Category Archives: safety

The 4 Most Common Causes of Single Bike Crashes

Cycling is a fun and safe way to get around. What danger there is comes overwhelmingly from motor vehicles. However, there are a few common causes of single bike crashes, and knowing the hazards may help you avoid them.

May help you avoid them. Unfortunately, this does not always work. We all know that broken concrete sidewalks are a tripping hazard while walking, but I bet we’ve all still tripped on them. Such is life outside a plastic bubble.

Mr. Dottie demonstrates hazard #2: ICE!

Mr. Dottie demonstrates hazard #2: ICE!

This week Mr. Dottie had a crash caused by one of the common hazards: clipping a pedal on the ground while cornering. A patch of irregularly raised pavement brought the ground too close, and his heavy work pannier made correcting impossible.  He is sore and a bit scraped on his arm and ankle, but otherwise doing well. A quick trip to urgent care (luckily he has health insurance) showed that nothing was fractured.  When someone cycles as much as he does, stuff like this is much more likely.

In light of this event, here is my very unofficial list of the 4 most common causes of single bike crashes:

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America Needs Traffic Justice: Pedaling Revolution

I read the book Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists are Changing American Cities by Jeff Mapes soon after it was published in the spring. I was going to write a review, but then David Byrne and the New York Times scooped me. Suffice it to say that anyone interested in reading this blog also would be interested in reading the book.

Senior Crossing Street in Miami Beach - PBIC Image Library

Senior Crossing Street in Miami Beach - PBIC Image Library

Mapes brings up many interesting points in the book – the kind that made me read and re-read, fold down the page, and want to talk about it with someone. I picked up my dusty copy this morning and started flipping back through the folded pages. My mind started sparking again, so I thought I would explore these ideas more through discussion here.

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Why Bike Lanes Are Bad For Drivers’ Expectations

Actually one of the widest bike lanes in Chicago

Actually one of the widest bike lanes in Chicago

Bike lanes are dumb in one major way: they outline the door zone and then tell cyclists to ride right there. But the door zone is not my beef at the moment. No, my beef is how bike lanes set bad expectations for drivers – that the cyclist must ride in the bike lane at all times.

  • Exhibit A: Like an icy slip ‘n slide. Chicago, December 2008.  I am riding outside of the bike lane because the snow plows and  salt trucks  ignored that precious slice of pavement.  A driver in a hooptie hooooooonks as he passes within a foot of me and yells, “Ride in the bike lane, you idiot!”  I throw my hands up in frustration.  Driver flips the middle finger.  I catch up at the red light.  Driver unrolls his window and yells again, “Stay in the bike lane, moron!”  I respond firmly, “I cannot ride in the bike lane because it is FULL OF ICE.  Please be aware of my safety.  Thank you.”  Driver drives off, as drivers do.
  • Exhibit B:  La la la I can’t hear you. Chicago, September 2009.  I am riding two inches outside the bike lane because the entire strip is the door zone.  A driver in a station wagon behind me honks…  Honks…  Hooonks…  Hoooooonks…  Hooooooooooonks.  I ignore him.  He passes me closely, even though he always had the entire opposite lane to pass.  I catch him at the stop sign.  He passes me closely.  I pass him as he’s stopped in traffic.  I feel happily smug.

These are only the most memorable and recent experiences, respectively.  I won’t offer my other exhibits, because it would get repetitive.  You all know the deal.

The problem is that bike lanes set bad expectations that cyclists are wrong if we ride outside the lines.  There are a gazillion reasons why we need to ride outside of bike lanes: car doors, broken glass, turning left, passing slower traffic.  All of this is perfectly legal.

Do the benefits of bike lanes outweigh the bad expectations they set?

Yes.  Without bike lanes, the same drivers would think cyclists don’t belong in the road at all.  At least bike lanes prove to these drivers that we DO belong in the road, even if just a strip. But we can do better. Perhaps sharrows is a good compromise?

[Okay, I edited this post to remove these portions. An attempt at sarcastic humor that obviously failed. No offense intended. I want the focus of this post to be bike lanes, not cyclists v. drivers.  I would love to hear people's thoughts on bike lanes v. sharrows.  "The biggest problem here is that drivers are dumb. That cannot be helped...I won't hold my breath waiting for drivers to become smarter, so I'll try to ignore them.  I bet that's even more annoying than my mere existence!  Score one for me."]

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Sometimes I Take The Sidewalk

Bikes belong in the street, not on the sidewalk. In fact, it is illegal for anyone over the age of 12 to ride on a sidewalk in Chicago. Riding in the street is generally safer because you are visible, while on the sidewalks you encounter pedestrians, cross streets, alleys and parking lot entrances where drivers don’t expect to see bikes. Riding in the street is also generally faster and smoother, on better-maintained pavement instead of concrete blocks. Finally, riding in the street sends the correct message to drivers: that bikes belong.

