June 29th, 2015 by Cynthia Shahan
When I think about safe commuting by bicycle, of bicycle safety for regular travelers, I call to mind infrastructure changes in the United States that the Northern Europeans began over 50 years ago. I think of smaller streets of bicycles concurrently with streets for automobiles. I think of protected bike lanes, with suitable curbs to protect bicyclists and pedestrians as they approach an intersection. I see stop lights with a fourth light for bicyclist.
I think of night bike lights that flash through the whole street to alert automobiles that a bicyclist is approaching — coming from the spokes of the bicycle’s wheels. I think of children learning traffic rules and skills very young. Such culture is common sense, idealistic yet possible. We don’t have these things in the US nearly as much as we should. But anyway, moving on….
Safe Commuting by Bicycle — The Basics
- Bicycle Safety Tips (PDF) for children and others.
- “Project Aura” — More Protection on the Road
- Lighted Bike Safety Zone Created With Bike Light Concept
- Bicycle Helmet with Turn Signals
- If You Want To Avoid Getting Hit By A Car While Taking A Walk Then You Should Read This
- Teaching People On Bikes To Ride Safely
What else can we do? The videos and resources above and below are a good start. Thanks to the League of American Bicyclists for many of these.
For the safety of both driver and cyclist, the bicyclist needs to become an expected person in the flow of traffic, one to consider. This will help the broader culture become inclusive of the bicycle as a means of transit.
Safety for yourself, a bicyclist, security for the pedestrian, and safety for the motorist is all together. It is problematic that a bicyclist on a shared bike-ped path, or the temporary use of the sidewalk (when the road is too hazardous) is dangerous to the pedestrian. Be polite bicyclists, do not intimidate the pedestrian as you leave your wind past the walker.
Another tip: Though I love the overgrown, and abundant foliage, intersections also need to have bushes tightly trimmed, so visuals are an open field. If you are on a route with such green, overgrown intersections, be sure to slow down a lot, or even stop. Carefully check who is hidden from view. Consider the glare of the sun as you would the invisibility of dusk. Both intense light and changing light reduce visibility.
The United States is progressing. It is not quite there at this time, but there has been a lot of human-powered momentum in the past few years.
Get More Active
As an individual, you can also take bicycling safety classes, join organizations like LA Bike Trains that share route information and skills, and even mentor new cyclists into commuting by bike. You can also work to improve bicycling infrastructure in your community.
- 14 Options For Better Bike Lanes: Infographic
- Off-Road Bike Paths Needed In Transportation Planning
- Slow Streets Advocates For Greater Bicycle Safety
- Bicycle Safety Advocacy Group: Guerrilla Road Safety Group Politely Installs Illegal Bike Lane Protectors On Cherry Street
Bicycle Education Should Start Young
If you have the opportunity to improve the lives of our little ones, I think of “traffic gardens” — for children to learn safe bicycling skills at the age they learn to mount bicycles — are very important. This is how you deeply create community and cultural shifts that are necessary for safe bicycling. For more, see: “Traffic Garden of Utrecht.”
And see: Bicycle Safety Tips (PDF) for children (and others).
Clear Your Mind
The first rule of safe bicycling is to make sure that your senses are acute, your vision is good, and your mind is focused and attentive. Just as with driving a vehicle, or safely walking as an active pedestrian, one must apply oneself to the discipline of clear thinking in transit. Simple things like low blood sugar can affect your perception. As bicycling takes quite a bit of energy, please do eat or make sure you are not too hungry before a commute or journey.
Dehydration is a significant concern, of course. Dehydration affects perception as well. Coconut water is one of the best things for electrolytes. Don’t drink alcohol or smoke excessively before mounting a bicycle. Or know you limits. No doubt, I might create and stir folks with this suggestion. But it is important.
Be Visible and Choose the Wisest Route Ahead of Time for a Bicycle, Not An Automobile
Choose the safest routes to get to where you are bicycling. There are many apps nowadays that help with this. I love many of the Google apps. They are often best for urban areas. Google apps for mapping routes are good… unless you are in the mountains. Beware of their directions in the mountains (seriously). Travel in bicycles trains such as in LA when you can, too — there’s a lot to learn from others, and it is hard to miss a group of bicyclists in urban areas, even in an area dominated by the automobile or crime-ridden areas.
Visibility is the most basic but important key. A single bicyclist is often “invisible” to some drivers. Perhaps an invisible bicyclist is ideal for sleuthing; however, it’s not good for daily commuting. So do what you can to increase your visibility.
And then there’s the bicycle helmet. Helmet suggestions in this PDF applies to adults as well as children. Some of the melodic videos we see from Northern Europe show few bicyclist wearing helmets. However, the risk is much less there because bicyclists are expected and seen in transit. Bicyclists were educated about traffic rules early in life in traffic gardens, as were drivers. They have protected lanes and lights. And the have the benefits of traveling in high numbers.
A similar case is seen in cities with bikesharing programs, which offer so many bikes and increase bicycling so much that despite low use of helmets, there tend to be few accidents and no deaths among the users. Still, consider the years it takes to recover from head injury — if you can recover at all. Best to wear a helmet.
Advancing with the trend towards autonomous and electric vehicles that communicate to bicycle helmets is another thing we are beginning to see. Some models of Volvo and Jaguar now show bicycles in the driver’s dashboard to alert the driver that a bicyclist is approaching in the next alleyway. I look forward to this being used in more cars.
In the meantime, be safe, because you never know when there’s a driver nearby who has no idea of your presence.
And here are some more videos with good bicycle safety tips:
Keep up to date with all the most interesting green news on the planet by subscribing to our (free) Planetsave newsletter.