In the Bay Area recently there has been a surge of road accidents involving cyclists and not just the much publicized ones like the recent tragedy in which a Santa Clara County sheriff's deputy fell asleep at the wheel of his patrol car and veered across the divide and into a group of cyclists, killing two, on Steven's Canyon Road in Cupertino. Besides this and several other recently publicized fatal bike accidents there have also been a ton of unreported crashes in the Bay Area (which has a high density of bike fanatics) that often send cyclists tumbling from their bikes and to the hospital for stitches, or worse.
Coincidentally, this morning just as I was reading a newspaper article about bike crashes in the Bay, I looked up to witness (on College Avenue in Oakland) a cyclist taking a spill on his bike. The cause of the accident was perhaps the most common one in urban areas. He suddenly swerved, losing his balance and knocking himself off his own bike, in an attempt to avoid a car door being carelessly flung open by its driver Luckily the cyclist was wearing a helmet and (seemed) to be okay. Although I think he was still in a state of shock as he told the small crowd suddenly gathered around him, "I'm fine, I'm fine," as he remounted his bike and shakily cycled off down College. A lot of times you don't realize you are hurt until later after the adrenalin rush subsides.
Parked cars flinging open their doors, along with cars driving too fast or recklessly near cyclists, seem to be the most common causes of accidents for bikers. And it leads me to believe that for true safety for cyclists the only real solution is to completely separate the routes traveled by autos and by bikes: have exclusively bike-only paths and restrict cars to their own routes. But in the meantime - as bikes and cars are forced to share roadways - here are some safety tips for cyclists that, although they should be common sense, need reiterating:
* Make sure that your bike is safe and ready to ride. Check everything, especially the brakes and the air in the tires and the chain, before you start out on your ride. Also check your clothing, shoelaces, and backpacks etc. to make sure that nothing will get caught up in your wheels or chain and cause you problems.
* Wear a helmet even if you are only going a short distance. And get a bell or horn or some kind of noise maker to use for when fools (cars, pedestrians, or other bikes) unexpectedly pull out in front of you.
* Outfit your bike with flashing lights, reflectors, and fluorescent materials (viewable from all angles) to make you as noticeable as possible. Even if you think you might be home before nightfall be prepared for all times/conditions.
* Never wear headphones to listen to your favorite music (no matter how tempting) or use your cell phone for talking or texting as you cycle. (This has caused many accidents.) Using electronic devices while riding is creating a recipe for disaster.
* Even if you have outfitted your bike with mirrors, get in the habit of always turning around to look and make sure no vehicles are behind you. Also, get in the habit of always signaling when you are about to turn. And, just as if you were driving a car, respect traffic lights and stop signs always.
* Don't cycle on the sidewalk. Stay on the road or bike path and keep far enough out from the edge of the road to avoid gutters and drains. And always keep a look ahead for potholes (a common cause of riders taking spills).
* Tempting as it might be, don't cycle between moving traffic and if you must, be aware of your surroundings and remember that the unexpected can happen at any moment. This is worth remembering when you are stuck riding on the inside of a bus or other long vehicle as it makes wide turns and most likely doesn't see you on your bike. In a nutshell, drive defensively.
(Photo above was taken on Stanford Ave. in Oakland, near Emeryville, where a Bay Area cyclist was tragically killed.)