Bicycling for pleasure, as well as for commuting, is becoming increasingly popular. However, American cities are still struggling to adapt to this trend, leading to serious concerns about safety. Fifty percent of people across the United States worry about getting hit by a car, and 43% of people say they would be more likely to ride a bicycle if bike lanes were physically separated from car lanes.
This concern isn't unfounded – a recent study from Monash University in Australia showed that when bike lanes were painted on the roads, passing cars actually left less room when passing cyclists than when there were no marked lanes at all.
Making Bike Lanes Safer for Cyclists
Creating dedicated bike lanes is an important first step in ensuring that cyclists have a safe place on the road to be. However, simply painting bike lanes on the roads, or creating shared spaces with arrows doesn't appear to increase safety.
Instead, studies show that protected bike lanes – lanes that are physically separated from motor vehicle lanes with some kind of barrier – are significantly safer. These lanes, which can be separated by trees, sidewalks, or even rows of parked cars. These lanes put physical distance and barriers between cars and bicycles, making it difficult, if not impossible, for cars to drift into a bike lane.
When cities create abundant separated and protected bike lanes, fatal crash fatalities drop by 44%, and injury rates fall by 50%. While the research suggests that protected bike lanes are safer for motor vehicle drivers, it's still unclear why this is the case.
Moreover, these lanes allow cyclists to participate in the day-to-day hustle of a city and may even encourage women, who are not as represented in the current cycling community, to commute by bike. Evidence also suggests that better bike lanes bring in more money to local businesses because bicyclists are more likely to visit more frequently than drivers.
How Cyclists Can Advocate for Themselves
Although five of California's cities, including the Northern California cities of Sacramento and San Jose, made it into Bicycling Magazine's fifty “Best US Cities for Bicycling,” there is still a lot of work to be done at both the city and state level to make cycling safer for everyone. If you are interested in advocating for safer bike lanes, there are a number of different organizations dedicated to improving roads for cyclists.
The California Bicycle Coalition, based locally in Sacramento, advocates for improvements to the environment for bikers and for safe transportation policies. The coalition's Streets for Everyone initiative provides a plan that local municipalities can implement in order to increase safety for bike riders and motor vehicle drivers.
People for Bikes is a national organization dedicated to improving bicycling, building community bicycle projects, and working with cities and towns to create safe places for people to ride. Their Green Lane Project is specifically dedicated to spreading protected bicycling lanes across America.
Cyclist advocacy groups also organize highly-publicized protests in support of safer roads. In addition to physically blocking streets, events such as the Ride for Silence are designed to raise public awareness of the pressing need for safer roads.
In addition to supporting these advocacy groups, cyclists should work with their municipal, state, and federal leaders to promote protected bike lanes. Calling, emailing, and writing to elected officials, as well as showing up to city council and town hall meetings can encourage politicians to take steps towards creating safer roads for cyclists.
Maintaining Safety for Road Cyclists
Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes to real concerns about road safety for bicyclists. In addition to working with cyclist advocacy groups and local city leaders, people who ride bikes need to maintain their physical safety while on two wheels.
When biking, make sure you follow all California bicycle laws, which, for the most part, provide cyclists with the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle drivers.
Cyclists should always wear helmets that protect their heads and should work to maintain visibility. Reflective clothing and strips on your bike will help drivers see you, and you should use a light after sunset. Use bicycle hand signals to let other drivers know your intentions.
It's best to assume that cars aren't looking out for you, so keep an eye on vehicles as they pass you on the left. Be extra vigilant at stop signs and traffic lights, keeping an eye out for cars making right turns.
If you were injured by a car while riding a bicycle, contact the Law Offices of Freeman & Freeman for a free consultation. Our personal injury lawyers have been serving residents of the Santa Rosa area for more than 50 years. Please contact us by calling 705-575-7141 today.