The recent motorist/cyclist collisions in the Annapolis, Maryland, area may serve as a reminder that more needs to be done for cycling in the area to be safer.
Chief Davis of the Anne Arundel County PD and the police officers are to be congratulated on their speedy response to this spate of collisions. An article in the Capital Gazette: “Our say: Bicycle accidents spotlight safety concerns” concluded with “Police and bicycling groups have to keep looking for new ways to educate the public and enforce the laws,” but educating the public — both motorists and cyclists — is going to be challenging when many are choosing not to listen or read.
NOTE: Opinions expressed here are those of the Wheelsucker, who is trying to get the conversation started. Feel free to respond in the comment section below.
Here are my thoughts on safe cycling and safe driving, consistent with the laws in Maryland (which are basically similar in other states and most countries, though they can differ in some details):
1. Ride on the road, with traffic, not on the sidewalk and not against traffic.
Cyclists in Maryland are legally permitted to ride on all roads with speed limits of 50 mph and under and are required to obey traffic laws. But, if there is a shoulder wide enough to ride in with a decent riding surface and not covered in debris, ride in that shoulder.
It is illegal to cycle on the sidewalk in Maryland, unless a local jurisdiction has passed a local law to the contrary (I do not believe many have). Some local jurisdictions allow children or bikes with small wheels (typically ridden by children) to ride on the sidewalk. However, there are many adults in the Annapolis area riding on the sidewalks.
This probably feels safer than riding on the road, but accident statistics show that riding on the sidewalk is NOT safer; there are a lot of crashes doing this. Some crashes are between cyclists and pedestrians, between cyclists and dogs on leashes, cyclists hitting telephone poles, but others are going through intersections where car drivers were looking for slow moving pedestrians, not faster moving cyclists who were initially further away from the intersection.
Pedestrians are encouraged to walk facing traffic, this does not work well for cyclists and data show significant serious accidents involving cyclists doing this; don’t ride against car traffic.
However, I have to say that I have a LOT of sympathy for those who are riding bicycles on the sidewalk. In much of the Annapolis area the cycling on the roads situation is so bad that you run significant risk of being hit by a car if you keep riding on those roads, particularly if you have to do it in low light conditions. And if you are hit on the road, the impact will most likely be greater (car going faster) and the results (for you) more serious.
Both the city of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County need to get serious about “Complete Streets” polices and actually build (or alter) streets so they are safer for all users. And all users of those streets need to “play by the rules”.
2. Wear a helmet.
There are arguments supported by some data that wearing a helmet is not safer. Motorists apparently drive closer to cyclists wearing helmets. But the data is disputed. My view is that if you are riding on or near hard objects (like concrete, asphalt and cars) a helmet is a very good idea. I could see riding a beach cruiser bicycle down a wooden boardwalk and not wearing a helmet. I always wear a helmet and I carry an extra helmet in my car in case I drive to a ride and I or someone else has forgotten a helmet.
3. Mount lights on your bike or on yourself.
In low light conditions cyclists and pedestrians are nearly invisible to motorists not paying close attention; a driver not paying close attention may not see you. Reflectors are not enough. I frequently ride with both a solid red and a flashing red on my seat post, and a flashing white on my handlebars. If it is actually dark I add a serious front facing white light so I can see where I am going. I frequently ride with flashing lights during the day, I am hoping the flashing is noticed by otherwise distracted drivers.
Even if you are riding on sidewalks, you need to have lights if you ride in lower light conditions.
4. Ride smoothly, in straight lines and try to move predictably.
Do not ride as close to the right side of the lane as you possibly can, and then turn out for storm sewers, potholes and debris. Ride far enough away from the extreme right of the ride-able surface that you can avoid road surface problems without swerving. Take the lane when appropriate.
- telephone poles close to the right hand side of the road surface that block the view of a motorist waiting to enter the road (as on outer West Street);
- when cycling past a right turn in the road such that the motorists view up the road – and of you – is blocked if you stay to the right, but you are more visible in the lane; and,
- if there are trees or bushes on the right side of the road.
If there are cars parked in the right hand lane, do not move right when there are no parked cars and then swerve back left to clear a parked car, simply ride far enough left to avoid parked cars. Sure, you can move right as a car passes to give more space, but try to be as predictable as possible. Most motorists are not cycling enthusiasts, many are not paying close attention, and they are not considering what the cyclist will probably do next.
Unfortunately this is one of the conflict points with motorists, many of whom are not aware of the legal basis and safety basis for cyclists not riding as far right as possible.
