COLUMN: Cars and bicycles: Sharing the roadways

  • Posted: Monday, April 1, 2013 6:54 p.m.

Running errands. Getting to school. Heading to work. Meeting a friend for lunch.

Accomplishing any of these vital elements of your day means you have to get there first. Getting there: it’s so elementary, we don’t even think about it each day. How do we “get there?”

Most of us hop in a car, yet others walk and others bike. In the end, we’re all trying to get somewhere, and we want to do so safely.

Safe Streets Save Lives, a collaborative effort that Palmetto Cycling Coalition, BikeLaw and the S.C. Department of Public Safety have supported, is about just that: getting to your destination safely, whether you’re in a car or riding a bike.

The campaign is designed to educate South Carolinians about our state’s laws and safe bicyclists’ habits. After all, South Carolina has some of the most progressive laws concerning bicycle safety, yet according to the Alliance for Biking & Walking 2012 Benchmarking Report, our state reports per capita showthe second-highest number of bicycle-related fatalities in the nation.

When an estimated 0.6 percent of all trips nationally are made by bicycle, yet the S.C. Department of Transportation reports that 2 percent of all fatalities on roadways include bicyclists, we have a bicycle safety problem. Clearly bicyclists are in need of better facilities and increased education about their rights and responsibilities.

South Carolinians are waking up to higher gas prices, growth in our urban centers and the need to exercise daily.

Bicycling makes us healthier, cuts down on transportation costs, and is now considered a cool and viable means of getting around for a growing number of people. In fact, the share of commuters who bike to work has doubled in the past 10 years.

If more road users travel by bicycle, how do we make it safer?

First, we start by building streets in ways that invite bicyclists to travel safely. That includes developing bike lanes and more off-road paths.

Second, and perhaps most important, is this: All road users must be aware of their responsibilities on the road. For motorists, that includes recognition of the rights of all bicyclists to shared use of most roads.

A bicycle is a vehicle, just like a car, bus, moped or truck. Since each vehicle has a different level of power on the road, the more powerful of those, the motorist, actually has a higher responsibility of watching out for the most vulnerable: the bicyclist.

If, while driving, you encounter a bicyclist, pass only when you can do so while providing a safe distance from the cyclist. It’s South Carolina state law.

Bicyclists also have a responsibility to operate their vehicles in a manner that’s predictable to motorists. It’s the law. Bicyclists should:

• Stop at stop signs.

• Signal when preparing to turn and before braking.

• Use front and rear lights at night.

Additional safety tips:

• Wear a helmet.

• At intersections, reduce confusion and keep safe by using the full lane instead of pulling alongside the motorist ahead.

• Ride predictably. Do so with confidence, not ignorance. Bicyclists are mortals and rightful co-owners of public space: our roadways.

When bicyclists and motorists share the road by following our state’s laws, our roadways will be much safer for vehicles of various sizes. To work. To play. Back home to our families. Let’s get there together.

Amy Johnson is the executive director of Palmetto Cycling Coalition, a statewide bicycle advocacy organization whose Safe Streets Save Lives campaign is designed to make South Carolina roadways safer by encouraging bicyclists and motorists to know the laws of road sharing.

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