We need responsible cyclists ahead of adding bike lanes

As a way to make cycling safer, a bicycle advocacy group has requested that Boston create more protected bicycle lanes, an idea that other communities are now dealing with. I support bike safety, but before we create these controversial lanes, I believe that cyclists need to take greater responsibility for their personal safety which is often missing on the streets of our cities and towns.

Imagine driving a car or large delivery truck through heavy Boston traffic, day or night, and being overwhelmed by multiple visual stimuli which challenges the best of a driver’s concentration: traffic lights, jay walkers, stop signs, heavy pedestrian traffic, driver side doors suddenly opening, dogs running in front of vehicles, sudden brake lights, double parked cars, drivers backing into parking spaces, buses and trucks barreling through intersections, reckless drivers and emergency vehicles approaching from all directions with sirens and flashing lights. Add to the visual chaos the bicyclist who suddenly appears in front of you resulting in a near miss or a direct hit.

Before we start to establish bike lanes, I suggest that those who ride bicycles on state and municipal roadways take greater responsibility for their safety by obeying the rules of safe passage and commit to effective visual messaging of their presence which will help drivers avoid vehicle vs bicycle accidents.

The messaging that enhances cyclist visibility includes a bright flashing white light on the front of a bike and a flashing red light on the rear bumper. The rider should wear a safety helmet with either fluorescent safety stripes or a bright safety color covering the entire helmet. Cyclists should wear bright lime, yellow or orange safety vests, shirts or belts around the chest and waist, which will dramatically increase visibility and safety for the riders, and will make them stand out to drivers. I’ve had close calls with cyclists who suddenly appeared in front of me, or that I’ve encountered at dusk, dressed in dark clothing, with no safety equipment or apparel to help me see them from a safe distance..

I conducted an informal survey of bike riders in Harvard Square. Sitting at an outdoor cafe for 65 minutes on a Saturday, I counted 22 bicyclists going through this heavily trafficked area. I observed that only 50% wore a safety helmet, none featured a safety color or stripe, 80% had no safety lighting on their bikes, and 90% had no safety color clothing. There were some who ran red lights, forcing pedestrians to scatter, others were zigzagging through traffic resulting in screeching brakes and blowing car horns, and a rider actually had one hand on the handle bar and the other holding a cellphone to their ear. These were not reckless teenagers but adult cyclists.

Before we talk about bike lanes to provide safer passage for cyclists, let’s demand greater riding safety from cyclists which will greatly help prevent injury and death.

Billerica’s Rick Pozniak has spent 40 years as a public relations executive who now teaches communications at several local colleges.

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