We outline a small refresher for cyclists and drivers
With National Bike Month officially underway and warm weather on the horizon, we’re dusting off our seats, tuning our wheels, and getting ready to enjoy the best of what cycling offers: an unmitigated sense of freedom. But it also means that we (along with other cyclists) are taking precautionary measures to remind ourselves of the dangers amongst us and how to combat them. We’ve outlined a few best-practices for both cyclists and drivers.
For Cyclists: Bike lanes are your friends
The city of Chicago has at least one proponent of safe cycling in Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Since Emanuel took office, the city has added an additional 200 miles of protected bike lanes in and around Chicago, which has consequently improved people’s driving habits. In 2011 for example, the city completed the construction of the Kinzie Street Protected Bike Lane. A survey found that 49 percent of respondents felt that driving habits had improved since then. That’s the good news. The bad news: Bike lanes, while exponentially beneficial, are not a failsafe. Some drivers overlook them, which can lead to problems like “dooring” and illegal parking. The bottom line: Remain on high alert.
For Cyclists: Check for flats
It might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many cyclists forgo the necessary tune-up to get back on the road as quickly as possible. Despite having sat in a garage for the better part of four months, bikes and their tires deteriorate at a slow but steady rate. Jump-starting your ride is akin to running a marathon without having trained in the first place, meaning your legs are bound to give out in a hurry. Tires are no different. The best option: Take your bike for for a pre-spring tune-up at your local bike shop, where rates are as low as $20.
For Cyclists: Wear your helmet
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that less than half of cyclists wear bike helmets while riding, putting their chances of survival in the event of a crash at a measly percentage. The CDCP also pointed out that kids are particularly averse to wearing helmets for fear of being teased, and amazingly, a 2011 poll by the BMJ found that 68 percent of its readers opposed mandatory helmet laws.
But teasing or not, fashionable or unfashionable, skeptical or not, helmets are indisputably a last line of defense that can’t be ignored. Some studies try to promote the idea that helmets are largely inconsequential, but if you need further evidence that they indeed save lives, we point you to the law firm of attorney Steve Gursten in Michigan, where a helmet quite literally saved the eye (and possibly the life) of a longtime receptionist. Countless stories like this exist, and they are not as few and far between as you might believe. For more perspective on helmets, read Jay’s opinion.
For Cyclists: Know your hand signals
Some cyclists underestimate or flat out ignore the importance of using proper hand signals, yet it’s one of the simplest ways to declare your intentions. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides a handy (pardon the pun) guide illustrating the proper indicators, and Active outlines eight of the basics by way of a slideshow. Of strong importance: The “Stop” and “Left Hand Turn” signal.
For Drivers: Employ the “Dutch Reach”
In our last blog post, we noted that more than 300 local cyclists crashed into car doors in 2015, a 50 percent increase from the previous year, according to statistics provided by the Illinois Department of Transportation. That’s a staggering statistic. One of the solutions that we, along with many others, proposed was promoting the Dutch Read, a concept developed in the Netherlands. The idea is this: Always open the car door with the hand furthest from the door (e.g. U.S. drivers open their doors using the right hand), forcing you to turn your body in the direction of oncoming traffic, thereby giving you a better vantage point of oncoming traffic. Simple. Easy. Necessary.
For Drivers: Avoid distractions
This may be stating the obvious. Stay off your cell phones and other handheld devices. I don’t think we need linkage to any studies or statistics on this one. Nothing’s more dangerous or consequential for those who ignore the basic safety tenements of the road. It’s also illegal, which means a conviction could end up costing you anywhere from a traffic violation to jail time depending on the severity of a crash.
For Drivers: Proceed with caution
It’s inevitable that you’re going to pass a bicycle at some point while driving. Give as much room as possible at a relatively slow speed, exacting a great deal of patience as you do. If you can’t pass right away, wait until the moment’s right, and whatever you do, don’t honk. Honking can induce panic, causing cyclists to make unpredictable decisions. Don’t put either you or the cyclist in that situation.