Voice of the People : Bikes Versus Cars

October 20, 2012

Source: Chicago Tribune

Bikes versus cars (Jennifer M. Kohnke)

In reading about the tragic bicycle accident and the four letters you printed in the Oct. 11 Voice of the People, I can only shake my head.

My father, Eugene A. Sloane, wrote the first major book on bicycling in more than a half century when published in 1970 (“The Complete Book of Bicycling”). He was also perhaps the original bicycle commuter, riding 12 months a year back and forth from downtown to the ‘burbs circa 1960.

The four letters broke down something like this: Car drivers should be taught to look for cyclists when opening a car door; a bicyclist should be prepared to stop if a door opens in front of him or her; bicyclists should ride against the flow of traffic (meaning on the left side of a two-way street); bicyclists need to follow the same rules of road as drivers.

The absolute worst thing a cyclist should do is ride against traffic. Studies have shown that the approximately 8 percent of cyclists who do ride against traffic account for 25 percent of accidents. Drivers in cars making a right turn in front of the cyclist, or exiting a driveway or alley, will not be looking out for the cyclist (they look left first and then out and to the right) and can plow right into the cyclist. Also, a cyclist would be approaching traffic that is coming at him or her at a higher relative speed (the cyclist’s speed plus the car’s speed added on) and, therefore, a collision will be at a higher speed. Also, how will the cyclist navigate a right turn, given the variables above?

Since it is generally against the law to ride against traffic, this comment also goes against the other writers’ admonitions about following the rules of the road.

Regarding the other letters, the bottom line is that cyclists have two major threats when riding: themselves and cars. No one riding a bicycle should ever assume that he or she is seen by any driver, pedestrian or even another cyclist. To make oneself more visible, I highly recommend the biker dress in high-visibility neon-yellow jackets, shirts and anything else of that color (which is also proven to be the most visible bright color in low-light conditions).

Next, when riding properly (meaning, on the right side of the road), assume that somewhere along a street with cars, that a door will open at some point (it did happen to me once). If possible, a rider should travel slightly outside the length of an open car door, even if that means being outside of the bike lane. Auto traffic behind the rider might not like it, but it is one way to avoid getting doored.

My dad mounted a very loud air horn on his bike, and he used it with great relish. Riders should pay for and use a helmet and bike-mounted rear-view mirror. Being very present and alert is important.

To acknowledge the car culture’s disdain for cyclists and how they need to come to a full stop each time they are supposed to do so: Folks, it ain’t gonna happen; the rider’s “engine” is his or her legs, and the power of inertia is lost every time the rider comes to a full stop. Yes, the cyclist needs to be careful, but in the real world, he or she will continue to bend the rules.

From the automobile drivers’ perspective, I would tell any and all bicyclists in the city to be careful and remind them in the event of a crash with a car, there is a 100 percent probability that they will lose.

— Nick Sloane, Glendale Heights