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Jeff Ward: Bicyclists Versus Drivers—Let's Try For Fewer Crushed Limbs This Summer

Tips on a peaceful bicycle-car coexistence!

Maybe it’s me, but aren’t we hearing about a lot more bicycle-car accidents than usual this year? Perhaps our $4 a gallon petrol prices have driven some frugal folks back to their bikes. I wouldn’t be surprised if has more commuters tackling that trip on two wheels.

Last November, this accident occurred at Ogden and Malden Avenues in Hinsdale and  Geneva bike-car crash scared the bejesus out me. No one wants to end their ride under a car tire! Search “bicycle accident” on the Tribune’s website and the list of resulting articles is way too long.

Juxtaposing those news stories to the riders I witnessed wearing no helmets last weekend was the final straw. So class, it’s time for us to cover some cycling safety basics.

What qualifies me to dispense this kind of free advice you might ask? I’ve been riding 90 miles a week for the past six years. And even though I’m more of a mascot, I am a member of a bike team.

So, with the resume out of the way, and since we can’t control motorists, it’s up to us to do our best to minimize the inherent dangers of plying Patchland streets.

We’ll start with this. No. 1: WEAR A FRICKIN' HELMET!

On a solo ride, my friend, trainer and Cat 1 racer Rob Kelley was waiting at the Dean Street and Randall Road stoplight. As he started up, his chain broke, causing him to flip over the handlebars and land on his back in the middle of Randall Road.

His team uniform was torn up, his helmet was damaged, and there was a bit of road rash, but he got right back up and got the heck out of the street because he was wearing a helmet.

Then there was the time my derailleur broke off and fell into my rear wheel. Luckily, I was going uphill because had it been the converse, I most certainly would’ve ended up kissing the pavement.

Please note! We’re not even talking about the possibility of a car-bike collision here. Considering the plethora of phenomena beyond a bicyclist’s control, even if you go no more than 10 mph, wear a helmet!

Though I’m all for seeing natural selection take it’s course in certain circumstance, don’t use earbuds on a bike! Distracted drivers are bad enough. Any experienced rider will tell you the ears are the perfect advanced warning system. In most cases you can tell what a car is doing just by the sound of the tires.

Wear bright and/or reflective colors, signal your intentions and behave in a predictable manner. Motorists get nervous when they don’t know what to expect.

Don’t make vehicles pass you twice! Wait your turn in line at stop signs or red lights. Oh! And by the way, please make every effort to obey stop signs and red lights.

If you really want to be safe, join a bike club and participate in their group rides. I’ve always been impressed with the riders in the Elmhurst Bike Club. They keep the drama to a minimum, hold cyclists accountable when necessary, and their motto is “Riding at the Speed of Fun.” The EBC hosts rides for every talent level throughout all of Patchland.

But this issue certainly isn’t that one-sided! I realize some of my two-wheeled compatriots behave badly, but the majority of us understand we won’t come out on top in a confrontation with a ton of fast-moving steel. So let’s discuss the motorist’s responsibilities.

Though there are streets I always avoid, cyclists have the legal right to ride on any road in Illinois—no exceptions.

In 2007, Illinois adopted the “3-Foot Rule” which means drivers must slow down and leave 3 feet when passing a bicycle. I know that means you might be delayed a few seconds waiting for oncoming traffic to clear, but take some deep breaths and remind yourself that we’re not driving up gas prices.

For some strange reason, this has been a banner year for obnoxious pickup truck passengers to “encourage” me to ride only on the bike paths. The truth is, I’d prefer not to have to deal with you either, but they’re not just bike paths. They’re running, rollerblading, weaving kids with training wheels and pedestrians walking four across paths. Even my paltry 18 mph average speed is far too dangerous for any bike path.

My only bike accident occurred on the Batavia Fox River Trail where, even after issuing the obligatory “passing on your left,” a yakking cyclist slammed into me breaking my right hand in three places. And I was only doing 10 mph. I’ll take my chances with cars.

Though I generally despise anyone who rides two abreast, forcing a large pelloton to string out in a single file is a far more dangerous alternative. Batavia’s Prairie Path Cycles hosts a weekly 25-plus group ride that travels in a tight and safe two across formation. If you can do 22 mph in a group, I highly recommend that ride.

Lastly, we’re out year-round! Though cyclists often resort to indoor trainers during the winter months, if the mercury hits 40, I’ll hit the roads. I’ve even braved sub-freezing temperatures. Though our Hinsdale rider was wearing reflective gear, I’m convinced that accident occurred in large part because the driver wasn’t expecting a November bicyclist.

Peaceful bicycle-motorist coexistence really isn’t that hard. It starts with some basic understanding and a mutual respect for each other. Add a little patience—on both ends—and we’ll all have a much safer summer.