Sidewalk Riding

Sidewalk Riding

Despite all of this, sometimes I take the sidewalk. Continue reading

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Hand Signal Debate

“I thought holding your left arm at a right angle was the way to signal a right turn,” a friend said recently after going on a quick neighborhood ride with me.

Yes, I use the “alternate right turn” hand signal.

bike signals

I’ve decided to break from tradition on this for a couple of reasons.

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Stalked by a car

I recently asked about safety and security concerns while cycling through your neighborhood, and I mentioned that I feel very safe in my neighborhood.  That answer stands, but after more than a year of daily riding, I had my first tense, non-traffic-related cycling safety incident.

Night Riding (note this is a pic from last week, I was on Betty not Oma)

Night Riding (old photo with Oma not Betty Foy)

I was riding home alone with Betty Foy at 9 p.m. on a residential one-way street that I take all the time – not deserted, but not a major thoroughfare.  I didn’t hear any cars, but noticed through my rear view mirror the dark outline of a car behind me with its headlights off.  The car did not pass me, but stayed creeping behind (I was going about 14 mph, I’d guess).  Continue reading

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Safety and Security Concerns

I’ve mentioned before that I live a couple of blocks from Elizabeth, a blogger at BikeCommuters.Com. We met by chance last winter on our way home from work in the dark and freezing cold. I was waiting at a light and when it turned green I told her to go ahead because she would be faster than me. I managed to stay with her about half way home and we chatted a bit before she dropped me and Oma :)

Elizabeth and Me

Elizabeth and Me

We met up last night for a beer (or two) in our neighborhood, and she had just attended a focus group discussion on women’s safety and security issues with bicycling and walking. I wanted to participate, but had a scheduling conflict. Elizabeth gave me her discussion guide print out and I thought I’d post some of the questions here to see what you all think. The focus group was women-specific, but I’m interested in hearing from everyone.

How safe do you feel in your residential neighborhood? Is it a comfort level that allows you to bicycle and walk at any time of day of if you chose to?

What are some of the things that influence your decision to bicycle or not to bicycle?

What do you see as major safety and security concerns?

My thoughts: I feel very safe in my residential neighborhood. Chicago is a big city and I’m sure lots of people don’t cycle for fear of crime, but I’m privileged enough to live in a fairly affluent neighborhood on the north side. Still, I don’t walk alone after dark.  I feel much less vulnerable on my bike, so I will cycle alone after dark, but not later than midnight or so. I hate taking public transit alone at night – I don’t feel that the el trains have enough security. Overall, my major safety concerns deal a lot more with traffic (drunk drivers, dooring) than with crime.

How about you?

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Of Car Doors and Bike Bells

When I get on my bike I become much more assertive than usual. I don’t worry about being too pushy because I’m confident in my skills and understand the danger of someone screwing up. At the same time, the super polite manner that my mom instilled in me is hard to kick. The result is me speaking up often, but in a feigned sweet tone. Two circumstances always make me speak up: when a driver opens a car door in my path and when a cyclist passes me in traffic without any warning. These things happen all the time riding in Chicago.

Bike Lane on Wells

Bike Lane on Wells

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Developing Street Smarts

Sometimes once you’ve been riding for a while, you forget the little steps you took along the way. A recent comment on our “About Us” page reminded me of that recently. Amy in Chicago said:

Hi Ladies: I just discovered your blog and it’s so inspiring! Seeing what you have both been able to do has made me want to give up the el and start biking more often. . . . my boyfriend has been an avid biker for years. I just bought the Gary Fisher Simple City 3 which I absolutely love, but I’ve only been riding on smaller side streets around our neighborhood. I was hoping you could offer some advice on how you started riding on bigger streets around the city. I have to admit, I’m a bit scared of all the horror stories and oblivious drivers. We live in Wicker Park so I would have to find some major street just to get to the lakefront. How did you both start riding on bigger streets? Can you recommend any resources to learn how to ride more safely? Again, I’m really enjoying your blog. Keep up the good work!

How did I get started riding on bigger streets? Like the origins of my sudden desire to bicycle commute, it seemed murky.

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Bike Path Etiquette: Chicago’s Lakefront Trail

During the summer, Chicago’s Lakefront Trail is the most popular destination in the city.  People come to jog, walk, cycle, play volleyball, lounge on the beach and people-watch. The trail is a multi-use path, not simply a bike path. Some cyclists sneer at commuters who use the path in the summer because it is so crowded.  (To get an idea of how contentious Chicagoans are over the path, check out the comments from a post in the Chicago Tribune’s blog.) I love taking the path because the surroundings are so beautiful, I prefer to avoid cars, and I like seeing smiling families and children running around.  Therefore, I simply adjust my expectations when riding in the summer and behave in a manner that matches the situation.
Chicago's Lakefront Trail at rush hour

Chicago's Lakefront Trail during my summer commute - rush hour

Unfortunately, not everyone behaves accordingly.  I recently witnessed a terrible incident caused by a reckless cyclist on the Lakefront Trail during my morning commute.

