Friday, July 23, 2010

Basic Concepts of Bicycling in Traffic

This blog entry was originally written by Arthur Ross, the Pedestrian & Bicycle Safety Coordinator for the City of Madison and a member of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, for our Wisconsin Bicyclist newsletter. We hope it helps you bike smarter and safer. For similar articles, please check out the Articles and Resources section of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin website.

The most basic concept to keep in mind when learning how to ride a bicycle safely in traffic is that your bicycle is a vehicle. The rules for riding a bicycle in traffic are the same as for driving any other vehicle, like a car. Following these rules of the road is the safest way to ride and your best defense against being involved in a crash.

Here are five essential concepts that will help you bicycle more safely:
  1. Ride on the right side of the road, always in the same direction as other traffic. Riding against traffic is unpredictable, especially to drivers at intersections, driveways or to those exiting parking spaces. Remember that bike lanes go one way only, in the same direction as other traffic on the street.
  2. Ride as far to the right as practicable, not as far right as possible.
    • Practicable means safe and reasonable.
    • Mid-block, your lane position depends largely on the width of the lane and your speed with respect to the speed of other traffic. The faster you are traveling (such as downhill) the farther left in the lane you need to be. The narrower the lane, the farther left you need to be to ensure that overtaking motorists will pass you safely. Wisconsin law requires a motorist passing a bicyclist to give at least three feet of clearance when passing.
    • Stay far enough away from the curb, or from the edge of the road, to avoid hazards such as sand, broken glass and potholes that tend to accumulate there. About three feet is typical. Also ride at least three feet from parked cars to avoid a suddenly opened car door.
    • When approaching and reaching an intersection, your lane position depends upon your destination. On the right for a right turn, towards the center if going straight, to the left (or in a left turn lane) for a left turn.
  3. Turns are made the same way on a bicycle as they are when driving a car. To change your lane position, or your position within a lane, first look behind you to see if there is any other traffic nearby. Traffic in the lane you want to move into has the right of way. Signal and change lanes/position within a lane when there is a safe opening in traffic. Again, this is the same way you change lanes and turn as when driving a car. A left turn can also be made by riding straight through the intersection, stopping, and walking or riding your bicycle across the street when safe.
  4. Obey all traffic signs and signals. These apply to bicyclists as well as motorists. Be especially alert for yield and stop signs, traffic signals, and one-way streets. Obeying traffic signs and signals is your first defense against crashes, and is the best way to gain respect from other road users.
  5. Ride defensively. Be aware of what is going on around you, both in terms of roadway conditions as well as other traffic. Watch the road for hazards like sand, broken glass, potholes and railroad tracks. Watch side streets, driveways, alleys and parked cars for traffic that may enter the street in front of you or turn across your path. Remember that trees, shrubs, fences, bright sunlight and darkness can make it difficult for you to see and for others to see you. Adapt your riding style to minimize these and other hazards.
At night, use a white headlight and a red rear reflector. Many bicyclists also use a red flashing light on the rear of their bicycles. During the day, wear bright colors to help others see you.

Know and watch for others' mistakes. Some common situations to be alert for include: a motorist coming toward you who turns left in front of you; a motorist passing you then turning right in front of you; a motorist pulling out from a stop sign, driveway or parking space without yielding to you.

Finally, help fight road rage by respecting others' rights. If you, as a bicyclist, want to earn the respect of motorists and pedestrians, then you need to respect their rights as well. Never compromise someone else's safety for your own convenience.

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