I’m both a driver and a biker.
Everyone, bikers and drivers, can help make roads safer.
Drivers: Drive like Grandma
I did a little test last night. I drove to and from the grocery store in two different modes: Grandma and Young Turk. The drive is 2 1/2 miles, involves 6 turns, 4 stop signs, and 3 traffic signals.
On the way to the store, I was Grandma: I drove just under the speed limit, took turns slowly, stopped at yellow lights, and came to complete stops at stop signs. I was listening to traditional Irish music on volume 2. I was able to be attentive both to the traffic in front of and behind me, and pedestrians.
On the way home, I was Young Turk: I accelerated quickly, did “slow & go” stops at stop signs, sped up to beat changing signals, and went 5-10 mph over the speed limits. I was listening to grunge on volume 6. I mostly paid attention to cars I ended up tailgating.
Elapsed time in Grandma mode: 8 minutes.
Elapsed time in Young Turk mode: 8 minutes.
(Usual elapsed time on a bike: 15 minutes.)
And put down the cellphone. I can spot a cellphone-distracted driver from 100 yards. You swerve, slow down and speed up, drift across lanes, forget to move on a green light and stop short on a red. You look like you’re drunk. And then, just like a drunk, you say, “But it doesn’t affect my driving.” That means you, Mom, and you Dad, and you, kid, and you, too, contractor. All of you. Stop it. It can wait.
Bikers: Bike like a driver
Start with the assumption that drivers don’t want to hit you.
It’s up to you to make sure drivers have a chance to:
1) See you and
2) predict what you will do.
Be visible. Lights, day-glo colors, and reflective tape might look goofy, but backless hospital gowns look goofier.
Be predictable. Biking a straight line in traffic can feel risky, but it’s much, much safer than riding at the extreme edge and suddenly swerving around parked cars. The more you act like a car, the more drivers will understand what you’re doing. Stop at red lights. Stay in the road; don’t go veering onto and off of the sidewalk or crosswalks. If you send mixed messages (“Look, I’m a car! Look, now I’m a pedestrian!”), drivers can’t predict what you’re about to do.
Take the buds out of your ears so you aren’t in an alternate universe from the Prius just about to overtake you when you need to swerve to avoid a pothole.
Evaluate your route: Where does car traffic merge? Where are complicated intersections with fast-moving traffic? Where are the lanes narrow? Where are there always parked cars? Where are the ambiguous intersections with worn out or missing lane markings? Where are potholes, sand and gravel, sunken storm drains, and other road-edge hazards? Where are mid-road hazards like T tracks? Where are busy driveways? Where do cars stop short for pedestrians? Where do pedestrians unpredictably enter the road? Where do you encounter buses? If a stretch of roadway or an intersection makes you nervous, either walk your bike through it or find an alternate route. (I have to get across the Fens. That’s when I get off the insane roads and get on the paths.)
And finally, wear a helmet. I know, bikers in Amsterdam don’t wear helmets. But bikers in Amsterdam have bike lanes, traffic-calming, lower car speeds, fewer cars, and omnipresent bikes to make their biking safer. Until Boston looks like Amsterdam, wear a helmet.