Sunday, May 23, 2010

Soap Box: Bicycle Safety Concerns

According to the Associated Press: "A car collides into cyclists participating in a race in Mexico's northern city of Matamoros, Sunday June 1, 2008. At least one person was killed and 14 injured when a driver slammed into a bicycle race."

In light of the recent hit and run to fellow cyclist Michael Bitton in Baton Rouge this past week I have decided to blog on bike safety in hopes that by educating fellow cyclists and motorists on bike etiquette and law that we may be able to spare a life in the future.

There has always been tension between motorists and cyclists when it comes to sharing the road. Living in a city where there are limited places to ride due to poor road conditions, heavy traffic, and a lack of emphasis placed on bike paths and cyclist's rights, it makes it very difficult for those who enjoy cycling to have a place that they can train safely. There are a relatively small number of training routes that are utilized by cyclists on a regular basis in the city. Alligator Bayou, River Road, and LSU are the most common areas for cyclists to train. Unfortunately these areas all have a history of bad accidents involving cyclists who are hit by motor vehicles. Louisiana recorded 985 traffic deaths in 2007 alone, and 22 of those were cycling related. That makes Louisiana the second most dangerous state for bicycling behind only Florida.  Much of this tragedy could be avoided if only motorists would drive the speed limit and attend to what is going on around them, and cyclists would follow the rules of the road and make themselves visible. 

In 2009, the Colin Goodier Protection Act was put in place in Louisiana. This Law requires all vehicles to stay three feet away from cyclists. It also protects cyclists from harassment and abuse. If a motorist is caught breaking this law they are subject to a $250 fine.

What can we as cyclists do to make ourselves safer on the road? Well, to start with we can make ourselves more visible. It is required by law from dusk to dawn to have a flashing white light on the front of the bike and a red light in the rear. Some riders choose to wear brightly colored clothing and may choose to take safety even farther with vests such as "The Speed-Vest".

“The SPEED-VEST is a bicycle safety device and advocacy tool which displays the wearer’s current speed on their back in easy-to-read lighted numerals. It improves rider conspicuity while legitimizing bicycle speeds on the roadway. Originally conceived by Brady Clark and engineered by Mykle Hansen, it just won the Hub Bike Shop’sBike Gadget Contest in Minneapolis, MN”.

Another example of flashy, yet effective safety clothing...

Or you can go for an LED vest...

Or reflective wear...

Or just try to wear something that will bring attention to yourself...

In addition to safety clothing, please remember to wear your helmet. It is the only thing you have between your brain and the asphalt.

Always ride with someone. There are so many examples of riders being hit by cars, chased by dogs, or injured by some unforseen circumstance, that it is just not wise to ride alone. If you are riding with a group and are "dropped" be sure and have a plan so that you can meet back up and regroup, or ride in opposing directions so that you will meet up to join back onto the pace line when it comes around.

Remember to use hand signals to inform motorists of your intentions...

so you don't end up in a wreck.

If you are the unfortunate victim of an accident, it is wise to always have identification on you or your bike, as well as a cell phone. One option that many riders choose to use is an ID bracelet with their name, address, and emergency contact information. Some of these bracelets can also connect medical responders to a website that will list out your medical history, allergies, and medications.

One of the most difficult things for new riders to learn is how to ride in a group or paceline. Being in tight quarters with riders of mixed experience levels can be very dangerous. This is were many accidents happen. There are general guidelines for safely riding in a group:
(Source: Pearland Cycling Club)

Paceline - A group of riders drafting off of each other.

Riding in a smooth rolling and coordinated paceline is one of the great joys of cycling. It becomes an important skill to have as the distance, speed and wind conditions of your ride become more challenging. When you draft behind another rider it saves you about 30% of the effort compared to riding at the same speed on your own. When it is your turn to pull, you get a great workout and a sense of accomplishment from helping your paceline. Riding in a paceline can help cover distances quickly, so that means less saddle soreness and more time for fun and camaraderie off the bike. Staying with a group also improves your safety and fun on the road. Riding safely in a paceline is an acquired skill. It is important to have some basic knowledge about riding in groups as you begin to acquire this skill.

Drafting - Riding closely behind another rider to cut down on wind resistance.

Draft behind cyclists whose riding style and experience you trust. Try to keep your front wheel within between 6 and 18 inches of the wheel in front of you. Don't overlap your front wheel with the back wheel of the bike in front of you. Overlapping wheels is the most common reason for falls within a paceline. If you join another cyclist or paceline on the road, always announce yourself by telling the rider in front of you that you are on their wheel. It is polite to ask if you can draft.

Leading a paceline: The leader of the paceline sets the pace. The lead rider should keep a steady pace without too much slowing or speeding up. Also, the current leader should maintain a speed within the agreed range unless circumstances call for changes (dogs, wind, stop signs, mechanical problems, etc.). The leader watches out for obstacles and hazards, communicates about them to the rest of the paceline and steers smoothly around them. The leader also announces stops and turns. The leader is also said to "Pull" the paceline because the rest of the riders draft behind him or her.

