One of my old roommates used to be in charge of quarterly safety drills at his workplace. He liked to say, “Safety is not just another word here on Friendship Street.” We lived on Friendship Street. When we gave directions to our place, we told people to look for the street where everyone was hugging. For my birthday that year he gave me a bell for my bike, and it still makes my handle bar ring.
It’s fun for me to imagine bike safety points as a list, and I thought it might also be fun to share them.
Safety for cyclists starts before you become a cyclist. The first step is positive, happy advocacy. Some ideas are: offer input to the city council or the mayor; support the Midtown Greenway Coalition; volunteer for bike events; if you can, donate time or money to grassroots causes that improve the Greenway and other bike routes; if you can, consider patronizing locally owned bike shops. Patronize bike sharing companies. There are even some bike businesses that help teach young or underprivileged people about bike mechanics and riding. Notify the city about dangerous intersections. Politely correct misconceptions about biking when you hear them. Spread general excitement about biking. Watch and share videos about bike safety.
Maybe you can love a life of moseying. You might like connecting with the vibrant interior life of your city more than you like rushing yourself down the grayness of its interstates. Trying to drive a little or a lot less is also a gesture of advocacy and happiness. Each subtracted car makes the roads much safer. If you drive, take it very seriously. Take pride in driving slowly without hurrying. Be proud of your deliberate and immediate awareness of the road. Always assume there are people, pets, plants, and local critters directly nearby who are depending on your care. They’ll return the favor by filling your world with color and play.
For me, the next part of bike safety still happens before getting dressed to bike: planning your route. I wish I had more experience with other cycling navigation apps to relay, but here I will just say that I’ve had reasonably good luck using the cycling function on Google maps. Perhaps readers of this article can offer more or better recommendations in the comments section.
- It’s important to take routes that have marked bike lanes, if you can. I’m lucky enough to commute on the Greenway, and I have gratitude for my route every day I take it. If you can find routes that have car-free paths, you are very fortunate. It’s great to take advantage of such a wonderful infrastructure. That’s what it’s there for!
- In my experience, “sharrows” are ineffectual. As with marked bike lanes, they can become obscured in the winter to such an extent that motorists can’t tell they are there. In good weather, they still amount only to a subtle suggestion.
- If it’s extremely cold or hot, plot places where you might be able to duck inside and recover. When I biked in -15 degree weather, my goggles completely froze over and I couldn’t see, but I was lucky enough to stop inside a local bike shop to thaw them out and give a road report and high five to the employee.
- I like taking side roads that have less traffic.
- Be open to changing your routes in the winter. Some will be better plowed or safer.
The next part of bike safety has to do with getting dressed. I always know I will have my trifecta: Helmet, lights, and reflective vest.
Helmet: I like one that adjusts to accommodate either my bare head or my winter hats. I also like it lightweight enough that it’s easy to turn my head around without the weight making me feel like a bobble head. I also like a lot of ventilation for hot summer riding, and I can typically offset the cold in winter with nice warm hats.
Lights: I like a headlight that clips on to my helmet. It’s nice to have light that follows where I turn my head. I’ve also found it helpful for looking at drivers who don’t otherwise see me. Extra tip: I think directing my light on the ground to my left gives a respectful “hello” to passing cars. Extra extra tip: you probably don’t need to use the brightest setting, which can be blinding to oncoming cyclists. Directing your light downward also helps. I also use a red rear light. Extra tip: having the rear light on steady instead of flashing is less disorienting to people behind you, and it improves driver’s depth of field in locating you.
Vest: Many cyclists do it, but I don’t like wearing all black at night. I’m fond of my bright, reflective worker’s vest, and I’m pretty sure it’s prevented me from getting hit more than once. Heck, I’ll wear it in broad daylight, like a piece of sun on the road.
I also pack a bottle of water and a camping emergency kit, which I started packing after encountering two extremely scary situations where people were very seriously hurt.
The last step is riding carefully. Bikes are traffic. Maybe the biggest misunderstanding about bikes is that they are not traffic. Be predictable, don’t swerve, signal turns. Stop at stop signs and stop lights in front of pedestrian walkways. Yield to pedestrians. Take the lane when necessary. (That might be the hardest thing to do because your impulse is to ride as far to the edge of the road as possible, but in many situations the very safest thing you can do is take the entire lane, which is completely legal because you are traffic.) Avoid riding on the sidewalk. When in doubt, hop off your bike and evaluate the situation. Sometimes biking means walking your bike a little ways.
The actual last step is waving hello to other people you see biking. What a great world you’re sharing with others!