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How to Ensure Biker and Pedestrian Safety on Complete Streets

Complete streets allow full access for all types of travelers, whether they are using an automobile, bicycle, or their own feet.  This encourages both fuel savings and personal fitness.  However, it also leaves a weighty responsibility on public planners: ensuring safety for all different types of commuters.

Fortunately, the ways in which complete streets are designed help prevent accidents.  Separate paths divide vehicular and non-vehicular traffic to minimize the odds of collision between automobiles and human beings.  Nonetheless, when such accidents do occur, the results can be horrific.  Here are some troubling facts:

  • Male pedestrians are at special risk of being involved in a complete streets accident, especially those between 15 and 29 years of age.
  • Older adults are less likely to be involved in a pedestrian/vehicle wreck.  However, when these types of accidents do occur, the risk of fatality is significantly greater as the victim’s age increases.
  • While it receives little attention from the press, “walking drunk” is a serious problem in the United States.  In 2010 alone, one-third of those killed in pedestrian/vehicle wrecks were legally drunk.

The good news is that pedestrians can reduce their odds of being in a complete streets accident by following a few basic safety tips.  These include:

  • Using designated crosswalks when crossing the street.
  • Showing special caution at intersections since drivers may not notice a pedestrian in time to yield the right of way.
  • Being conscious of the fact that low lighting conditions (such as those at dusk, at night, or at dawn) present special hazards for those on foot.  To minimize the chances of an accident, pedestrians walking in darker lighting or inclement weather conditions should wear reflective clothing and carry glow sticks, flashlights, or other light-emitting devices.  However, they should be careful not to direct their lights toward vehicles.  This can blind drivers and possibly cause them to lose control of their auto.

Bicycle Safety and Complete Streets

Bike riding used to be primarily associated with children and young adults who could not drive; now people of all ages are enjoying this safe, fun means of travel.  It offers a host of benefits, which include greater fitness, the chance to see beautiful sights, and saving on fuel costs by using foot power.  However, because bikes travel at greater speed than pedestrians, bike riders must take special precautions to keep themselves safe.  Here are some tips to help prevent bike-related accidents:

  • Don’t think that a helmet is the solution to all safety problems.  Wearing a helmet will almost certainly reduce the risk of serious head injuries, but it does not reduce the chances of being involved in an accident; cyclists should remain vigilant and aware of their surroundings.
  • Know when to ride further to the left than usual.  Most bicyclists stay as close to the road’s right edge as possible for fear of being struck.  However, riding further to the right can actually increase the odds of an injury in certain circumstances, even on complete streets.  For example, when approaching an intersection, riding further to the left will increase the odds that a driver will see a cyclist approaching before he or she pulls out into the street.  Also, when riding past parked cars, staying further to the left decreases the chances of colliding with a car door being swung open by an unaware motorist.
  • Never assume that a driver knows when you’re about to turn, merge with traffic, or cross a road.  Use hand signals to indicate such actions.  Using one of the new, extra-loud air horns intended for bikes can also help get a motorist’s attention.  If all else fails, simply yelling “hey!” at an approaching car may help ensure that the person behind the wheel is aware that a cyclist is present.
  • When riding complete streets at night, a bike headlight can make the difference between life and death.  Some newer models have flashing lights and other devices that raise the rider’s visibility profile greatly.

Conclusion

Complete streets offer huge advantages over older types of roads.  They encourage safer driving and using alternative means of transportation.  However, they cannot replace good, old-fashioned common sense.  By staying alert and paying attention to safety basics, America’s roads can be safer for everyone who uses them.