Jeff Ward July 08, 2011 at 01:08 PM
Phil, Yikes! You're right! I forget the real bicyclist bike trail nemesis - retractable leashes! Thanks for reminding me. And sometimes you can't even see them! Jeff
Pip July 08, 2011 at 01:16 PM
Jeff, what a great article and I so agree. We can all coexist with respect for each other and our roadways. My concern is for the younger set of riders. Those between 4 - 14 years old. Are we teaching them good habits and the rules of the sidewalk? A new danger exists. It's now dangerous to walk on a sidewalk because of the silent rider behind you wanting to pass without notice. No bell, horn, or "Hey, lady I'm passing " is heard. As an avid bike rider for 40 years I learned these rules in school. Many a hospital visit and painful injury could be saved by this simple warning. What do you think? has anyone else noticed this?
Linda Berg July 08, 2011 at 01:28 PM
Jeff, I have to say that I have seen so many examples of irresponsible bicycle riding on a daily basis that I am not surprised by the accidents. I see one rider get off the train every morning with his bicycle and ride down 3rd street to Rt 38 east to Kirk Rd. This rider weaves through stopped traffic, doesn't obey stop signs OR stop lights. I have passed him more than once only to have him ride by me again while I am waiting at a stop light - and see him go right through the red stop light after a slight pause, if that. This morning, he was almost hit by a car that was turning right at 3rd and Rt 38 because he went down the middle of the 2 lanes of stopped traffic and turned in front of the car without slowing down!!! The car slammed on it's brakes to avoid him and he just kept going. It's only a matter of time until someone hits him. How does he expect to be respected when he shows no respect for the law or for others? Yes, he wears reflective clothing and a bike helmet, but it's not going to do any good if he doesn't ride responsibly. I've started changing my route to work in order to avoid him, but sometimes I forget. I don't wish to be the next one he rides in front of. Until people like that change their "me and only me" attitude, there will continue to be bicycle/car accidents.
Jeff Ward July 08, 2011 at 01:48 PM
Linda, When on my road bike - I've been known to call those kind of riders out. Most cyclists despise the kind of riders that make it that much more difficult for the rest of us. Sadly, just like there are motorists who do some really stupid things, some cyclists IQ is no more than their bike frame size. Jeff
Jeff Ward July 08, 2011 at 01:55 PM
Pip, I have noticed it. Maybe because of the lower density in Geneva, it's not as bad out here. But a couple of years ago there was a group of middle and high schoolers training on the path around Peck Farm in Geneva. I was running with my dog as they were took up the entire path at rather high speeds. When they yelled at me to move, I took exception. I found their coaches down the path and explained my dismay. The coaches stopped the group and I lectured them for 10 minutes. I told them that every time they aggravate a pedestrian or runner with that kind of arrogance, then those folks take it out on me when I'm riding on the road. Then there was just a case in the local papers where a six year-old (or less) cyclist rammed a little old lady and killed her. The sad truth is, I think common courtesy ain't so common anymore. Good point on the sidewalk issue! Jeff
Vickie Hankes July 08, 2011 at 01:56 PM
What does this have to do with a bike riding article and who are you to say who The Patch SHOULD give a forum to? And what is The Patch? I read Patch every day, sometimes 3x daily. If Patch writes a column about who needs to get a clue and get a life, CC is my choice. Can this irresponsible goof get away with calling Jeff Ward these things?
mel j villicana July 08, 2011 at 03:06 PM
talk to the riders who go down burlington ave in western springs and ignore the stop signs especially at lawn and grand. then they sit at starbucks and brag about scaring the hell out of the motorist they go whizzing by.
Brian Cox July 08, 2011 at 03:53 PM
I too no longer will ride on a bike path in the summer. When I did it was safer for me and the pedestrians that I trying to pass, depending on the age of the person, to give no warning. If you say on your left to a young person look over there shoulder and step right in front of you. The worst people to try to pass was a group of teenage girls you say on your left and they separate like a gaggle of Geese coming in for a landing on a lake, that is to say going in every direction and unpredictably. Giving warning to the elderly was not a problem, for other groups is was safer to pass and hear their snide remarks. I also found that having a bell and ringing that was better then saying on your left.
Julie Farrell July 08, 2011 at 06:32 PM
I like the bell idea, Brian. While I'm not an avid rider (haven't been on a bike since I was 12, really), I'm an avid walker and can understand what you're saying. I'm more likely to turn to assess a situation when I hear someone say that rather than blindly moving the opposite direction. If I hear a bell, however, (which can be heard from further away), I'm more likely to look quickly and move immediately to allow the rider to pass.
