Don't become a bicycling statistic

For all Contra Costa County’s progress to make bicycling friendlier, safer, and more fun, the Bay Citizen reminds us that a lot of work is left to be done.

From 2005 through 2009, 23 cyclists died in Contra Costa County… The Tracker reveals that some suburban areas like Contra Costa County are actually more dangerous for cyclists than crowded urban areas like San Francisco.

Meanwhile, in addition to the known health risks of driven commutes, new research suggests the stress of driving long distances every day can lead to stress and even divorce.
How can you keep your healthy, active commute without becoming a dour or deadly statistic? We could all stand to review the rules of the road. From the California Department of Motor Vehicles:

1. Maintain Control of Your Bicycle

There are many things you can do to control your bicycle, even in an emergency. First, ensure your bicycle is the right size and properly adjusted to fit you. A properly fitted bicycle is easier to control, more comfortable, and causes less fatigue. A bicycle shop can help you choose the correct size bicycle. Ensure your bicycle is in good working order by inspecting it regularly.

2. Protect Yourself

Even a simple fall can cause a life threatening head injury. The brain is fragile and often does not heal the way that broken bones can. The damage can stay with you for life. Helmets provide protection. By law, bicycle riders under 18 years of age must wear a bicycle helmet while riding on a public road. Wear your helmet correctly!

3. Be Visible and Alert

Even if you obey all traffic laws, there is always a risk of being hit by a motorist who is not obeying the laws, or who simply does not see you. Ride carefully—Vehicles waiting at stop signs, in driveways, or parking spaces may suddenly pull out in front of you. Watch for vehicles that have just passed you and may turn right, as well as vehicles across the street that may turn left in front of you. Be prepared to stop or take evasive action. Signal before making turns or changing lanes to warn traffic around you. To signal a left turn, look behind you, over your left shoulder, and then extend your left arm out. To signal a right turn, hold your left arm up with your elbow bent (you may also hold your right arm straight and point to the right). You do not have to keep your arm extended while completing the maneuver—Always have at least one hand on the handlebars to maintain control. To signal that you are slowing or stopping, extend your left arm down.
Using lights and reflectors at night is the law. Increase your visibility by wearing light or bright colored clothes, such as yellow or lime green. Red appears black in fading light and is not a good choice for riding in the evening. Mirrors provide opportunities for increased awareness of your surroundings, but use mirrors only as an aid. Always look over your shoulder to make sure the lane is clear before turning or changing lanes. Make sure your brakes are in good working order.

4. Ride With Traffic

Ride in the same direction as the traffic. This will make you more visible to drivers entering roads or changing lanes because they will know where to look for possible conflicts. On a one-way street, you may ride on the left as long as you are riding with traffic.

How Far to the Right?: Ride on the right, but not so far that you might hit the curb. You could lose your balance and fall into traffic. Do not ride too far to the right:

  • When avoiding parked vehicles or road hazards.
  • When a traffic lane is too narrow for a bicycle and vehicle to travel safely side by side.
  • When making a left turn so that vehicles going straight do not collide into you.
  • To avoid conflicts with right-turning vehicles.

When to Take the Traffic Lane: If there is no shoulder or bicycle lane and the traffic lane is narrow, ride closer to the center of the lane. This will prevent motorists from passing you when there is not enough room. You should also use the traffic lane when you are traveling at the same speed as the traffic around you. This will keep you out of motorists’ blind spots and reduce conflicts with right-turning traffic.
Obey Traffic Signs and Signals: Bicyclists must obey STOP signs and red signal lights. It’s a good idea to stop for yellow lights too—rushing through a yellow light may not leave you enough time to make it across the intersection before the light changes.
Left Turns: There are two proper methods for making a left turn on a bicycle:

  1. Using Traffic Lanes: As you approach the intersection, look over your left shoulder for traffic. If clear, signal your turn and move over to the left side of the lane, or into the left or center turn lane. Position yourself so that vehicles going straight cannot pass you on your left while you are making your left hand turn. Yield to oncoming traffic before turning. If you are riding in a bicycle lane, or on a multi-lane road, you need to look and signal each time you change lanes. Never make a left turn from the right side of the road, even if you’re in a bicycle lane.
  2. Using Crosswalks: Approach the intersection staying on the right. Stop and either cross as a pedestrian in the crosswalk, or make a 90 degree left turn and proceed as if you were coming from the right. If there is a signal light, wait for the green or WALK signal before crossing. Yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.

One more from 511CC: Pick your route carefully.

Not all roads were created equal. Busy, direct streets tend to have more traffic, and everyone must fight for space. Quieter neighborhood streets don’t have as much traffic, but a driver may not expect to see you on your bike. Wide streets encourage faster driving, but narrow streets make it more difficult to share lanes.
Carefully pick your route to ensure you’re biking on streets where you feel safe. 511CC’s Bike Mapper can help you pick a route with the right steepness and official infrastructure (such as signs, painted bike arrows or bike lanes).
What makes you feel safest on your bike?

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