I was out for my first bike ride of the season recently and I noticed some really dangerous patterns. Here are some tips for safe riding for cyclists, and some tips for how to drive with bicycles on the road.
Tips for Bicyclists
1. Be Predictable. The safest thing for you to do is the thing that drivers expect you to do. Ride on the right-hand side of the road. Make turns from the right-hand side of the proper lane. If you have to cross at a crosswalk instead of as part of traffic, get off your bike and walk across the street following pedestrian guidelines. Remember, if a driver hits you, it might be their fault, but you're on a 15-pound bike and they're in a 4,000-pound steel box. You're going to hurt more, I promise.
2. Use Hand Signals. If you don't know you're hand signals, please learn them. There are three.
3. Stay Off The Sidewalks. The reason traffic laws apply to bicycles is that sidewalks are meant for people to walk on. If you're riding on a sidewalk, you've got two wheels and you're moving in the neighborhood of 12 miles per hour. That's slow to vehicle traffic, but you're more likely to cause serious harm to a pedestrian. If it's a 19-year old healthy pedestrian with quick reflexes who can jump off to the tree belt when you come flying around the corner, well, fine, you've just angered someone. But if it's an elderly woman with a walker? That's trouble.
Tips for Drivers
1. Bikes Are Traffic. A cyclist riding correctly is following all the same rules you are, except she's riding to the right so you can pass her. If you're turning left at a traffic light, she has right-of-way if she's going straight. If she's turning left at a three-lane intersection, she's going to do so from the left-hand lane. Be prepared to go a little slower behind a bike, but you should be able to recognize what the cyclist is going to do next.
2. Give Cyclists Some Space. Off to the right-hand shoulder where cyclists ride, you often find things like sewer grates, potholes and broken bottles – items your typical car tire doesn't complain about. But these are things that at best leave a cyclist with a flat tire and busted rim miles from their origin and destination, and at worst mean broken bones. Figure that a cyclist needs at least three feet from curb and at least another couple of feet to swerve if necessary. Remember that even at 30 miles an hour, your side-view mirror nicking their elbow could break a bone, knock a cyclist off his bike, and cause some serious damage.
3. Lay Off Your Horn. Did you know it's illegal to sound your horn when there's a horse being used as a vehicle nearby? That traffic law dates back to a time when horses were more commonly used for transportation, but it makes sense: If you scare a horse, there's no predicting what it will do, and you put everyone in danger. The same goes for a cyclist: If you honk your horn, the cyclist is going to try to figure out what's going on. He might swerve into the middle of the road, he might swerve into your car, he might hit something in the street he would have seen if his eyes were where they should have been – and would have been, had you not distracted him.
If you'd like to use these tips on your blog or in your publication, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org; in most cases, I'll let you use it for free with attribution, but check with me first, please.