Curious July 08, 2011 at 06:37 PM
Jeff~ Perhaps you can educate me. I understand that cyclists are entitled to be on the roadway and that drivers are obliged to exercise caution and clearance. If bikes are on the road, however, why aren't they in turn obliged to follow the rules of the road? I Iliterally cannot recall the last time I saw a cyclist stop at a stop sign or yield to traffic crossing the railroad tracks. Peletons often block entire roadways in the town I live in. There seems to be a sense of entitlement among these cyclists, which might explain some of the intolerance from the drivers. Thanks in advance for your feedback.
Jeff Ward July 08, 2011 at 07:00 PM
Dear Curious, I will admit, most drivers don't know what to do with me because I actually obey stop signs. That said, like most motorists, if there's no one around I will be more "liberal" in my approach to "stopping." In fact, I've found that, on my infrequent urban rides, drivers will wave me through stop sights more often than not. Though I've gone as a far as conveying my dismay to irresponsible cyclists, most road bikers make a reasonable effort to obey the rules of the road. Not to defend the indefensible, but after you hear "get off the road" too often, you start getting a little aggravated. That's no excuse for the "entitlement mentality" that I agree exists, but some drivers go way too far. Large groups are a bit more difficult. You don't want to string them out so, again, most motorists wave them though stop signs just to be rid of 'em. But if by "blocking" you mean they're riding three or four across, that ain't cool. Here's my suggestion. When you see a group misbehaving, give your local bike store a call and describe the group, the street and time of day. They'll know who's behind that ride. Then contact the appropriate bike store owner, club president or ride leader and calmly discuss the issue. Trust me! I've done that a number of time and it works. Jeff
cuban pete July 08, 2011 at 07:07 PM
I know Paulette is a former stand up comic but you should give it a try. Your advice to cyclists, "Oh and by the way,please, make every effort to obey stop signs and red lights." As a motorist I don't "make every effort" I obey traffic signals or I get a ticket. I have never seen the cycling flash mobs that go up and down 47th street ever stop for anything.
Darren McRoy July 08, 2011 at 07:37 PM
It's not just riders who sometimes ignore stop signs! But honestly, I'd think it's in the biker's best interest to be the more cautious party. They're not the ones with 3000 pounds of steel protecting them!
Darren McRoy July 08, 2011 at 07:38 PM
Hey, Pete--this was Jeff's column, not Paulette's?
Bob LeMay July 08, 2011 at 07:50 PM
I think we can all agree that many cyclists and motorists ignore rules and traffic control devices. I personally don't like motorists to "wave me through" because it violates the right-of-way rules. It may usually work, but there may be a car coming from another direction or an oblivious pedestrian about to step off the curb. The rules are in place to allow us all to know what to expect; if we all follow the rules, then safety is enhanced and traffic usually flows optimally (for the common good, perhaps not for the selfish individual).
Ray July 08, 2011 at 08:01 PM
"Blocking" can simply be two riders - even one in some cases. You're on a two-lane road with a double yellow no passing line. Speed limit is 45. You have two bikes in the lane - not even to one side of the lane, and now you have to slow down to 15-20mph for the next mile or so because you're not in a position where you can go around them. That's not cool either. I wish our roads were more bike-friendly around here. Even wider, paved shoulders would be nice. There are routes completely within the village where i would not consider biking.
Ronald Nader July 08, 2011 at 08:25 PM
I ride around quite a bit--well, not this summer because I am in Oklahoma--and I find that motorists do not know what to do with me, either, at stop signs because, like you, I stop at them. I also agree that the local trails, especially the Fox River Trail, are dangerous; I will use them but only early in the morning or perhaps on a weekday in the "off-season."
Jeff Ward July 08, 2011 at 09:09 PM
Dear Cuban, You should see the stuff I've seen motorists pull in western Kane County. I think the key for me is my preference for country roads. But if I had a dime for every driver that's cut me off and stopped (school buses too!) or turned right right in front of me, I'd me rich. Will I stop at a stop sign if absolutely no one is around? I'll pause. But I will stop if there otherwise. It's not as feasible for a cyclist to obey the letter of the law, but most motorists don't either. Jeff
Dave Peterson July 08, 2011 at 11:53 PM
Another way to help the promote safe bicycling and improvements to bike lanes and other facilities is to support the various state and national organizations such as the League of Illinois Bicyclists, the Active Transportation Alliance and the League of American Bicyclists. Many communities have bicycle committees. The Batavia Bicycle Commission and the Geneva Bicycle & Pedestrian Committee are two nearby. If you see a bicyclist on the road riding so dangerously that there could be an accident, go ahead and call the police. They actually will stop unsafe bicyclists. (Fermilab security routinely writes citations for bicyclists and motorists disobeying stop signs.)