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Hopping Mad

I’m using this picture of my cat Ted in an outfit Trisha bought him to balance the mood of this post. How can one stay mad when Bumble Bee Ted is right there? And I’m using the title “Hopping Mad” because it sounds old fashioned and much nicer than the string of expletives running through my head.

Bumble Bee Ted

Bumble Bee Ted

These people are really starting to get to me.

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“Sorry, I didn’t see you”

Those were the words of the SUV driver who cut me off on Thursday. Really?? And whales speak French at the bottom of the sea, I’m sure.

I was riding Oma in broad daylight with no sun glare. The narrow one-way street was ending and I was preparing to take a right. While I was moving over to take the lane, an old SUV started to pull around and squeeze by. I did the “back off” signal that Adrienne mentioned in an earlier comment – left hand out and pushing back with fingers splayed. Completely ignored. After he immediately swung in front of me and took a right, I called out, “Thanks a lot, buddy!”

We were soon stopped in a line of cars turning left and he said something out his window that I could not hear, so I said, “You cut me off back there.” Then he rolled down his window all the way and stuck his head out. I would have bet money that he was going to call me the B word and peel off. Instead he said, “Sorry, I didn’t see you,” smiled, and looked at me a bit too long. He was flirting with me. At this point I really had nothing to say except, “O…kay” and waved him on. Did he actually expect me to reciprocate? In the wise words of Lily Allen: “Not in a million years, you’re nasty, please leave me alone.”

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“Sorry, I didn’t see you.”

Those were the words of the SUV driver who cut me off on Thursday. Really?? And whales speak French at the bottom of the sea, I’m sure.

I was riding Oma in broad daylight with no sun glare. The narrow one-way street was ending and I was preparing to take a right. While I was moving over to take the lane, an old SUV started to pull around and squeeze by. I did the “back off” signal that Adrienne mentioned in an earlier comment – left hand out and pushing back with fingers splayed. Completely ignored. After he immediately swung in front of me and took a right, I called out, “Thanks a lot, buddy!”

We were soon stopped in a line of cars turning left and he said something out his window that I could not hear, so I said, “You cut me off back there.” Then he rolled down his window all the way and stuck his head out. I would have bet money that he was going to call me the B word and peel off. Instead he said, “Sorry, I didn’t see you,” smiled, and looked at me a bit too long. He was flirting with me. At this point I really had nothing to say except, “O…kay” and waved him on. Did he actually expect me to reciprocate? In the wise words of Lily Allen: “Not in a million years, you’re nasty, please leave me alone.”

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Bike Friendly Road? You Decide

Over the past few days, I’ve been mulling over that whole idea of bike friendliness in Nashville. The commute route I have chosen (my secret back ways, as Dottie said) is quite bike-friendly, so I do my best to stick to those roads and not get on a street where I feel at risk. In my neighborhood, I can do that—crossing town, during peak traffic periods, it’s a little more difficult, which was why I was in my car yesterday afternoon.

While looking at the beautiful blue sky and wishing I’d been able to bike (an evening drive in traffic is just horrible when you’re used to biking, but being in a convertible does help) I spotted two cyclists on a road I usually avoid when on my bike. Though Wedgewood is a more direct route to my office, I won’t ride on it between 8th and 21st. The massive amounts of traffic (by Nashville standards, anyway), the hills that slow you down and create blind spots for drivers, and the fact that two people I know have been hit by cars while biking here keep me away.

That did not dissuade these two guys. Would you bike this road?

Brave or foolhardy?

Brave or foolhardy?

Continue reading

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Bike Friendly Road? You Decide

Over the past few days, I’ve been mulling over that whole idea of bike friendliness in Nashville. The commute route I have chosen (my secret back ways, as Dottie said) is quite bike-friendly, so I do my best to stick to those roads and not get on a street where I feel at risk. In my neighborhood, I can do that—crossing town, during peak traffic periods, it’s a little more difficult, which was why I was in my car yesterday afternoon.

While looking at the beautiful blue sky and wishing I’d been able to bike (an evening drive in traffic is just horrible when you’re used to biking, but being in a convertible does help) I spotted two cyclists on a road I usually avoid when on my bike. Though Wedgewood is a more direct route to my office, I won’t ride on it between 8th and 21st. The massive amounts of traffic (by Nashville standards, anyway), the hills that slow you down and create blind spots for drivers, and the fact that two people I know have been hit by cars while biking here keep me away.

