Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sidewalks and You

Normally, I'm one of the first people to say that you should never, ever ride your bicycle on the sidewalk.

However, I'll also admit I've been a bit of a hypocrite. While the apartment where I live is in a perfect location for biking (close grocery stores, close to work, etc.), there is no easy "back way" to get out of the complex. The street I have to get out through is busy enough that until now, I've stuck to the sidewalk for a good 2-3 blocks before switching to a safer side street. I'll admit, I've even taken my bike up the wrong side of the road on the sidewalk because it "felt" safer than crossing and then re-crossing the street.

All the research I've done indicates that this is a really stupid idea. The cars are not looking for traffic on the sidewalk or in the crosswalk, so they are much more likely to hit you. Also, if there's a pedestrian or any other obstacle on the sidewalk, you have to pull out into the road to go around them, which makes you more vulnerable than if you'd have just been out there and highly visible to begin with.

Somehow, I've just never been able to convince my gut of that on the busy street where I start my trip each morning.

Today, I tried riding on the street, and surprisingly, I felt a lot more secure. I didn't believe it when I started out, and I mostly tried it just to prove "them" wrong. Turns out "they" know what they're talking about. I felt like the drivers took me a lot more seriously, and I didn't feel like people were nearly as nervous as when they spotted me in the cross-walk. Maybe it's because drivers in Dallas are more aware and respectful of pedestrians and bikers than in other places I've lived. All I know is that once I got over the initial nerves, I felt a lot safer.

Here's what I've found is a good trick to a safe ride on a busy street: When you get to a red light, pull off the road. When the light changes to green, let the stopped traffic go by before you go through the intersection. Use this extra time to have a drink of water or something.

This accomplishes three things: First, it gets you out of the exhaust from any vehicles that may be stopped in front of you. Second, it gets you out of the way of anyone who may be wanting to turn right at the intersection (otherwise, they may be tempted to kind of edge around you on the left, which is how a good number of bike accidents happen, according to the statitstics I've been reading). Third, it's just the polite thing to do, and my theory is that the drivers (who will probably get used to seeing you out there every morning) will be a lot nicer to you if you've made a habit of being courteous to them.

Of course, this only works if you have a street with very frequent and well-timed red lights so that the traffic tends to go by in waves. If you've got a constant flow of traffic, I'm not sure what the solution would be. Anyone who does know is free to comment!

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