It's been a rough year for cyclists in terms of injury and even death across Michigan. The tragedy in Kalamazoo that killed 5 and injured 4 riders got national attention (deservedly), but close to home, things have been far from chill. Two regular riders were severely injured near Palmer Park late in June (good news, they both appear to be slowly recovering) and, that very same week, a woman lost her life in a hit-and-run on Grand River near the Boulevard.
It's human nature to take a limited data sample and run with it...in this case, concluding that biking is becoming less safe would not be unreasonable but, that is most likely incorrect. What is probably the case is that, as we are seeing more and more bikes on the road, there are going to be more accidents. What is most troublesome to me, as someone who bikes most days but also drives, is how poorly these modes are working together. Or not.
It is often cited that a third of Americans ride their bikes at least once a year. I am gonna hazard a guess that, when riding said bike, they don't want to be struck down by a car.
I also think it safe to presume that the vast majority of these cyclists also drive a motor vehicle, even if occasionally.
It would also be safe to assume that even if someone doesn't ever ride a bike, they are related to, work with or otherwise like or love someone that rides a bike. Let's also assume they don't want said friend or loved one to die when they are riding their bike.
So why do so many drivers -- many of whom have at some point in time, ridden a bike -- drive like they have murdering cyclists on the brain?
(I know someone out there is now exasperatedly saying, "But, but, but, cyclists break the rules all the time. They are annoying." And they do. And sure they can be. But, first of all, they are the vulnerable road user in this scenario, ya know, not being motorized and weighing a bit less than a couple of tons. And also, shut up and listen. You might learn something and not murder someone that happens to be on a bike some day. Do you really want to kill someone just because they rode their bike annoyingly? No, that would be super cold and mean and horrible, right?)
Read on for a few tips that might help a cyclist not die and keep a driver from committing manslaughter or worse. A real win-win, no?
Put your cell phone down. Period. 'Nuff said.
If passing a bicyclist, give them 5 feet of distance. This is not yet a law (although the good folks at the League of Michigan Bicyclists are working on that), but it is courteous and safe. If there is another vehicle to your left -- headed in either direction, depending on the setup of the road -- simply slow down and wait until you can safely pass with some room. This actually is the law in almost half the states in the union, and apparently life has gone on, so just slow your roll and wait until it's safe to pass that cyclist!
Don't drive in the bike lane. I don't care if you are in a hurry to get to the casino, just don't. Ever.
Don't park in the bike lane. Total douche move.
Use your blinker. Blinkers are not optional and they are more than just about telling motor vehicles behind you what is going on...they let pedestrians and cyclists in any nearby vicinity know what you are up to. This is important stuff and again, more than just being polite.
When there's a stop sign or a light change, look like you are actually going to stop. I can't tell you how many times I have skidded to a stop because a car looked like it was going to blow a stop sign or speed through a pink light...and then they stop on a dime. No they didn't technically do anything wrong, but dude, you scared the crap out of me. Guessing you didn't mean to, so head's up: it is really thoughtful and cool for you to ease into an appropriate stop so that I know you are not trying to kill or maim me.
When you do stop, stop at the so-called stop-line. A lot of time, drivers pull way forward up to or even past the curb line to either get a jump on their green light or see if they can pull off a right turn on red. This is mostly uncourteous to pedestrians who lose their crosswalk, but creeping up means you might not see me on your right, which can be dangerous. So please, stop where you are supposed to and thank you.
Drive the speed limit. This one is so obvious, but bears stating. Roads where the speed limits are 30 or lower are the safest for me to ride in because if heaven forbid, I do get hit by a moving vehicle, my chances of dying lessen significantly.
When you are parking, look for cyclists. This goes for when you are about to open your door and when you are pulling in or out of that parallel parking spot. I can't tell you how many times I've made eye contact with someone in the parking lane and really startled them because they had no idea I was there.
Golden Rule: When in doubt, give the cyclist the right of way. Remember, they are the vulnerable road user and we've established that you don't actually want to injure or kill them, so it's just the right thing to do.
I plan on updating and editing this post as I remember/think of more things or receive feedback, so please let me know what you think in the comments.
Drive & Ride Safe - Kelli Kavanaugh