason for this is the increased viscosity of the foamy material – it grows harder over time in the air and even faster as it absorbs the rider’s sweat. As a result, helmets are less likely to absorb life threatening impacts over time because what used to crunch softly and absorb starts to harden and force those impacts into the rider’s head. Not a good thing obviously.
I see a lot of decades-old helmets on riders – riders who commute all the time. My experience has shown me that when I mention this fact to these helmet wearers, they reply by saying they have not had any crashes and they don’t see any cracks in their helmets. Except most of the meaningful wear in one’s helmet is invisible to the eye for the aforementioned reasons. The more the helmet is worn, the closer to the 3 than 5 will be the time for that particular rider’s helmet’s replacement.
Image Courtesy of kval.com (accessed 16 June 2013)
OK, let’s say the rider has heeded my (and others’) safety advice and bought a new helmet. Now it needs to be worn correctly. I cannot count the number of incorrectly worn helmets I see weekly on my rides and commutes. Correct placement of the helmet on the head is level to the ground. This will involve reading the little booklets included with EVERY helmet purchased. Those strap adjusters that come together should be set just below the ears after the straps have been adjusted accordingly to balance the slight forces coming together from straps being brought from different angles to one single strap that then goes under the chin (not too tightly 🙂 ). I hope this makes sense.
Image Courtesy of trafficsafetystore.com (accessed 16 June 2013)
Just a thought. Ride safely. Have fun.
Don’t hesitate to ask questions below or @Twitter.