February 4, 2018 — Millions of Americans are getting on their bicycles in retirement. Bicycling gets you outside, provides cheap transportation, and is great exercise. Your editor loves it and bikes almost every day. Unfortunately there is a dark side to biking; it can be dangerous. This article will talk about how can you can be safer while riding your bike, and what you can do to encourage your town or city to make biking safer for everyone. Most of these tips also apply to walkers as well.
Where it’s safe, and not so much
Lists published on the towns and cities which have the most bike accidents abound, but they differ. The first and second most dangerous biking cities as reported by Your Local Security, a blog for home security company ADT, wouldn’t shock anyone – New York City and Los Angeles. But the remaining 23 “worst” places would surprise you – almost all of them are in states like Iowa, North Dakota, and Oklahoma, places not known as biking centers. The safest cities were in states like California and Oregon (Davis, CA, was the safest city). BillBoneBikeLaw.com reports a very different most dangerous cities list, and most of those are in Florida. Orlando/Kissimmee, Tampa/St.Pete, and Jacksonville head up that list. One big reason why these lists are so different – they don’t seem to take into account the number of miles biked. Places like New York have tens of thousands of bikes on the road every day, so of course there are going to be a lot of accidents.
Although the statistics vary tremendously, the truth is that some cities are a lot more dangerous than others, for a variety of reasons. We will talk about those, but first let’s talk about about what you can do to stay safe on your bike.
Common sense safety tips
Most of tips for staying safe on your bike are just common sense. Yet how often we forget those, and it only takes a second to have an accident that can kill you or inflict an injury that changes your life.
Follow the rules of the road. Stop signs mean stop, as do red lights. Don’t go up one way streets the wrong way. Signal your turns. Riding on the sidewalk is usually safer than being on a busy road, if it is legal in your town. On sidewalks, yield to pedestrians and signal your presence. You can’t expect cars or pedestrians to keep you safe if you don’t follow the rules. If you are driving, give at least three feet of space while passing any bicyclist.
Be visible. Assume that the motorist passing you might be texting or on the phone, and you will see the wisdom of really making sure you are seen. Get a powerful light on the front and back of your bike, even in the daytime. Wear bright colors. Claim your lane, but keep checking your rear view mirror.
Ride defensively. Anyone who does much biking will tell you there are hazards everywhere. Your job is to be on the lookout – assume that cars might run that stop sign, make a right hand turn into you, open a car door in your face, or veer into your bike lane.
Pick your roads carefully. This is a good starting point to staying safe. Choose streets that have a clearly marked bike lane. Avoid narrow streets with parked cars on the side where cars can’t pass you easily. One way streets are generally safer. Watch out for roads with sharp dropoffs on the shoulder or steep curb cuts that can turn you upside down.
Pay attention. Riding with headphones is a no-no. So is riding 2 or 3 abreast on busy roads. Actively scan the road ahead for hazards – pedestrians, turning cars, car doors opening. In Key West a common road hazard is a chicken running out in front of you, elsewhere it might be a deer or a dog.
Wear a helmet. We’ll be blunt – not wearing a helmet is, well, not smart. Accidents happen, your brain is something you don’t want to lose. Ending up with brain damage is not worth it. Today’s helmets are so comfortable you won’t even know you are wearing one.
Electric bikes. The sudden popularity of electric bikes is amazing. Keep your speed down, the faster you are going the worse the crash.
What your city can do to improve bike safety.
As we mentioned earlier, some cities are a lot more dangerous for bikers than others. One problem is that motorists in places that don’t have a lot of bikers aren’t used to them, and don’t give them the respect they deserve. But here are some of the steps you can encourage your city leaders to improve bike safety:
- Dedicated bike lanes. Any bike lane is good, but one separated from the road by barriers is even better.
- Safer intersections. The safety of pedestrians and bikers as they cross intersections is very dependent on design. Pedestrian and bike islands that provide havens are a great idea for wide intersections. So are specific lanes, markings, and flashing lights.
- Dedicated infrastructure. The best way to keep bikers and pedestrians safe is to separate them physically from car traffic. Off street bike lanes that avoid or go under/over streets greatly reduce the chance of an accident. Sidewalks are a good idea. So are separate traffic lights for bicyclists and cars. Dedicated lanes that slow down cars and give bikers more direct routes through intersections are a great idea.
- Traffic calming. Reducing speed limits, speed bumps, flashing lights, and better crossing marking all help to reduce the chance of an accident.
Bottom line. Biking is growing in popularity and offers so many advantages for health and the environment. But to enjoy it you need to do it safely, and make sure your city knows that you care about it.