New bike commuters hit the classroom, then the road
The rush of new cyclists, created by high gas prices, is driving up demand for bike safety classes.
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"Biking kind of gives me a sense of independence. I'm not dependent on fossil fuels," says Margaret Chuang, another student in Mr. Hill's class.Skip to next paragraph
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But the rise, even if it's a small number, is affecting cities in everything from transportation funding to traffic safety.
Some cities are making substantial investments in bike infrastructure. The Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) last month approved $1 billion in long-range funding for a regional bike network. Louisville is building a 100-mile hiking and biking trail called the Louisville Loop.
Congress, meanwhile, is considering a bike commuter act that would permit tax deductions like those for public transit riders.
Cities are also exploring ways to accommodate cyclist needs beyond pricey infrastructure upgrades. Some are painting "sharrows," a symbol on road surfaces, to remind drivers that cyclists are allowed on the road. "What we are really pushing for is more education both for cyclers and cars ...We have cyclists riding down wrong ways in bike lanes. And drivers not looking when they are turning or opening doors," says Kerri Richardson, spokeswoman for the Louisville mayor.
The MTC is also studying whether to adopt the so-called "Idaho stop" rule. This would allow cyclists to treat red lights like stop signs, and stop signs like yield signs. Idaho adopted these changes years ago, apparently with no incident. However, MTC'S proposal became an instant lightning rod, even in the bike-friendly Bay Area, tapping into driver frustration with cyclists who don't stop when expected.
Some cyclists avoid stopping fully because doing so means a loss of momentum that takes significant energy to regain, says Joel Fajans, a physics professor at the University of California Berkeley who has published research on bike propulsion.
"I'm in favor of this Idaho rolling stop rule because you don't have to come to a complete stop to be completely safe," he says. "On a bicycle ... you are only really endangering yourself when you speed through an intersection, while that's certainly not true when you are in a car."
Others in the bike community suggest the underlying problem is the proliferation of stop signs as a traffic calming measure.
A key precept in bike safety courses is the phrase: "Same roads, same rights, same rules." Hill's four-hour presentation highlighted common causes for collisions with cars and how to avoid them. It's partly a matter of proper bike positioning in a traffic lane to minimize driver error and partly cyclists following road rules and acting predictably.
Hill disagreed with one instructional video that seemed to sanction a cyclist turning left on a red light. "If we look at car-bike crashes and who's at fault, in a sense it doesn't matter," Hill said. The cyclist suffers either way.