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In the section above about choosing a route, I suggested that you don't think like a motorist. Well, that's mostly true. However, when you're out bicycling on the street, the safest way to travel is as if you're operating a vehicle. The California Vehicle Code (CVC), and generally the traffic regulations in most other states, essentially considers a bicycle to have the same rights and responsibilities as a motor vehicle. That's something too many cyclists forget.
Many beginning cyclists think that riding on the sidewalk is safer than riding in the street. They couldn't be more wrong. Cycling on the sidewalk means you have to dodge pedestrians, pets, scaffolding, garbage cans, parking meters and signs, vehicles exiting driveways and garages, landscaping, trees and leafy debris, motorists turning off the street, pedestrians leaving buildings without expecting a high velocity traveler sharing their space, and police officers with a ticket quota to meet.
Ride in the street. It's safer. Bicycling on the sidewalk also creates unnecessary enemies for bicyclists. Respect pedestrians, seniors, and people with disabilities. Keep out of their space when you're on your bike.
Many prospective cyclists are justifiably concerned about safety. However, the perception of danger is generally far greater than the reality. In my experience, probably 98 percent of the motorists I encounter are truly not a problem. There are some "road raging" jerk drivers out there, but for the most part, they're rare (fortunately.) You can further minimize the risk from motorists by doing a few obvious things:
Know your bicycle. The best way to improve your bicycling safety is simply to bicycle more. Take your bike to a quiet street or park and practice riding. Learn how your bike handles: how it stops, accelerates, turns, and shifts. Gaining confidence in your bicycle handling skills will greatly improve your safety.
Again, be assertive. Take the lane! Traffic law doesn't require a cyclist to pull over every time a car approaches from the rear. You only have to be as far to the right as you consider necessary to safely operate your bike. If there's road debris, broken pavement, another cyclist or anything in the extreme right that makes you uncomfortable, move to the left. You have the right to the entire lane! Take it. You're far safer having the cars behind you than crowding you while they pass. Give yourself a cushion. Define your space. Don't be timid. Assert your rights.Bicycling is safe. Sedentary couch potato lifestyles kill far, far more Americans than pedaling.
Comments? Suggestions? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org || Updated 10.20.11
Image: Open car door, great threat to bicyclists.