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People On Bikes

BWL Column: Cyclists should ride right and go with the flow

Our friends at BikeWalkLee touched on an important issue in their recent column post regarding cyclists riding with or against traffic. Check out their post below and visit their blog for more great stories from BikeWalkLee.

Wrong-way bicycling has gotten a lot of attention lately. Yesterday’s News-Press included an open letter to wrong-way bicyclists (http://bikewalklee.blogspot.com/2015/07/an-open-letter-to-wrong-way-bicyclists.html) and today’s BikeWalkLee bi-weekly News-Press column (below) also explains why it’s important to ride with traffic, not against it.

News-Press “Go Coastal” section, BikeWalkLee Column, July 23, 2015

So, which direction is the right one to ride?

If you read the letters to the editor, you’d see the occasional assertion that cyclists would be safer if only they rode facing traffic rather than in the same direction as traffic.

The logic goes that cyclists able to see what’s headed their way would be more able to take evasive action to avoid a collision with the much faster and heavier vehicles sharing the roadway.

Granted, there’s a certain simplistic sense to this at first glance. But take a moment to ponder the possibilities (and perhaps do a little research) and you’ll find out where this logic goes wrong and why riding with traffic is the smarter way:

It’s the law. Florida statutes are unequivocal: Cyclists on the roadway must ride in the same direction as other vehicles… because that’s what they are in the eyes of the law — a vehicle. (It’s the law in other states as well.)

It makes you more visible. Drivers are geared to look out for other vehicles on the road… at least the ones we want to drive beside. What are those drivers looking for? Other vehicles! So when you act like one of those other vehicles, you improve your chances of being seen by other drivers. Let’s also remember that all car-bike interactions occur on open roadways with both moving in the same plane. There are also turning drivers, passing drivers, drivers coming to an intersection or pulling on to the road. All those drivers are looking for other vehicles, so if you’re not acting like one of those you’re much more at risk of a collision.

It’s safer for you (even when you’re not sharing the road). One study (http://www.bicyclinglife.com/Library/riskfactors.htm) concluded your risk when riding against traffic on the roadway was almost doubled vs. riding with traffic. Ride on the sidewalk against traffic and your risk is quadrupled (again, for the visibility factor of where drivers normally look).

Another consideration (at least in low-speed conditions) is that riding with traffic lowers the impact factor should a collision occur. If a car going 30 mph interacts with a cyclist going 10 mph in the same direction, the impact factor is 20 mph (30-10). Have the cyclist going in the opposite direction (into traffic), and the impact factor doubles (30+10). That makes a major difference in survivability.

A final consideration is that, if everyone on a bike is riding in the same direction, it’s safer for all — even the motorists, since swerving cyclists trying to avoid each other inevitable can end up in the roadway.

Now, sharing the road is not for every cyclist — that’s why we have bike paths, shared-use paths and other more protective options. For those willing to ride right in traffic, however, there are a number of accessories — mirrors, lights, vests, etc. — that enable you to see and be seen by whoever is approaching from behind. But if you’re riding the roadway, you need to be confident, you need to be predictable and you need to be wary and aware as if your life depended on your defensiveness. It very well might.

The two-wheeled types reading this may ask: Why does all the burden of shared-road safety fall on the cyclist? Well, in a perfect world, that would not be the case. In the world we live in, however, cyclists are out-weighed and out-powered by motor vehicles — so cyclists have a lot more at stake, and it behooves the bicyclist to take precautions to prevent collisions. After all, if a motorist’s mistake ends up in an unfortunate car-cycle interaction, the driver might get a ticket — but the cyclist might get a trip to the emergency room, or worse.

BikeWalkLee is a community coalition raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County—streets that are designed, built, operated and maintained for safe and convenient travel for all users: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Information, statistics and background online at www.BikeWalkLee.org.

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