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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.

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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