There’s a catchy saying: “Drivers hate pedestrians, pedestrians hate drivers, but everyone hates cyclists.” I, too, saw the humor in this phrase—that is, until I was hit by a car on my bike.
My perspective on cycling initially changed last year when my gracious roommate let me occasionally borrow her bike. What really got me thinking about biking, though, was my time abroad in Paris. Not only do Europeans walk more than Americans do (a study from University of Tennessee and Rutgers found the number to be 3 times as much), but the increase in cyclists is visible as well. In Amsterdam, pedestrians are better off watching out for bikes than for cars—there are up to three full bike lanes separate from traffic all over the city.
Paris hosts the largest bike-share system outside of China called Velib (a portmanteau of the French words for bike and freedom, velo and liberté). The system is intended for commuters—the first 30 minutes of the ride are a staple price, after which the rider is charged in time increments. To avoid being charged, the rider can always exchange his or her bike for a new one, as there are over a thousand bike stations all around the city. This makes it convenient and efficient (especially when the metro closes, as we learned) and with membership options available or just 1.70E a ride, it is cheap.
Similar bike shares popped up across Europe, such as Barcelona (available only to residents), and many cities in the USA are now adopting the systems as well. The largest is CitiBike in New York, launched in 2013. My hometown opened up DecoBikes, a system available all along Miami Beach, and soon to include the central Miami area.
Because public transportation in Miami leaves much to be desired, these bikes saved my summer. The 2-mile commute to my job and outrageous parking fees were not worth the drive. Not only did I save money and gas, but I got an extra bit of fresh air.
It was really something wonderful, until one day, I was jolted by the reality of biking awareness—literally. On my typical commute to work one morning, a careless driver hit me with her car. Luckily, it was a side graze and I wasn’t injured or knocked off my bike. The lady drove off, which is a pity, or she would have heard the loud soliloquy I crafted just for her. Needless to say, the incident left me startled and I refrained from biking for the next few days.
Within the same week, a good friend of mine was also hit by a car on her short commute home. She wasn’t as lucky. The incident rendered her bike useless and left her with gashes on her leg after being thrown off her bike.
This spurred analysis and research on my part. Two similar incidents in one week that I knew of—how many in general? According to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, 38,000 bikers reported injuries in traffic accidents in 2011, over 600 fatal, but it is suspected that less than 10% of all incidents are reported.
It is difficult to calculate how the safety of biking compares to other modes of transportation, because while many more die in car-related accidents a year, there are significantly fewer bikers. The resulting ratios merit research that strays from the point of this article.
I was infuriated by the seeming lack of awareness about bikers in Miami, and in general. Bikers have the same rights as cars, seeing as a bicycle is a human-powered vehicle. Jeers of “get off the road” or irritated honks are not only obnoxious but also ignorant. Sidewalks are for pedestrians, not for vehicles. At least in Massachusetts and Florida, a biker has the right to use of a full lane, just like a car, where bike lanes are not designated. On the other hand, bikers are also expected to observe traffic laws, including stopping at red lights.
It is important for drivers to be aware of bikers and to pass them at a safe distance. It is also the law. Admittedly, I was unaware of these laws before I became a biker, but with the noticeable increase of bikers in my hometown, it is necessary to spread awareness.
The movement “Critical Mass” does just that. Critical Mass is a biking awareness demonstration during which main roads are shut down and thousands of bikers ride en masse to a final destination. The event differs, but on Miami Beach, it occurs on the last Friday night of every month. Lebron James was seen in attendance at Miami’s Critical Mass, as he rides his bike to work.
If you are in a rush and the mass catches you unawares, you are bound to find it incredibly annoying, as I did when I first encountered it. But the event certainly forces drivers to be aware of bikers, and it might inspire them to watch out for them on the road.
Biking is a marvelous means of transportation and it is unfortunate that riders should be dissuaded from taking advantage of their rights because of negligible drivers. However, it is a two-way street, and there are ways that bikers can ensure safety on their ride.
Perhaps the most important rule I learned is to occupy the entire lane. Bikers tend to ride all the way to the edge in traffic, but this is actually more dangerous. It confuses overzealous drivers into thinking they can squeeze by you, when they can’t. Rather, ride in the middle of the right lane to make your position clear.
Another tip is to observe right-turn only lanes—do not go straight, or you risk being hit by a car turning right. I’ve also gotten in the habit of letting a car know I’m going to turn by casually signaling with my hand, sort of like a “blinker.”
Basic tips like wearing a helmet, installing flashing lights for nighttime, refraining from using headphones, and being aware of your environment always apply.
The good news is the number of incidents has fallen drastically, almost 50% since 1995. With continued awareness, and in pursuit of a healthier lifestyle, sharing the road will become second nature for both drivers and cyclists, and rainbows will sprout over all the land.