Jim Beaumont July 09, 2011 at 01:20 AM
I recently road the greenway trail that goes south off the prarie path in elmhurst and connect to the zoo. This was supposed to be a path but the neighborhood got lawyered up. Said the dead end streets were to dangerous for cars and bikes so now its an unmarked route.I'd love to hear what Jeff and the rest of your readers feel about the safety of this section of the greenway trail. It goes south at salt creek and the prarie path.
Bob Hoel July 09, 2011 at 03:04 AM
Jim, the unmarked, on-street section of the Salt Creek Greenway Trail seems to be just fine. I ride this section from time to time and find it's low traffic to be quite safe. I don't see any safety issues and, through my contact with the Elmhurst Police, there have been no reports of problems. The residents have requested additional traffic control devices (stop and yield signs) as a couple of intersection, but those are more to contend with the driving habits of their own neighbors.
Tina Tuszynski July 09, 2011 at 12:21 PM
I have to say that I love the Greenway trail; it's never that crowded, the scenery is varied, and you don't get the crazy stuff like on the Prairie Path. Rode the PP last week and what a mistake - people walking 4 across, kids meandering across the path, tons of traffic. You don't see as much traffic on the Greenway.
cuban pete July 09, 2011 at 12:28 PM
Darren: I know it is Jeff's column. I was trying to be droll. By the way, I appreciate the way you folks respond to reader's comments. Keeps old guys involved. All the best, CP
Darren McRoy July 09, 2011 at 04:31 PM
Sorry--drollness sometimes doesn't come across well through text! One of the great failings of our new Internet culture. Perhaps we should revive the movement for the "irony mark"?
Pip July 10, 2011 at 12:52 PM
Jeff, et al, I'd love to see a "Stop for Pedestrians and Bikes" sign where a bike path crosses any major roadway. I am specifically talking about where the zoo path crosses Wolf Road at Salt Creek. How important and helpful for all would that be? I currently put on my flashers and stop to let bikers and walkers and kiddies cross when I see them waiting there. I'm hoping others will follow with the same behavior.. It's simple common courtesy. What do you think and how could we accomplish this ? Thanks, Grandma Pip The Biker
John Locke July 10, 2011 at 01:34 PM
Yes! The River Trail in Geneva / St. Charles crosses Rt 25 in 2 places and the pavement is marked as a crosswalk. In theory, vehicles are supposed to yield - in practice, they don't. A prominent sign may help educate drivers about the meaning of the funny white lines painted on the street.
Jeff Ward July 10, 2011 at 03:54 PM
Pip, Technically, there already is a law that vehicles have to yield to anyone already in a crosswalk, but virtually no one knows about it. But that's not what you're really asking for anyway. You're talking about European crosswalk laws that require drivers to stop if a pedestrian or cyclist even approaches a crosswalk. I'll never forget my trip to Italy for that. Step into a crosswalk on Via Cassia in Rome and traffic would come to a dead halt in rush hour. And Via Cassia was like Randall Road without the median! I believe California also has similar statutes. For something like this to be implemented it would take Springfield to get behind it. I would suggest calling or emailing your state senator and/or starting a petition drive. My theory has always been, whoever is getting the most exercise should have the right of way! Jeff
Rod Nelson July 10, 2011 at 04:43 PM
Wait, now I'm confused (as usual). Are bikes vehicles or pedestrians? Is a person walking a bike a pedestrian (I'd hope so). But a person riding a bike should not have it both ways. This is the problem on the "bike" paths...why would a vehicle (bike) expect to automatically have the right of way over a pedestrian? Because they are going faster?
Jeff Ward July 10, 2011 at 10:09 PM
Rod, Here's my take. If a bicyclist is riding in the street, they're a vehicle. If they're riding on a bike path or sidewalk, they're a pedestrian. By right of way, I mean at something like a crosswalk where I would let a cyclist go through because it's tougher for them to stop. A cyclist does not trump a pedestrian on a bike path as long as those pedestrians are doing their best not to block the entire path. Though that certainly isn't a legal opinion, I hope it helps. Jeff
Pip July 11, 2011 at 12:26 PM
Jeff, I so so agree with you. Italy is a much more sane country for bicyclists, pedestrians, and everyone! However, the city of Park Ridge is just as polite to it's riders. In Park Ridge by the library in the buisness district there is a crosswalk with signs that say "Stop for Pedestrians in Crosswalk". How evolved, let's try not to kill each other! I forget who to contact, but I think it is the head of the Cook County road system. Perhaps we can get the signs put up one at a time without having to go through Springfield. I'm open to ideas and suggestions. Thanks to all of you for reading this. Grandma Pip Biker

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