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Both cyclists and drivers can make bicycling safer

The Coloradoan: Both cyclists and drivers can make bicycling safer

JANUARY 4, 2010

Headed north on College Avenue from Old Town, the motorist shouted something as he passed.

At the light, he continued: "You were in the middle of the lane. Get out of the road! You can’t ride in the middle of the road." I gave him my League of American Bicyclist cycling instructor business card as he roared off.

Others have advised me that College Avenue isn’t a "bike lane" or that "bicycles are illegal on College Avenue." When I explain that bicycles are prohibited on College Avenue from Laurel Street south to Harmony Road but not in Old Town, people seem surprised. Most don’t realize that legally, my bicycle is as much of a vehicle as the SUV or the Prius driving through Old Town.

With this monthly column, I will discuss rules of the road, shared rights and responsibilities, belligerent motorists and scofflaw cyclists. The outcome, I hope, might be a safer cycling and motoring environment.

I’ll begin with six basic rules for cyclists and motorists.

> Cyclists are safest when they ride with the flow of traffic. Wrong-way riding is the single biggest cause of bike/car crashes.

> Cyclists are safest riding on the street or road, not on the sidewalk. This reduces conflicts with pedestrians and decreases sidewalk "ride-outs," another cause of bike/car crashes.

> "Share the road" has two meanings, depending on the width of the lane. A 14-foot lane has room for bicycles and motor vehicles side by side. A 12- or 10-foot lane does not, so the League of American Bicyclists teaches cyclists to ride in the center of the lane or just to the right of center, where they are more visible and therefore safer.

> When there are no bike lanes, bicyclists should ride where they feel safest. State law allows this, and with the new 3-foot passing rule, this may mean that cyclists should use the entire lane. In Old Town, with the hazards of diagonal parking, bicycles are safest in the middle of the lane if they chose to ride College, Mountain and LaPorte avenues or Olive, Oak and Magnolia streets. Cyclists no longer should feel the need to pedal in the gutter.

> Bicycling is safe, yet cyclists should wear helmets to protect themselves from the 5 percent of crashes that can’t be avoided. To avoid the 95 percent of crashes that can be prevented, cyclists should ride defensively, avoid falling off their bikes and not allow others to knock them off their bikes.

Bicyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles. This rule is the mantra of the League of American Bicyclists and dominates 99 percent of the safe cycling curricula taught in the U.S. Different rules apply for children under age 10 and for those between ages 10 to 15.

In the following months, we will examine these common rules more in depth.

Rick Price, Ph.D., is a League of American Bicyclist cycling instructor who lives and pedals in Fort Collins, where he is the safe cycling coordinator for the Bike Co-op. His column runs the first Monday of the month. If your school or group would like a safe cycling presentation, send e-mail to rick@experienceplus.com.