A commuter cyclist’s guide to safe travels

August 29, 2013 4:04 PM
A student cyclists onto the Laney College campus.

A student cyclists onto the Laney College campus.

Last semester, on the first day of Finals Week, I was returning home from running errands on my ancient Diamondback mountain bike, broken gears and all. Traffic hit a standstill for the gas-guzzlers on 40th Street, but not for me as I rolled out of the bike lane and onto the sidewalk, weaving “gracefully” around pedestrians and ignoring stop signs entirely, “Atomic Dog” blaring through my headphones.

I needed to make a left on Adeline to continue home, but to do that, I’d have to barrel through crammed and irritable Monday afternoon traffic to get into the turning lane. Lucky for me, rules were made to be broken; if I timed it just right, I could slip across through the pedestrian crosswalk just in time for the traffic lights to change.

And that’s when the windshield of a Toyota Tercel smacked me in the face at 25 m.p.h. I ended up missing two finals, totaling my bike, and spending all of my meager savings on chiropractors, but ultimately I’m fortunate to be alive and well.

Drivers, I really do feel your pain. I know how frustrating it can be to get cut off from a right turn by a tiny two-wheeler; to stop at a red light like all the other cars while a biker blows right through it; to know that no matter how ridiculously dangerous a cyclist chooses to ride, unless you move to Mendocino, you’ll probably never get away with clotheslining one for their impudence.

Cyclists, I understand you guys as well. Bikes make our lives more convenient – and the more people ride to work and school, the less harmful gases we’re spewing out of motors. We may ride all-terrain, eco-friendly, and foolproof tools of the oft-rumored zombie apocalypse, but at the end of the day, we’re still soft, squishy humans; hit us hard enough with a two-ton bullet, and we stop moving forever.

So, cyclists, how do we stay alive and legal in the concrete jungle that is Oakland? Heed my seven tips below, if you want to live.

1. Stay to the right, unless turning or merging. California Vehicle Code (VC) 21202 requires that cyclists ride “as close as practicable [aka “safe”] to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.” VC 21650.1 also deems bikes appropriate to ride on the shoulder of roadways, unlike with motor vehicles.

2. Signal before you turn. This is the only way surrounding motorists can know what to expect when you’re veering into their left-hand lane. VC 22107 declares that cyclists can turn only after giving the appropriate signals. For left turns, put your left arm straight out to your side; for a right turn, bend your left arm up at the elbow, like you used to do in grade school to get 16-wheelers to honk at you.

3. Yes, you can be arrested for cycling drunk. Have you ever been so inebriated you hadn’t any clue what was going on around you? Of course you haven’t. But would you let a “friend” operate a vehicle in that condition? Cyclists have the same restrictions as motorists regarding alcohol and drug use, according to VC 21200.5. If you’ve been drinking (or “other”) and your foot missed the pedal on the first try, take the bus.

4. No, you cannot ride in the pedestrian crosswalk. A motorist can easily spot a pedestrian inching along at 4 m.p.h. and slow down accordingly, but at an average 9-12 m.p.h., you’re practically throwing yourself in harm’s way – 2,000 pounds of fast, merciless, face-smacking harm. Walk your bike through the crosswalk.

5. You are legally permitted to ride on the sidewalk, according to VC 21206. That said, think about the word “sidewalk:” a “side” of the road on which people “walk.” There is no regulation declaring that pedestrians must make way for hurried cyclists to pass. Trust me, I checked.

6. If you value your brain, protect it. There is no law requiring adults over 18 to wear helmets. However, should you happen to find yourself in a major accident, and your head should make contact with the pavement, “Why didn’t I wear my helmet?” may be the last thing you ever think. The choice is yours.

7. Stop at stop signs and red lights. Pedestrians are special. They get to walk wherever they want, and if a motorist hits them, the driver will always be at fault. If you hit a pedestrian on your bike, you count as a driver. If you get hit by a motorist, you still count as a driver. The point is, you’re not special, so stop at stop signs.

Safe travels, Oakland.

Pick up a pamphlet of California’s official bike safety laws at your local Department of Motor Vehicles, or visit www.dmv.ca.gov.

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