Participants in Kalamazoo Bike Week’s annual Ride of Silence hope the event, held in memory of those killed or injured on a bike in the last year, can be a teaching moment on safety.
If that means educating motorists about cyclists’ rights, it also means teaching cyclists about their responsibilities as well as “commonsense” behaviors that make it easier to avoid accidents, says Ride of Silence organizer Paul Wells.
A bicycle is a vehicle, Wells says, both legally and practically speaking. Cyclists and drivers need to recognize them as such. For the motorist, that means recognizing a cyclist’s right to use the roadway.
And for the cyclist it means obeying street lights and stop signs and riding with traffic rather than against it.
In other words, people on bikes “need to conduct themselves as they would were they driving a motor vehicle, with the additional imperative that they work to not impede traffic – to not impede motor vehicle traffic,” he says.
Cyclists should ride as far to the right as they can. But they also have to watch out for hazards to the right. That includes debris and random objects in bike lanes (they’re not supposed to be there but they often are, he says). Avoiding those may mean moving into the road.
Bicyclists also have to stay a certain distance out from parked cars to avoid a notorious accident known as “getting doored.” That’s when a cyclist collides with a parked car door as it’s opened. The result is often “nasty,” Wells says.
Even if it’s legal to ride on roads with 40- to 50-miles-per-hour speed limits, it’s safer to find an alternative route with slower traffic, he adds.
But if the sidewalk seems more secure than the road for being out of traffic, think again. Many car-bike accidents happen between drivers and people riding on the sidewalk. Motorists don't expect a bicycle to be there and may not see it until it's too late. Constant intersections with entry and exit points like driveways ensure consistent vulnerability, Wells says.
He adds that many people who take part in Kalamazoo’s silent ride know someone who died or was hurt while riding. In cases where a driver is drunk, distracted or drowsy, even the best care on the rider's part may not be enough.
But he says improved understanding of bike safety could do much to lower the current car-bike accident rate.
Registration for this year’s Ride of Silence begins at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 14 at Portage Millennium Park. The event begins at 7 p.m.