Wyoming has seen a bicyclist die every month since May in crashes with vehicles. Hopefully, that string is broken next month.
Five cyclists doing what they enjoy, experiencing the health benefits of fresh air and exercise, are no more.
This tragedy bespeaks a larger issue of misunderstanding, unwillingness to share the road and ignorance of the rules governing bicycles in traffic.
There are many drivers who believe that bicycles do not belong on the road. When they encounter one, they do not slow down, they often do not even steer away from the bike to give the rider ample room. They think bicycles belong on the sidewalk and they resent that such a slow-moving vehicle would dare impede their path.
The fact is, bicycle riders have the same right to the road as anyone else, regardless of the fact that they rarely travel faster than 30 mph. Of course, no one who rides is dumb enough to take up a full lane of traffic. They usually hug the shoulder and hope that those coming up behind them see them and give them room. But that isn’t always the case.
Anyone who rides with any regularity has had encounters with vehicles that caused them to stop and change their shorts. There’s nothing funny about a brush with death.
Having completed two 500-mile bike rides across Nebraska when I was a young adult, I know firsthand the dangers of pedaling long distances on highways. It’s not much safer in town.
In fact, half of the Wyoming cycling fatalities this year occurred in town, one in Casper and the other in Sheridan. No matter the speed involved, car or truck versus bicycle always ends badly for the bicycle and its rider.
Wyoming Pathways is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving non-motorized travel and recreation opportunities in Wyoming, including bicycling, walking, hiking and cross-country skiing. Its executive director Tim Young recently asked a state legislative committee to study measures to improve bicyclist safety, including implementing a mandatory safe distance, such as 3 feet, for vehicles passing cyclists, as well as creating new penalties for drivers who injure or kill cyclists or other vulnerable parties, such as people on horseback, pedestrians or those in wheelchairs.
Whether anything comes of the effort or not, it at least calls attention to the problem and highlights the need for greater education of motorists with regard to non-motorized travel.
Wyoming places 36th in the annual Bicycle Friendly State rankings of The League of American Bicyclists. My old stomping grounds Nebraska ranks a very poor 45th.
The organization lists five rules for cyclists to heed to make their ride as safe as possible:
Follow the law
Your safety and the image of bicyclists depend on you. You have the same rights and duties as drivers. Obey traffic signals and stop signs. Ride with traffic; use the rightmost lane headed in the direction you are going.
Make your intentions clear to everyone on the road. Ride in a straight line and don’t swerve between parked cars. Signal turns, and check behind you well before turning or changing lanes.
Ride where people can see you and wear bright clothing. Use a front white light, red rear light and reflectors when visibility is poor. Make eye contact with others and don’t ride on sidewalks.
Anticipate what drivers, pedestrians, and other people on bikes will do next. Watch for turning vehicles and ride outside the door zone of parked cars. Look out for debris, potholes and other road hazards. Cross railroad tracks at right angles.
Check that your tires have sufficient air, brakes are working, chain runs smoothly, and quick release levers are closed. Carry tools and supplies that are appropriate for your ride. Wear a helmet.
Sometimes the cyclist fails to take all the necessary precautions to stay safe. Greater education of both motorists and cyclists as it relates to sharing the road could go a long way toward helping to make our roads safe for everyone.