Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike
— John F Kennedy
Our communities need cyclists. Bicycling is the most energy efficient form of transportation ever invented. Cities whose residents ride, run, walk, and participate in other activities have increased economic growth and productivity compared to areas with more sedentary citizens. These bike-friendly communities also have higher levels of mental health and well-being.
In order to sustain economic growth, increase productivity, and alleviate congestion, we need to promote biking and keep cyclists safe on the streets.
I don’t always feel safe when I am riding to work.
There are two sides to the safety debate involving cyclists and cars. Testing shows that people are in a hurry and distracted while driving their cars. Cyclists sometimes bend the rules when riding on the street. Bikes are not as visible as they could be to drivers. Some drivers do not take responsibility for keeping a safe distance from people riding their bikes.
We set out to see what we could do for both sides of the safety equation. Traditionally, safety has fallen on the shoulders of the cyclist and we wanted to see how effective that was.
Over the course of a month, we rode 21 miles per day through a combination of streets and bike paths. We focused on finding safety techniques that were effective in making drivers more aware of cyclists. We experimented with bike lights during the day to see how well it grabbed the driver’s attention. The light was placed on different parts of the bike and body to see what locations were the most effective.
After analyzing the data, we found that using a light on the back of the helmet was the most successful at increasing driver awareness. The light attracted the drivers attention and increased the distance that the driver gave the cyclist when they passed.
The height of the light also made a difference. When the light was positioned higher on the body, drivers used more caution. We theorize that when the light was attached to the helmet, the light source moved, making it more unpredictable. As a result, drivers used more caution.
This observation led us to the next hypothesis which stated that driver education or learning is at the root of the safety problem. While using a light is beneficial to cyclist safety, we realized that distracted drivers still pose a threat to cyclists regardless of safety precautions.
Driver awareness training is the best solution to this problem. We found that drivers pay more attention in a busy or congested environment. When drivers are in a less stressful traffic environment, they tend to daydream, listen to music, or check messages on their phones. These are the conditions in which drivers are more likely to encounter cyclists.
To address the dangers of distracted driving, we have created a driver awareness campaign that is currently being tested.
Cyclists do not ride in a perfectly straight line and therefore need a safe passing distance of 4 feet. Stay 4 feet away from a cyclist when you pass them or “Target 4”.
When looking at the moral dilemma that applies to cyclist safety vs animal safety, which would you choose? What would you do if you had to choose between saving a dog or a person who had darted in front of a bus? If you saw a dog running along the side of the road, would you stop or give them a wide berth? Now what would you do for a cyclist?
We all have a responsibility to make the street safer for everyone. Go out and do some testing to see what works for you.