10 Urban Cycling Safety Tips

Everything this guys’s doing is wrong. (Courtesy of Gnarly, via WikiMedia.)

Safety concerns put off a lot of would-be urban cyclists. With good reason: Though bike rides make up only 1% of trips in the United States, bicyclists are more likely than drivers to be injured or killed in a crash. But with new lanes and increased ridership, the numbers are improving. Even with an increasing number of bikes on the road, cycling fatalities fell 21% between 1988 and 2008 and serious injuries declined by 31%, according to a 2011 transportation research paper. Studies show that more bikes on the road equals fewer fatalities. That’s good news for American cities, where cycling has grown exponentially in the past two decades. Thinking of hitting the streets? Here’s some advice on staying safe.

1. Obey traffic rules.

Come on, don’t ride like you’re in the suburbs. No freewheeling against traffic or on sidewalks. This is especially dangerous at intersections, where a third of bike fatalities occur. If you’re going in the wrong direction, a turning driver probably won’t look for you and could hit you head on. Riding on the sidewalk and running red lights puts pedestrians in danger. These moves can also get you a ticket.

2. Beware of car doors.

Assume that any car door could open at any time. This means both parked cars and those in traffic, since people sometimes get out mid-block. Cabs are especially hazardous, since passengers may not know to look for bike traffic. If possible, leave three feet between yourself and a parked car.

3. Make yourself visible.

Really, drivers aren’t trying to hit you. But they often can’t see you. Start by buying big front and rear lights, and turn them on at dusk. Many states require this by law, such as California, Massachusetts and New York. Reflectors and neon jackets are smart too.

Courtesy of CJ Isherwood, via Flickr.

4. Make some noise.

When you’re weaving through traffic or making a sharp turn, it’s often hard to see if someone’s crossing the street. So ring a bell to let people know you’re coming through. It may seem annoying, but it’s better than shouting. In turn, it’s important to listen, meaning no headphones.

5. Ride in a straight line.

Whatever you do, you don’t want to take a driver by surprise. So keep your riding predictable and don’t weave between cars.

6. Avoid busy streets.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you might need to think about it if you’ve moved to a new neighborhood. Which roads have multiple lanes, faster traffic or frequent truck deliveries? Investigate local crash data, which cities often compile. In Boston, for instance, riders should beware of Commonwealth Avenue. In Los Angeles, bypass Olympic Boulevard; in Brooklyn, Atlantic Avenue. Study your city’s bike map for suggested routes.

7. Hog a lane.

If a street is too narrow for both you and a car, don’t be afraid to claim the whole lane for yourself. It’ll annoy drivers, but is safer than squeezing to the side, where you risk getting pinned against a vehicle. You have the right to that laneā€”use it.

Courtesy of Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious, via WikiMedia.

8. Anticipate problems.

Ride as if all drivers are stupid, possibly blind and oblivious to cyclists. At red lights, pull up in front of cars to be sure they see you. Use hand signals. Try to make eye contact with drivers and check their turn signals. Get to the left of right-turning cars. Watch out for a vehicle’s blind spots and give buses plenty of space.

9. Take your time.

Reckless drivers speed through red lights or gun it at green. If the light is turning, wait a second before you go through the intersection. An instant can really be a matter of life and death. This is especially true at complicated intersections with multiple lanes turning at different times. If you’re not familiar with an intersection, follow the lights and don’t second guess traffic signals.

10. Wear a helmet.

You might still get into an accident. We want you to survive it.