You are going to really annoy some motorists by taking the lane, but hugging the right and having them pass you too close, or while going into a blind corner or hill only to find oncoming traffic, can get you killed. Your choice.
Cyclists SHOULD consider taking the lane when they do not consider it safe for a following vehicle to pass them there. Many motorists will give three feet or more when they can, but may try to force their way through within three feet when they cannot. By law they are not supposed to pass here, but perhaps they are tempted.
A classic example is a two-lane-each-way road, the cyclist or cyclists are in the right hand lane and there is a car following, wanting to pass the cyclist. If the left lane is open the car can simply pull over into it and pass, but if the left lane has traffic, some drivers will try to force their way through, illegally passing within three feet. Add some speed to this and the result can be very dangerous and terrifying to the cyclists.
5. When riding adjacent to parked cars, ride OUTSIDE the dooring zone.
In many European countries drivers are taught to use their right hands to open the driver’s side door. This requires them turning their torso and head and actually looking over their left shoulder for traffic. Drivers here do not generally do this, and some are only giving a cursory glance before opening the door. The chances are they WOULD see a motor vehicle and delay opening the door, but they are not looking for cyclists.
6. Obey all traffic laws
Do not run through red lights and stop signs. Yes, I know you are sitting up higher than most car drivers and can clearly see traffic in all directions, and can clearly see when it is safe to do this. Don’t do it.
Many traffic lights with sensors will not sense a bicycle. Stop for those, look both ways carefully and proceed when you are certain it is safe and there are no moving cars closing in on the intersection. If there are cars going the way you are going, or the opposite way, they will trigger the sensor, so don’t do this unless there are no cars, no cars closing on the intersection, and the alternative is waiting for a car to arrive and trigger the light.
Signal your turns with an outstretched arm in the direction you want to turn. The left arm out with lower arm up signal for a right turn is fine if you are in an upright position, but is very hard to do on some bicycles in some riding positions. You can signal that you are slowing by holding an arm out, lower arm down, palm facing back.
7. Cyclists are supposed to ride in single file when in the presence of automobiles.
This one is tricky, because a group of cyclists in single file is twice the length of that same group in double file. So a group of cyclists taking the lane (doing so legally under one or more of the several exceptions to riding to the right) may well be easier to pass if they are riding in double file. Also, the group may be in double or even triple file taking the lane when no cars are present, and then needs time to reform into single file when a car appears behind them, wanting to pass.
I do a lot of group rides and am frequently riding at the back “sitting in” and “warming up” early in the ride. Everyone is riding easy, perhaps chatting. I hear a car approaching from behind (cars make a lot of noise compared to bicycles and most cyclists clearly hear approaching automobiles and trucks long before they are right behind and trying to pass). I yell “car back!” for the benefit of the others in the group.
If you are in a large cycling group, consider breaking into smaller single-file groups so there are adequate gaps in case a passing car has to return to the lane. How about giving motorists a “thumbs up” when you think it may be safe for them to pass?
Sometimes those riding further left in the lane comply and the group moves to single (or perhaps a compressed double) file, but sometimes a few riders ignore the information and continue to ride on the left side of the lane. This annoys some of the motorists, and I cringe when I see this happening. But further shouts of “car back!”, “car passing!”, and “single up!” do not always work.
The roads we are riding on for these group rides are not wide, and cyclists DO have the legal right to take the lane and not ride to the far right. But please “single up” when a car wants to pass and do what you can to make it easier and safer for the car to pass.
8. Consider mounting a video camera or cameras on your bicycle or helmet.
When things go wrong you may not be able to get a detailed description and tag number of a vehicle, and you may not have proof of a motorist’s actions (or tag information) without witnesses or video. I now cycle with front and rear video cameras, and I will have one on my helmet (to record what I see when I turn my head), shortly. Now that I have the cameras, I may use them while riding my scooter and driving my car. I am much less vulnerable in the car, but still see dumb and illegal actions by other motorists, and it might be useful if I am hit while driving my car.
9. Stay alert, aware, and a little paranoid when cycling on roads.
Do not wear earphones, you need to be listening for cars. Try to make eye contact with motorists when approaching intersections (many cars have illegal — too much — tint, and you cannot see the driver). Be prepared if a motorist is not paying proper attention and does not see you, or if they deliberately come too close to you.
This blog has been edited for brevity. Read the entire post here.
For More Information:
Here is the link to a MD SHA web page discussing relevant laws.