By Lauren Heaton
Though the recent snowfall has either covered or camouflaged them, new traffic signs have popped up around the village this fall and winter, meant to empower the bicyclists of the village. Just as subtle as their new regulatory markers, bicycles are a minority vehicle in the village that do their best to share the roads with everything from skateboarders and golf carts to Mack trucks and extra-wide loads. Still, bicycling advocates and traffic regulators hope that spreading the word about proper traffic procedures will help to improve safety and congeniality on village streets.
Village Council’s goal to make Yellow Springs a more walkable and bikeable community prompted the Village Bicycle Enhancement Committee to take action on the signs this fall. The signs are a general reminder to drivers of both non-motorized and motorized vehicles that on roadways without a bike lane, bicyclists are encouraged to use the entire lane. As head of the bike committee and an avid bicyclist himself, Dan Carrigan is passionate about educating both bikers and motorized drivers of the laws that give bicyclists greater rights and responsibilities.
“As bicyclists, we’re being assertive,” he said. “The roads are a shared social network -— we all have a right to use them.”
However, Carrigan believes that children under age 10 should not be riding without an adult.
The Yellow Springs Police Department supports the laws that allow bicycles to assert their right to ride safely anywhere in the village.
“It’s empowering bicyclists to think about things a little differently and to give them a leg up, versus the person in the two-ton car,” Police Chief John Grote said last week.
The most obvious new markers are the bicyclists stenciled in white paint in the center of the right travel lanes (where a car would be) leading up to village traffic lights. Though bicyclists have long been able to trigger a red light to turn green by rolling over the electro-inductive loop with a metal wheel, in November the Village made the mechanism more obvious by marking the loop with the bike stencil and cuts in the pavement, as well as a road sign reading, “To request green wait on [image of a bicyclist].”
Perhaps most important are the signs that were added at each entrance to the village, showing an image of a bicycle with the words, “May use the full lane.” The sign is a reminder of a regulation stated in the Ohio Revised Code that bicyclists have the right to use the full travel lane of any road less than 14 feet wide from the outer white line to the yellow center line — which applies to 99.4 percent of the 25 miles of roads in Yellow Springs, according to Carrigan. If a car wants to pass a bike, the car must change lanes to do so.
Motorized drivers may not be aware that bicycles have the right to use the road much like a car, and many bicyclists lack awareness, too, Carrigan said. But according to the bicycle safety regulations published by the Ohio Department of Transportation, taking control as a cyclist by using the whole lane and signaling clearly to the vehicle following behind is the safest way to ride, said Carrigan, who is a certified bicycle safety instructor who offers periodic classes in town and in the area.
“It’s safer for me and everyone else around me as well,” Carrigan said of using the full lane. “As a bicyclist I need to control the lane by taking the primary position to ensure my safety.”
As well as getting the benefits of using the roads, bicyclists must also obey vehicular traffic laws, almost all of which apply to them. Police are most likely to cite bicyclists for blatantly “blowing through a red light or a stop sign,” which are the infractions most likely to cause an accident, Grote said. According to statistics, violating traffic lights, riding on sidewalks and riding at night without a light are the three things most likely to cause an accident, and are therefore also most likely to be enforced, Carrigan said. Bikes are required at night to have a white light on the front and a red light (or at least a red reflector) on the back of the bike. And while helmets are not legally required here yet, they are strongly suggested, and are, as Grote put it, “inexpensive brain injury insurance.”
The Village has several roads with older bike paths, which have never been maintained, and creating a more comprehensive bike path system would require the Village to widen nearly every street in the village, an expense it can little afford, Grote said. This effort to facilitate a sharing of the road is the more affordable way to promote bicycling, which also supports Council’s other goal to reduce the village’s carbon footprint, both Grote and Carrigan said.
Miami Township was the first to erect “[bicyclists] may use the full lane” signs on roads throughout the township in September. Those signs are especially important on roads that have little or no shoulder. But signs or no signs, bicyclists everywhere in Ohio have the right to use the whole lane of any roadway less than 14 feet wide, excluding interstate highways, of course, where bicycles are prohibited, Carrigan said.