Sunday, September 20, 2015

a tale of near misses

I've written previously about bike safety (part 1, part 2), with the goal of promoting safe bicycling as a healthy form of transportation.

On my walk home from Metra on a recent evening, I watched a scenario that made me flinch several times, concerned about the safety of a family on bikes.  A father was riding his bicycle with an infant in a bike-mounted seat, accompanied by his young son (about 6 years old) who was riding his own bike.  As the family crossed Longwood Drive, they were nearly hit by an approaching driver who did not slow down until the last second.  As they continued past Longwood, the boy wobbled on and off the sidewalk and back and forth across the street.

It is legal for children up to age 12 to ride on sidewalks.  Until a child develops basic bike handling skills (able to confidently ride in a straight line and turn without falling), riding on the sidewalk is much safer for that child than being in the street.

The father was trying to ride his bicycle at a low speed to stay close to his son. Dad didn't seem comfortable riding so slowly and wobbled back and forth across the street, often riding on the wrong side against traffic.

The risk of collision with a vehicle is much higher when riding against traffic. Drivers pulling out of parking spaces, turning at street corners or out of driveways are likely to be accelerating and are not expecting to see you directly in front of them. They may not see you in time to avoid a collision.

Drivers don't expect cyclists to be on and off the sidewalk.  If you come off the sidewalk into the path of an approaching vehicle less than half a block away, the driver may not be able to stop in time.

Drivers should always stay aware of what's happening around them, and yield to cyclists and pedestrians who have the right of way.  Staying within the speed limit is equally important.  I often see drivers on Longwood, Western and other local streets going 35-40 mph.  Look at the difference that makes on injuries and fatalities vs. traveling at 30 mph or less.

Injury and fatality rate for peds and cyclists by impact speed

When a cyclist and a vehicle travel head on towards each other, the speed of impact is higher than if the vehicle is overtaking the cyclist, and both parties have much less time to react, so the risk of serious injury or death increases in a head-on collision.  Riding with the direction of traffic (where drivers expect to see you and you have more time to react) is safer.  Using a mirror can help you see traffic behind you.

Please ride and drive safely so that we can all enjoy our neighborhood.  Nearly all crashes are avoidable if we all follow the same rules and stay aware of where others are riding, walking or driving around us.

Seeing families riding safely together is a beautiful thing.  Learning good bike handling and traffic safety skills is a good path to healthy transportation and spending quality time together -  going to school, park or library, shopping, or just enjoying the scenery.

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