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Bikes, cars can mix safely if…

Dave Redmon

By A Contributor

As collisions go, this one was minor. It could have been much worse for the fellow without armor — the bicyclist. Stopped at a red light at College and Kimball avenues while heading north, I shuddered at what I saw unfolding just 12 feet to my right: a motorist prepared to turn right on a red light just as a rider rolled into a crosswalk in front of the automobile.

Moments earlier, while riding north in the right lane of College Avenue, I’d paralleled this fellow biker as he rode the sidewalk past the Bill Snyder Family Stadium parking lot. I stopped for the light and saw him slow, then turn left (west) into the crosswalk of the inter-section — as though he were a pedestrian (on two wheels)  —  directly in front of the car that had just pulled to a halt. At that very moment, the motorist was looking west in order to avoid oncoming traffic, oblivious to the rider poised to cross her path on the right. 

Clunk! Car and bike collided. After a brief exchange of words (“Sorry!” “Yeah, I’m OK”), they went their way — grateful for their good fortune. 

Was this incident just bad luck, or can something be learned from it? I’ve been a bike rider for 62 years and a motorist for 54, and I always advise those having fun on two wheels to ride as if they were invisible and to always signal their intent. A bicyclist is outweighed 10 to 1 by a motorist, and, lacking armor, is statistic-ally five times more likely to be injured per passenger mile than a motorist. Most of the bikers injured are 5 to 24 years old.

Nationally, bicyclists comprise only 2 percent of road deaths and injuries — with those statistics in decline. Pedestrians account for 86 percent of all non-motorist traffic fatalities, bikers account for about 12 percent, and skateboarders and roller skaters 2 percent.

Reliable statistics are hard to come by, but it’s estimated that falls account for 60 percent of bicyclist fatalities and injuries, running into fixed objects 14 percent, colliding with motor vehicles 11 percent and mixing it up with other bikers, 9 percent.

Certainly there are risks with biking, but the health benefits far outweigh the dangers of sedentary living — not to mention environmental gains to be had. In general, where there are more bike riders, there are safer traffic conditions all around — and vice versa. 

Here are a few more facts and observations offered to promote harmony and understanding between bikers and motorists. 

First, state law treats bicycles as legal vehicles, so bikers must behave as responsible and predictable operators, obeying traffic laws. By law, motorists must accord bicycles the same rights and responsibilities they expect for themselves. 

Second, drivers typically pull out at driveways or intersections without first stopping prior to the sidewalk or crosswalk. Too often, motorists are surprised to find bikes rolling through crosswalks and along sidewalks — acting like pedestrians. Riding on sidewalks (as they intersect with streets) is several times more dangerous than riding in the street, according to studies. Riders should ride right with traffic, not facing traffic, as pedestrians are encouraged to do. Motorists often do not look for wrong-way bicyclists, and correct-riding bicyclists are put into danger by wrong-way riders who are in the same path.

Third, cars and trucks should give cyclists the same amount of space they would while passing another vehicle — at least three feet. As of July 1, this is state law in Kansas.

Fourth, ALL slower vehicles (including bikes and farm equipment) must keep to the right except when overtaking and passing, preparing for a left turn or dodging fixed or moving objects such as potholes, pedestrians, animals, etc. 

In my experience, a bicyclist hugging the edge of a narrow lane encourages motorists to try to squeeze by, thereby increasing risk. Riding closer to motor vehicle traffic may seem counterintuitive, but it makes bikers more visible to drivers who are overtaking, approaching or pulling out of side streets and driveways. It helps riders watch for the dangerous “Left Cross” and fend off the ubiquitous “Right Hook,” yielding more room to maneuver. Riders should use the full lane if they are moving near or at the speed limit, if the lane is too narrow for safe over-taking, or if they are avoiding parked car doors or other road-side hazards.

What about bike paths, aka “side paths”? They’re rare in the Midwest, but Kansas technically does have a “mandatory side path law” requiring bicyclists to ride on a path adjacent to a road if it exists. However the Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that the side path requirement is in force only when the path in question is for the exclusive use of bicycles (i.e. no pedestrians allowed) — and these are extremely rare in Kansas. (Schallenberger v. Rudd, 244 Kan 230, 767 P2d 841 (Kan 1989).

Getting passed by fast-moving, large and loud motor vehicles can be intimidating. However, getting hit from behind is NOT a likely collision unless bikers are riding at night with no rear lights and reflectors. Skilled bicyclists are almost never involved in an overtaking crash, or any other type crash, for that matter. Nonetheless, there is vast room for better safety habits — for both bicyclists and motorists.

Dave Redmon has spent many wonderful moments biking, pad-dling and sailing. He’s been a permanent resident of Manhattan since 1979.

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