MITCH BARLOGA: Improve bicycling safety on our streets

2013-08-15T00:00:00Z MITCH BARLOGA: Improve bicycling safety on our streetsBy Mitch Barloga nwitimes.com
August 15, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Last Monday, a Chicago businessman, and skilled bicyclist, was killed riding his bike while on vacation with his family in Michigan. There is still no known reason why the driver of the automobile swerved into him. You could imagine a number of possibilities.

Unfortunately, this tragic story is repeated every day, on average, in the U.S. According to an April report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 677 people died in bicycle/vehicle crashes in 2011. Although significant, it is still an improvement over the 830 lives lost in 1995 as reported by the NHTSA. Overall, bicycle-related deaths account for 2 percent of all U.S. traffic fatalities.

That said, bicycling still remains a popular activity for millions of Americans and tens of millions more around the globe. In fact, the bicycle remains the most used transportation vehicle in the world, with roughly 1.4 billion in use — compared to 400 million cars. In Indiana, bicycles are also legal on nearly all roadways (Indiana Code 9-12-11).

Even so, many will question the safety of bicycling on our streets because of the overwhelming advantage an object over more than tons, on average, has on a human-powered vehicle.

Indeed, a vast number of bicycle accidents of the nonlethal variety are never reported. I have spoken to many bicyclists who to a person can recall a near-death incident with a car or truck.

Thankfully, a growing family of options has evolved over the years to help bicyclists safely navigate our roads. The earliest examples were Share the Road signs which began to pop up around the country in the 1990s. This campaign has been very effective in educating motorists that bicycles hold the same road rights and privileges as automobiles do.

Then there’s the Complete Streets movement which has blossomed across the country. Complete Streets represents a series of policies and design standards that make certain all intended users of a transportation corridor, such as automobiles, bicyclists and pedestrians, are accommodated. This includes sidewalks, bike lanes and intersection improvements to name a few.

Clearly these and other campaigns for bicycle safety have created a much friendlier environment on our roadways. However responsibility is a two-way street (pun intended). Bicyclists must also adhere to the rules of the road. A wise rule-of-thumb is to “bike predictably” so as to increase your safety margin. This includes stopping at stop signs and traffic lights, and riding with, not against, the flow of traffic.

Taken together – improved street design and bicyclists' adherence to traffic laws – a further reduction in fatal accidents will continue, as well as a growing appreciation of the bicycle as a safe transportation option.

Visit www.nirpc.org to learn where to obtain a free map of area bike routes. And be careful out there.

Mitch Barloga is transportation planning manager for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. The opinions are the writer's.

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