Friday, September 5, 2008

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Bike Safety*

*But Were Afraid to Ask

Last night I took a four-hour bike safety class from Burt Hill, sponsored by the S.F. Bike Coalition. By the end, my head was spinning as fast as my bike wheels going down Forest Hill. One of the many things I learned was that those "sharrows", as shown below, indicate where in the lane the bicyclist should be riding.
I always thought it was just to indicate that the lane must be shared by cars and bikes, but it actually shows you where to ride to avoid getting doored, the top reason for bicycle accidents. Maybe if I had paid a little more attention to this ad campaign I would have gotten it. I have been riding too close to the parked cars even though I was aware of the dangers of dooring. Even a couple of inches too close is worse than being an extra foot out into the traffic lane, since your handlebars can catch on a door and tip you over into traffic. At least if you are taking the lane you are visible, and a car can always go around you.
The point of the class could be distilled to this: ride like a vehicle. Ride predictably and assertively, be visible, be courteous. Burt spent a lot of time showing how hugging the curb to the right is actually more dangerous in many situations: when there's a right-turn-only lane, when the lane is too narrow to share, when you're waiting at an intersection for the light to turn red.
I rode today with a new outlook. There's one point where I always chicken out and ride on the sidewalk: where the road passes under Nordstrom's at Stonestown Galleria. Today I was determined to ride on the roadway underpass, which when I did it seemed much simpler than my old round-about sidewalk route, but it was still unnerving. Mostly on my ride I was much more aware of my distance from the parked cars, and when I should take the lane instead of timidly staying to the right. It's a familiar route so I can't say it was more scary than before (except for the underpass). My next hurdle is to try some routes I've so far been too afraid to try.

I noticed that the class, around 50 people, was mostly women, mostly around their 30s (although a few younger and a few older, like me), and a bit more ethnically diverse than San Francisco overall. Burt kept mentioning how the number of bicyclists in the city is going up, which means it's harder to find a spot for your bike on BART, but great for raising awareness of bicyclists on the road. I felt like part of something big: a slow but inevitable road revolution, and not just for the super-macho bike types who ride the wrong way up busy streets and don't stop for stop signs. If I'm going to ride more places, I'm going to do it in a safe, orderly way and enjoy my ride.

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