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Cycling for life

Riding safely on the long road ahead
Monday, October 13, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:12 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Accidents will happen, but Columbia’s bike community has seen more accidents in 2003 than in previous years. With more and more bikes on the road, cyclists and drivers must use more than simple caution to prevent unnecessary wrecks.

Officer Lyn Woolford and his colleagues at the Columbia Police Department aren’t sure why the number of bike accidents has nearly doubled from last year. They’ve talked about what they can do to prevent accidents, but they don’t see a pattern.

The increase in accidents makes sense to many with a rider’s perspective on Columbia. Cyclists have seen a change in bike traffic in and around Columbia. Andy Stockman, who works at the downtown bike shop, CycleExtreme, has noticed an increase in the overall number of bikes on the road.

While mountain bikes are still the number-one seller, Stockman has sold more road bikes this year than in previous years.

Each year, Columbia police see nearly 3,600 traffic accidents, which amounts to about 10 per day. There were 10 bike accidents reported in 2002. Through the end of September 2003, police recorded 17 accidents involving bicycles. Friday evenings are the most notorious times for any kind of accident.

Woolford said he doesn’t think car drivers are looking out for bikes. “People are focused on other things,” he said.

Avid cyclists are aware they have their own set of responsibilities on the road. Ron Walkenbach, member of the safety committee of Columbia’s Multisport Club, recognizes that responsibility for accidents goes both ways. Stockman said that novice riders are sometimes the most in need of a road-rules refresher course. Columbia bike shops will soon begin distributing Multisport’s adaption of bicycling laws and safety tips.

Equipment:

BRAKES

— Your brakes must be capable of stopping your bike within 25 feet when traveling 10 mph.

LIGHTS and REFLECTORS

You must have the following lights and reflectors when riding your bicycle from one-half hour after sunset until one-half hour before sunrise:

A WHITE LIGHT

— on the front of your bicycle or carried by you that other drivers can see at 500 feet.

REAR RED REFLECTOR

At least two square inches, or a REAR RED LIGHT that drivers can see reflected by their vehicles’ low-beam headlights at 600 feet.

REFLECTIVE MATERIAL OR LIGHTS

— on the pedals, crank arms, shoes or lower legs that drivers can see when reflected by low-beam headlights at 200 feet.

REFLECTIVE MATERIAL and/or LIGHTS ON EACH SIDE OF THE BICYCLE

— or bicyclist that drivers can see when reflected by low-beam headlights at 300 feet.

HELMETS

Anyone below the age of 16 is required by Columbia ordinance to wear a helmet.

Where to ride:

On public streets and highways, you have the same rights and responsibilities as a motor vehicle operator. Always ride with traffic, never against it or on the sidewalk. When operating at less than the posted speed or traffic flow, you must ride as near to the right side of the roadway as safe. Exceptions include while making a left turn, avoiding hazards, or when the lane is too narrow to share with another vehicle, on a one-way street or going straight and adjacent to a right-turn only lane. On a one-way street, bicyclists may also ride as far left as is safe. Bicyclists may ride abreast when not impeding traffic.

Tips for riders:

1. The law does not require you to wear a helmet. However, wearing a safety-certified helmet can prevent serious head injuries and death.

2. Be sure your bike is in safe condition and has all the equipment required by law.

3. Make sure motorists see you. Wear brightly colored clothes and stay out of a vehicle’s blind spots.

4. Make sure you signal before you slow down, change lanes or turn. Before merging, changing lanes or turning, scan behind and in front to ensure it is safe to make this maneuver. Do so in plenty of time and in cooperation with drivers affected by your move. If it is not safe, continue on a straight course and scan repeatedly, and only move once it is safe. In conditions of heavy traffic, less proficient bicyclists may find it easier to wait near the curb for a safe gap to appear.

5. Be careful when passing to the left of a parked or moving vehicle. You should leave three to four feet of clearance to avoid open car doors and swerving vehicles.

6. Be extra careful at intersections. Do not assume your right-of-way when there is a vehicle approaching.

7. Keep a steady line and act predictably as a courtesy to other drivers.

Tips for drivers:

1. Accidents with wrong-way bicyclists frequently occur when a motorist wants to turn right onto a main road and is only looking to the left for approaching traffic. Be sure to look to the right and check for wrong-way bicyclists on the road or sidewalk before proceeding.

2. On residential streets, especially those with parked cars, travel at or below the speed limit, depending on sight distance.

3. If you are following a bicyclist and need to make a right turn, you must yield to the cyclist. It is often safer to slow down and remain behind the cyclist until you are able to turn.

4. If you need to make a left turn, yield to oncoming bicyclists unless you are absolutely sure you can make the turn before the cyclist reaches the intersection.

5. Motorcyclists and bicyclists change speed and lane position when encountering bad road conditions, such as manhole covers, diagonal railroad tracks, road debris or strong winds. Be ready to react.

6. When you are passing, give motorcycles a full lane width. If possible, give a full lane to bicyclists and mopeds too. Do not squeeze past these road users. The bicycle is a generally slower moving vehicle, and may require you to slow down. Wait for a clear stretch of road before passing a cyclist in a lane too narrow to share.

7. Check for passing bicyclists before opening your car door into a traffic lane or bicycle lane.

8. A bicycle lane is a portion of a roadway designated by striping for use by bicycles. You must cross a bicycle lane when turning or when entering or leaving the roadway. You must yield to bicyclists in a bicycle lane.

— From the Missouri Driver Guide: Chapter 7 —“Sharing the Road,” 2002


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