It can be difficult sometimes to stay positive during the current COVID-19 crisis. However, experts recommend that it is not only good for our physical health, but also our mental health to get outside and exercise. With the decrease in motor vehicle traffic, many people are riding their bikes for exercise and enjoyment. In fact, the current pandemic has led to a tremendous surge in bicycle sales around the globe. If you have been shopping for a new bike lately you will know what I am talking about. We have a wonderful system of shared paths here in Central Indiana. As more and more people are using these paths, it is up to each of us to ensure that they are safe for all users and avoid personal and bicycle accidents or injuries whenever possible.
I have always enjoyed cycling, but had fallen away from the activity until recently. The pandemic has allowed me to renew my love for cycling, and I have used this as an opportunity to ride more frequently. I try to ride to work 2-3 days per week, as my schedule allows. With the Courts being closed to the public, and most hearings taking place via phone call or Zoom, I have not needed to wear a suit and tie every day. My current commute is about 25 miles round trip. This takes me about 1 hour each way, and I have found that my rides to and from work are a great way to relieve stress, enjoy the outdoors, and save a little money on gas.
Most of my commute is on shared paths, used by both cyclists and pedestrians, which allows me to avoid interaction with motor vehicles, for the most part. However, most of the accidents and close calls that I have observed were between two bicyclists or bicyclists and pedestrians.
The most common mishaps that I have observed can usually be narrowed down to 3 things: 1. Bicyclists riding too fast for the conditions; 2. Pedestrians who move suddenly out of their lane and in to the path of bicycle that they don’t know is approaching, and 3. Confusion between bicyclists and motorists at the intersections of shared paths and roadways.
I ride a relatively slow, fat-tired bike, with an average speed of 12-14 miles per hour. In my opinion, this is plenty fast for shared trails. To go faster than that in an area where pedestrians are walking is just a recipe for disaster. There are places on the Monon Trail, for example, where cyclists can go faster than that, but when there are crowds of people running and walking and crossing the trail, it is simply not safe.
The other danger that I have observed is cyclists overtaking pedestrians without warning them of their approach. In 2016, the Indiana Legislature removed the requirement at I.C. 9-21-11-8, that all bikes must be equipped with an audible signal device, that can be heard from a distance of 100 feet, such as a bell. I think this was a mistake. A simple bike bell is an easy way to alert others, particularly pedestrians, that you are passing them. In my experience, most pedestrians who walk on shared paths, appreciate the signal that a bike is approaching and will be passing them. Most pedestrians will usually give a hand signal that they heard the bell, and many will even say, “Thank you,” as I pass. Many people walk with their children and their pets. An audible bell gives them a heads up to keep their kids or their pets close as a bicycle passes.
Some pedestrians who are not as familiar with walking on shared paths may be startled by an audible bell. I have observed pedestrians jump upon hearing the bell, or quickly move out of the way. I have observed pedestrians turn suddenly, which can cause them to inadvertently move left and into the path of the cyclist. This can be dangerous. Just last week, I saw a runner, who had reached the point in her run where she was going to turn around and go the other direction. She quickly turned around just as a bicycle was overtaking her. The cyclist did not have a bell to alert his presence. The bell is only to alert pedestrians so that they know a bicycle will be passing on their left. It is not a call to get out of the way, or to even change your course in any way. If more cyclists used a bell, I believe pedestrians would be more attuned, and travel on our shared paths would be even safer. If you are walking on the trail, it is always a good idea to move to the right of the trail before stopping, and look both ways before crossing the trail and reversing direction.
Lastly, there is a lot of confusion about what motorists and cyclists are supposed to do when the shared path intersects with vehicular traffic. If you spend any time on Nextdoor, you will see raging debates about who should stop and when. Everyone needs to follow the rules of the road whether you be driving a car or riding a bicycle. All bikes and motor vehicles should heed the signs that pertain to them at each individual intersection. Bikes and pedestrians are required to stop and make sure the intersection is clear of vehicle traffic before proceeding. If there is a flashing yellow light, motorists need to be prepared to stop to allow pedestrians to cross. Usually, motor vehicle drivers will stop for a flashing yellow light if they see bikes or pedestrians waiting to cross. Always make sure it is safe to proceed before riding your bike across vehicular traffic.
If everyone takes a moment to make sure that their bike is functioning properly, and we all pay attention to the rules of the road, our great system of trails will be safer for everyone. Now get outside and ride your bike!