More on bicycle safety

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By Khalil J. Spencer

Dear Editor,

Janet Basinger’s recent letter in the Monitor (Apr. 21), discussing bicycling safety, needs further discussion.

Proper positioning keeps the cyclist away from roadside debris and from the gutter pan or road edge. The rider must also be far enough into traffic to be clearly visible to others. The cyclist is legally entitled to take the entire lane if it is too narrow to be shared (Los Alamos County Codes, Ch. 38, Article X), thus deterring motorists from unsafe passing. In the narrow lane situation the cyclist should cooperate with motorists to the extent safely possible to keep traffic moving.

Following motorists must be patient and pass safely. That, in essence, is why the law says the cyclist should ride as far right as is practicable (i.e., feasible, realistic with regards to all likely hazards and traffic considerations) not as far right as is possible.

A cyclist wanting to increase his or her visibility during the day can use bright clothing or a Class II or III reflective vest.  Having said that, the onus for being alert to what is in front of you (whether it is a cyclist, a pedestrian crossing the street, or a motorist slowing down) falls primarily to the individual vehicle operator.  Let’s keep the responsibility where it belongs.

Of far more dire consequence is the lightless rider out at night.  

From the Law Officer’s Guide to Bicycle Safety, Reference Guide, “...Certain types of motor vehicle-bike collisions occur disproportionately at night, including motorist entering from side street or on-street parking, motorist turning left, motorist overtaking and wrong-way cyclist hit head-on … in the first two of these crash types … the motorist’s headlamps will not be shining on the bicyclist. Therefore the bicyclist needs, and is required by law to use, a headlight to be seen by drivers in these situations....”

I would add that a large rear reflector or rear light would mitigate the hazards of the motorist overtaking the cyclist.

That bike lanes increase cyclist safety is based on the assumption that a cyclist is likely to be hit from behind, but that is a relatively rare (a few percent) collision and more of a concern in rural areas. Some 80-90 percent of urban bike-car crashes are due to turning and crossing errors at driveways and intersections (Law Officer’s Guide…)

Poorly designed bike lanes can encourage motorists to pass a cyclist on the left while making a right turn, encourage cyclists to make a left turn from the right side of the road (i.e., from the bike lane), or position cyclists too far to the right to be clearly visible to other traffic.  A well-designed bike lane system enables traffic to flow smoothly and comfortably, but also encourages proper cyclist positioning in traffic, especially while turning and at intersections and roundabouts, thus encouraging proper cyclist behavior and deterring other people’s mistakes.  

These lanes, therefore, don’t necessarily make a cyclist safer and the lack of a bike lane does not make a road unsafe for cycling. Individual operator decisions and behavior are the greater determinants of traffic safety.

Khalil J. Spencer

Los Alamos

League of American Bicyclists Instructor #1173