More precautions required as summer bicycle activity increases

Abbie Stuart

As the weather gets warmer, more and more people are tempted to opt out of driving and  instead ride their bicycles. With the increased bicycle activity on the road comes more precautions for cyclists and drivers alike.

In August 2014, Washburn librarian Cal Melick was killed when hit by a vehicle while he was biking, and in June 2015 Glenda Taylor, chair of Washburn’s art department, also was killed by a vehicle while biking.

With two bicycle-related deaths involving Washburn community members in less than a year, questions are being raised asking how cyclists can stay safe.

“First and foremost, always make sure that you’re as visible as possible and you’re always riding in the far right side of the right lane,” said Olivia Marshall, a senior mass media major. “Some people think that riding facing traffic is safer because cars can see them, but it’s best to view a bicycle as its own vehicle and follow the rules drivers follow.”

Marshall, who rides her bike frequently and has done a lot of work with the Topeka Community Cycling Project, said she advises cyclists to avoid busy roads if possible, ride in groups to increase visibility and take basic safety precautions, such as wearing bright clothes, reflectors for night riding and a helmet.

“People are afraid to ride in the streets sometimes with the news and accidents, but when you’re out on a bicycle, it’s almost safer to ride in the street in some circumstances, because if you’re riding on a sidewalk, you’re crossing a bunch of cross streets and cars aren’t necessarily prepared or thinking that you’re going to be crossing the street,” Marshall said.

Marshall said some streets are safer than others. For instance, 8th Street has a blue bicycle sign, meaning it is safe for bicyclists. Other roads with two lanes, especially one way roads, are safer than roads with only one lane as well as neighborhoods. Also, the Shunganunga Trail and the Landon Trail are good places for bicyclists to ride and will get them to a lot of places in town.

“Topeka is fairly safe for cyclists if you pick good routes,” said Karl Fundenberger, director of bicycle operations at Topeka Metro. “Ultimately, it comes down to the design of the city.”

“I use Google Maps sometimes,” Marshall said. “It has a bike option … That’s something people can utilize if they download the Google Maps app.”

Marshall also mentioned that Topeka Bikeways has a master plan of all of the best roads to bike in Topeka.

Marshall said that cyclists who would like to ride on the street but are afraid of holding up traffic should gear down when at a stoplight, then gear up as they get going again.

“It’ll be much easier to pedal and get going faster again and gear back up,” Marshall said. “Just be confident and aware.”

“Be predictable,” Fundenberger said. “Generally, riding in a straight line, signaling your turns and following traffic rules are good ideas.”

Drivers are advised to give cyclists as much room as possible when passing.

“There is a three-foot rule,” Marshall said. “You have to pass by three feet.”

“Give a cyclist as much space as possible and assume the cyclist on the road has never had any safety training because it’s not legally required,” Fundenberger said. “Just avoid getting anywhere near a bicyclist when you see them on the road. Change lanes if you have to, slow way down if you have to, choose a different route if you have to. It’s much easier to navigate somewhere else in a car than it is on a bike.”

“I think some drivers assume that cyclists are going to do whatever they want, but … you have to stop at stop signs and follow the laws, which means that if a car has the right away … and the cyclist is stopped and doing what they are supposed to be doing, then keep going,” Marshall said.

“Cyclists want to follow the rules too,” Marshall said. “Just be aware.”

Awareness is one of the major things that drivers can practice when they encounter cyclists on the road.

“A lot of accidents can be stopped if the little, minor distractions weren’t there,” Marshall said. “I know it’s a lot to ask, but I mean, I question how things happen sometimes in broad daylight, like how he didn’t see (Melick and Taylor). All you can do is … be cautious while you’re driving.”

“Be respectful of cyclists,” Marshall said. “Take into consideration that we’re not trying to make you mad. We’re just trying to get where we’re going to, and the roads are also for bikes.”

“You just have to be aware,” Marshall said regarding cyclists. “Will people see you?”

For more information, people can visit the Topeka Bike Share website, the Topeka Bikeways website, the Topeka Metro website and the Bike Topeka website.