Bicycling Safety in the City
A few years ago, I transitioned over to a part-time bicycle commuter. It was a fairly smooth transition considering I live in a bicycle-unfriendly city. One of the reasons I was able to effortlessly begin riding my bike in a bustling suburb that cares very little about cyclists is that I enjoy being outdoors and I really love riding my bike. My passion for bike riding and general common sense as a driver helped me navigate my town's busy streets and traffic clogged arteries. Yet, there were a few safety items I had to keep in mind: routes, gear, and basic traffic knowledge.
Most direct routes
I always check a map for the most direct route. Google bike map is a good start, but I've noticed that it doesn't account for paths that aren't necessarily designated as a bike or traffic path. For instance, one of my more direct paths leads me through a University Campus. Google can't see the wide sidewalk path that I ride on, so it doesn't offer that as a possible route.
Less trafficked routes
If I know the area well and feel the path is too car-heavy, I select a parallel side street that will guide me in the same direction, but with less traffic. Though the route may take me a quarter-mile out of the way, I feel my safety is more important. I'd rather ride for a longer period than be terrified for a shorter one.
Bikes paths and lanes
Bike paths and lanes are sometimes the best way to safely bike around a city. Unfortunately for me, my town has very few paths that connect to one another. Often, the paths start in an unusual area and end a few blocks down the road, making it confusing for both cyclists and drivers alike.
And the controversial sidewalks
Yes, I confess, I ride on sidewalks! Technically as a bicyclist I'm supposed to follow the traffic laws and ride in the street. However, unlike a car, I lack the speed and metal armor. I do make it a point to be considerate of pedestrians; they have the right of way. I also wouldn't ever ride on the sidewalks of New York City or any city where pedestrians outnumber cars.
Front and rear lights are a necessity. I turn on my lights in the middle of the day; not so much for me to see the road, but for cars to see me. I do ride in the evenings and let me just say that lights have saved me on a few occasions.
When I first started riding my bike around town, I didn't wear my helmet. Yet, now that I've come close to getting hit by a car bumper on a couple of occasions, I realize that there's nothing really protecting me from severe head injuries! Personally, I like my brain the way it is.
Secondary to lights, reflectors again help vehicles see me. Front, side, and rear, my reflectors give cars a heads-up.
Basic Bicycle Sense
In my opinion, intersections are the most dangerous areas for cyclists. When I ride, I have to watch for cars turning right, left, or flying through red lights. When I approach an intersection, my head is on a constant swivel: It swivels behind my left shoulder watching for right turners, it swivels slightly to the left for red-light runners, it moves straight forward for left turners heading towards me, and finally it swivels slightly to the right for approaching right-turners going the opposite direction. I'm constantly looking for people who aren't looking at me; I always make eye contact with drivers a few feet from my bike!
Since I normally ride to the far right on a street or on side walks, I keep a look-out for cars coming out of driveways. Reverse lights are always a clue to slow down and wait to make sure a driver sees me.
Another hazard to street cyclists are parked cars. Not only do they occasionally pull out into traffic, but they also open doors, potentially pushing a bicycle rider into traffic. When I ride in the street, I make sure I'm a couple of feet away from parked cars and keep a close eye on tail lights; brake lights mean the car might be getting ready to move.
As the fall weather brings cooler temperatures, I make sure to take advantage of the gorgeous weather by increasing my bike commuting. Being a highly aware bicycle rider and picking direct routes with fewer cars make biking in the city fun and safe.