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Six Tenets of Bicycle Lane Safety

Bicycle lane safety is an increasingly important topic in communities across the United States.  High fuel costs, along with an increasing emphasis on personal fitness, have inspired many Americans to forgo using automobiles when a bike can serve just as well.  The benefits of bicycling include lower levels of air pollution, improved health, and fewer vehicle-on-vehicle collisions.

At the same time, bicycle use creates its own set of concerns for both riders and public safety officials.  This is because bicyclists are especially vulnerable to injuries and even fatalities when accidents do occur.  A bicycle has no airbags, seatbelts, or protective metal shell.

Preventing cycling accidents is a matter of both diligent enforcement of traffic laws and continuous rider (and driver) education.  With that in mind, here are six tenets of bicycle lane safety:

1.     Cyclists should ride in the same direction as automobiles.  Riding against traffic flow creates numerous hazards.  These include decreased visibility at intersections, greater likelihood of bike-on-bike collisions, and difficulty when maneuvering away from and into bikeways.

2.     Cyclists should always use hand signals well in advance of lane shifts and turns.  This is one of the most common-sense rules of bicycle lane safety; unfortunately, it’s also one of the most neglected.  It’s up to the bicyclist to signal his or her intentions so surrounding drivers can react accordingly.

3.     When possible, cyclists should use marked bicycle lanes instead of the open roadway.  Studies show that official bikeways increase both a bike rider’s comfort level and his or her visibility to motorists.  Authorities can assist by creating marked bicycle lanes wherever possible.

4.     Cyclists should use particular care when riding through areas with right-hand angled parking.  Drivers backing out of the spots often have limited visibility.  In fact, whenever possible, bike riders should avoid riding alongside parked vehicles altogether.  Thousands of accidents each year are caused by an unaware or inattentive motorist opening his or her car door directly in the path of an oncoming bicycle.  In many areas, such as in Southern California, this problem presents an ongoing challenge to bicycle lane safety.

5.     Cyclists should use special precautions when riding at night or in wet weather.  A bike headlight is essential for anyone using a bicycle after sunset.  Modern versions of these products include visibility enhancements like flashing LEDs.

6.     Just like automobiles, bicycles should receive regular maintenance.  At the very least, cyclists should have their local bike shop perform an annual “tune up” to include brake service, lubrication, chain tightening or replacement, and inspection of major components.

Spreading the Word about Bicycle Lane Safety Is Everyone’s Job

In some locations, an adversarial relationship exists between motorists and the cycling community.  Drivers complain that bike riders ”hog the road” and cut in front of automobiles without warning.  For their part, cyclists claim that drivers fail to respect their right to safety or exhibit rude behavior.  Everyone loses in this kind of poisoned environment.

One solution to this problem is for drivers, bike riders, and public safety officials to work together in addressing the challenges of bicycle lane safety.  Suggestions for doing so include using the following public channels:

·       Local TV and radio stations

·       Signs and flyers

·       Community events

·       Internet sites


America is transforming from an automobile-dominated society to one in which people use multiple modes of transportation.  This change offers both enormous potential for good and significant potential hazards to public safety.  Nothing can prevent all accidents.  However, by helping to spread the word about bicycle lane safety, everyone can enjoy safer transportation and a more pleasant environment overall.