Rotation: All riders in a paceline take a turn leading or riding in front of the line. This is called taking a pull. When the leader is ready to move from the front of the paceline to draft, the leader checks traffic, moves to the left and slows down while patting their right thigh. This signals that the second rider is now the leader and will be pulling the rest of the group. The length of time a rider stays at the front of the paceline can vary depending on road and ride conditions, rider ability and other factors. It is good to decide an agreed period such as a number of pedal strokes, minutes or miles for each rider. This keeps everyone fresh and everyone is able to contribute according to their own abilities. It is normal and expected that within any group, some riders will naturally ride faster and others slower. Some will naturally pull longer and others will not pull as long. The riders who are riding slower shouldn't worry too much about that. The faster riders benefit greatly from being able to tuck in and draft for a while, even if the pace is slower. It is also natural for a fresh rider to want to speed up when they take their turn in the lead. Keep that adrenaline in check and keep the agreed pace as much as possible or you might drop (leave behind) the rider who just pulled for you.

Riding in a paceline: All riders should pay close attention to the riders in front and in back of them. Don't stare at the back wheel of the rider in front of you. This actually decreases reaction time because you are less aware of hazards and other riders. Be able to react quickly and safely as conditions change in the paceline. All riders should watch for hazards and call out to the rest of the group when helpful. The last rider in the pack watches out for traffic coming from behind and signals the paceline's intentions to following traffic. When you are first learning to ride in a paceline, it is o.k. to ride at the back and observe how it works. It is not as difficult as it seems and your comfort level will increase quickly with practice. It may be best to learn your group riding skills with a group that rides slower than you are accustomed to. 

Good communication greatly enhances safety and enjoyment while riding in groups.

Communication in a paceline is done using hand signals and a unique cycling lingo.

Hand Signals: Signal right turns by pointing with your right hand arm straight out. (The left arm up at a right angle was created for cars and is impractical for cyclists). Signal left turns with your left hand arm straight out. Signal slowing or stopping by holding your right arm straight down with your hand facing backwards. Point to hazards as well as calling out about them.


Common terms include
Slowing, Stopping, Turning.

Call out hazards:
Gravel, Bump, Pot Hole, Grate, Debris, Road Kill, Tracks (for rail road tracks), etc.

If a rider falls, call out:
Rider Down.

For any hazard in front of the line use the word
UP as in Car UP. Likewise, hazards in other directions may be identified as in CAR BACK, LEFT, RIGHT, etc.

To notify the paceline that an intersection is clear and to proceed on through, call out

You can also combine terms. For instance, to let the line know it is safe to move left for a left hand turn, the last rider will call out
CLEAR BACK while the leader may call out, TURNING LEFT, CLEAR.

When passing another rider - always do so on the left and call out
On your left.

Intersections: This is a special note on intersections. The greatest number of bicycle/automobile accidents happen at intersections when cars turn left into the path of an oncoming cyclist. Be extra careful at intersections. Also, the larger the paceline, the more difficult it is to manage intersections as a group. While it may be safe for the lead rider to go through an intersection, by the time the back of the group gets there, a car could be approaching. It is important to be aware of traffic at intersections wherever you ride in the pack. You are responsible for safe and courteous riding behavior even if others in your group don't always practice appropriate technique. Stop at stoplights. Don't cross an intersection unless you are sure it is clear and you have the right of way.

Safety and cycling has been a hot topic in the local news lately. Until more attention is brought to the lack of bike paths and places for cyclists to safely train, it is up to us to do what we can to improve our safety on the road and to decrease the likelihood of an accident with a motor vehicle.

There are some good sources of information on the internet regarding legal issues related to bike/motorist accidents, dog attacks while on a bike, and cyclist's rights and responsibilities.
Bicycle Law has useful information on what to do in case of an accident or attack by a dog. Knowing our laws is a good way to advocate for ourselves and to set an example for other cyclists, especially those who are new to the sport. The following is a compilation of
Louisiana Cycling Laws that are most applicable to adult cyclists:

Riding on roadways and bicycle paths 

A. Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction.
B. Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.
C. Whenever a usable path for bicycles has been provided adjacent to a roadway, bicycle riders shall use such path and shall not use the roadway.

Traffic laws apply to persons riding bicycles:

Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway of this state shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this Chapter, except as to special regulations in this Part and except as to those provisions of this Chapter which by their very nature can have no application.

Brakes on bicycles:

Every bicycle shall be equipped with a brake which will enable the operator to make the braked wheels skid on dry, level, clean pavement.

Bicycles; front lamps; side and rear reflectors:

Every bicycle when in use at nighttime shall be equipped with a lamp on the front which shall emit a white light visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet to the front and with a red reflector on the rear and a reflector on each side facing outward at a right angle to the bicycle frame, all of a type approved by the department which shall be visible from all distances within six hundred feet to one hundred feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful lower beams of headlamps on a motor vehicle. A lamp emitting a red light visible from a distance of five hundred feet to the rear may be used in addition to the red reflector.

Until we are able to generate enough interest in building more suitable paths and trails for cyclists in Louisiana, we will have to continue sharing the roadways with motorists. The cycling community in Baton Rouge is a close-knit community and the thought of the loss of another cyclist to an accident involving a motorist is devastating to those who ride these roads on their bikes on a regular basis. The more we can educate other cyclists and motorists about sharing the roads safely, the more lives we can save.

For anyone interested in additional information on local cycling, 225 Magazine wrote a nice article on cycling in the city that touches on the challenges that cyclists have with motorists.

1 comment:

  1. Coug, thanks for sharing. If we're going to compete in the 2040 IMNO 70.3 we can't be getting injured! Your post this week should be required reading for Sputniks! : )