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Stay alert when riding in conflict zones

The Coloradoan: Stay alert when riding in conflict zones

Oct. 2, 2011 

Wearing a helmet and staying in the bike lane won't protect you from crashes. Even in a bicycle-friendly community, there are plenty of built-in potential conflicts. So cyclists need to learn to recognize them so they can avoid the crashes.

The three primary rules of safe cycling are don't fall off your bike, don't let anyone knock you off your bike, and don't you knock anyone else off their bike. The first rule applies since half of all bike crashes involve only the cyclist. One-third of crashes involve another cyclist, dog or a pedestrian. Seventeen percent of bike crashes involve an automobile.

Most of these latter crashes can be avoided if you anticipate the conflict. Unfortunately, the place where you think you are safest, namely the bike lane, is often a major conflict zone.

Parked cars along bike lanes can be dangerous, so watch for opening car doors. I ride the white line on most bike lanes in town. I'm more visible to oncoming cars there and am far enough from opening doors - about 6 feet - to be safe. Some people will tell you that they watch for opening car doors and are able to avoid them. But by focusing on that hazard they sometimes ignore other possible hazards around them. In a narrow bike lane, as on Howes Street, I will ride just outside the white line in the travel lane.

Where bike lanes cross intersections is another conflict zone. The right-turning motorist across a bike lane is the primary source of conflict here. Our transportation planners have begun to consider this where possible, creating right-turn lanes while bringing the through-bike lane to the left of the turn lane. The do-si-do dance step that ensues creates a safer intersection than the one in which right-turning cars find themselves to the left of a line of cyclists.

Unfortunately, we have many intersections in town where the above treatment doesn't work. The cyclist's rule of thumb that I would apply at all intersections is if you are continuing straight through the intersection, get out of the bike lane and take the primary travel lane. This tells motorists your intent and makes room for right-turning motorists to take the bike lane to execute their turn.

Parked cars are a hazard anywhere, whether along a bike lane or not. Diagonally parked cars are even more of a hazard so stay as far from them as you can. This means that on Old Town streets such as Magnolia, Olive, Oak, all the streets surrounding Library Park and on residential streets approaching Colorado State University campus, you should ride in the center of the travel lane well away from diagonally parked cars. You are more visible there and won't be hit by a car backing out of a parking space.

Drive your bike carefully out there.

Rick Price, Ph.D., is a League of American Bicyclists cycling instructor, safe cycling coordinator at the Bike Co-op and chair of the City's Bicycle Advisory Committee. Contact him at Education@fcbikecoop.org.