That did not dissuade these two guys. Would you bike this road?

Brave or foolhardy?

Brave or foolhardy?

Continue reading

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Chicago’s Ride of Silence

The ride of silence stopped by five peoples’ ghost bikes in Chicago: Clinton Miceli, Tyler Fabeck, Blanca Ocasio, Amanda Annis, and Isai Medina. I think the last death in the city was nearly a year ago, Clinton Miceli. A driver killed Clinton by opening his door into traffic, which stuck Clinton and threw him into the path of an oncoming car. This happened in June 2008, during Chicago’s Bike to Work Week. Even though I did not know him, I had to keep my office door shut most of the day after reading all the news stories because I could not stop crying. He was so young (22) and seemed like such a nice guy. At that time I’d been riding to work for only a week and had to ask myself, “Am I going to ride tomorrow? The day after?”

Clint's Ghost Bike during Ride of Silence

Clint's Ghost Bike during Ride of Silence - photo by Don Sorsa

Obviously, I kept riding. For one, I love riding too much to stop.  Also, the streets will be made safer the more people ride bikes. Cars are far more dangerous than bikes and cars put not only the occupants at risk, but anyone else who happens to be on the street.

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Chicago's Ride of Silence

The ride of silence stopped by five peoples’ ghost bikes in Chicago: Clinton Miceli, Tyler Fabeck, Blanca Ocasio, Amanda Annis, and Isai Medina. I think the last death in the city was nearly a year ago, Clinton Miceli. A driver killed Clinton by opening his door into traffic, which stuck Clinton and threw him into the path of an oncoming car. This happened in June 2008, during Chicago’s Bike to Work Week. Even though I did not know him, I had to keep my office door shut most of the day after reading all the news stories because I could not stop crying. He was so young (22) and seemed like such a nice guy. At that time I’d been riding to work for only a week and had to ask myself, “Am I going to ride tomorrow? The day after?”

Clint's Ghost Bike during Ride of Silence

Clint's Ghost Bike during Ride of Silence - photo by Don Sorsa

Obviously, I kept riding. For one, I love riding too much to stop.  Also, the streets will be made safer the more people ride bikes. Cars are far more dangerous than bikes and cars put not only the occupants at risk, but anyone else who happens to be on the street.

Continue reading

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Won't You Be My Neighbor?

The sunny and warm weather is bringing people out in droves. As a result, I find myself having more interactions with my friendly (and maybe not so friendly) Chicago neighbors. I’ll start with the friendly-neutral interaction of the day.

(I cried like a baby the day Mister Rogers died)

(I cried like a baby the day Mister Rogers died)

On my way home I was riding near the middle of the lane on a busy road because  a parallel parked car ahead had its door wide open. A driver on the other side passed me extremely closely.  Lucky me, he soon had to stop at a red light and his window was open. Yay for warm weather and open windows! I got an incredible urge to talk to him, which I could not resist. Continue reading

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

The sunny and warm weather is bringing people out in droves. As a result, I find myself having more interactions with my friendly (and maybe not so friendly) Chicago neighbors. I’ll start with the friendly-neutral interaction of the day.

(I cried like a baby the day Mister Rogers died)

(I cried like a baby the day Mister Rogers died)

On my way home I was riding near the middle of the lane on a busy road because  a parallel parked car ahead had its door wide open. A driver on the other side passed me extremely closely.  Lucky me, he soon had to stop at a red light and his window was open. Yay for warm weather and open windows! I got an incredible urge to talk to him, which I could not resist. Continue reading

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Silent and Deadly?

[This post was written and scheduled before our departure.]

Don’t worry folks, this isn’t a post about a certain antisocial behavior. (Yes, we’re 130 posts in, but we still have a few things left to talk about before we get to the toilet humor.)

No, the title of this post refers to . . . hybrids. And the particular threats they pose for cyclists. You can debate all day about whether a new hybrid is any more environmentally friendly than a used diesel that gets 35 mpg, but that is not the focus of this post.

My beef with hybrids as a cyclist is this: you can’t hear them behind you. As illustrated in this brilliant “Office” clip. There have been a few times I’ve turned onto a street, only to realize a Prius was hovering at the stop sign behind me, or have been about to turn and realized that car I see, but don’t hear, is moving toward me, and not parked along the side of the road. So far this hasn’t exactly threatened my life, but now that Nashville has introduced hybrid buses to our transport system, I’m a bit concerned. I really like knowing whether there’s a city bus anywhere in my immediate vicinity. Anyone out there have these in their city already, and how does it affect your commute? On the bright side, maybe I might as well wear headphones . . .

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