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Bike Lanes: How to Keep Riders Safe

Safe bike lanes are vital to ensuring an accident-free transportation system.  This is because cities of all sizes are changing their roads to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists as well as drivers.  These changes bring a host of benefits with them, such as fuel savings and improved public health.  At the same time, they create new challenges for those tasked with monitoring and improving public safety.

Covering all the factors that go into building safe bike lanes would require far more room than is available here.  However, summarizing common riding hazards is a good way to introduce the topic.  With that in mind, below is a discussion of some common scenarios for bicycle accidents.

Intersection Collisions

These occur when a motor vehicle pulls out of a side street directly into the path of a cyclist.  These types of mishaps are especially common at night or on days where visibility is compromised by fog, rain, snow, etc.  Some ways to prevent these types of accidents include:

  •  Designing bike lanes so that riders stay several feet to the left of stop signs and traffic lights from the biker’s point of view.  This increases the chances of motorists seeing approaching cyclists.
  •  Requiring cyclists to use headlights and/or tail lights.  This makes all the difference in the world as far as visibility is concerned.

Car Door Collisions

These occur when a driver opens his or her door in the direct path of an oncoming cycle.  These types of accidents are extremely common in cities like Toronto, Canada and Santa Barbara, California.  They can be prevented in the following ways:

  • By keeping bike lanes well to the left of vehicles that are parallel parked. 
  • By designing bike lanes so that drivers must pull into spots rather than parking parallel to the road. 
  • By installing parking lot signage that warns parked motorists to be alert for bikes approaching from the rear.

Turning Car Collisions

These occur when a cyclist is riding across an intersection and a motorist turns directly in front of the oncoming bike.  Frequently, the driver is executing a right turn and doesn’t see the rider until it’s too late.  These wrecks are especially dangerous and often result in biker fatalities.  Some ways to prevent them include:

  • Installing traffic bollards to limit the areas where vehicles can turn to the right.
  • Posting notices at intersections advising both drivers and cyclists to be especially careful.
  • Requiring cyclists to install air horns and/or headlights on their bikes to raise their visibility profile.

Wrong-Way Collisions

These occur when a cyclist is riding against the direction of oncoming traffic and a vehicle coming out of a side road pulls directly into the bike’s path.  As with turning car collisions, fatality rates are especially high from these wrecks.  Here are some ways to lessen their likelihood:

  • Design bike lanes so that riders must travel in the same direction as motor vehicles.
  • Require bikers to use headlights and/or air horns during darker lighting conditions.

Stoplight Collisions

These occur when a cyclist pulls up beside a vehicle already waiting at a traffic light.  When the light turns green, the cyclist goes forward, not knowing that the motorist plans to turn right.  The result is a bike/car collision with a high probability of serious injury or death.  These accidents can be prevented in the following ways:

  • Requiring cyclists to stay behind automobiles at traffic lights instead of pulling up beside them.
  • Requiring bike riders to use headlights to increase their visibility.

Conclusion

With the growing popularity of cycling, bike lanes will become even more common across the United States in the coming years.  Those who design these routes will face constant challenges as they strive to accommodate this mode of transportation.  But by considering scenarios like those discussed in this article, the number of bicycle/automobile wrecks that occur can be minimized.