Gridlock Guy: Safety tips for cyclists and motorists sharing the roads

The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition offers tips for cyclists and motorists to keep the shared roads safer. CONTRIBUTED

The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition offers tips for cyclists and motorists to keep the shared roads safer. CONTRIBUTED

With the Atlanta roads being backed up so constantly, people want faster and different ways to get from points A to B. Cycling offers that option, but at some costs. Of course, bicycles move slower and take athleticism, but they move faster, if a bike lane is clear and vehicle traffic is at a crawl. Bikes keep the rider out in the elements. And cyclists do not have a thousand-pound steel cocoon to protect from theirs or others’ mistakes. Stephen Spring, the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition education coordinator, offers some tips that those both on four wheels and two can use to keep others safe.

Be visible

Spring said that bicycles should have front and rear lights and they should be operating at all times, since many people forget to turn them on at the most vulnerable riding time — dusk.

“If you don’t have access to bike lights and live in the city of Atlanta, contact us,” Spring said. But it’s not all about lighting. “Wear a bright, reflective jacket or clothing, or use reflective tape to add visibility on darker items, your bike, or helmet. Many of us don bright, yellow reflective vests.”

Spring said that motorists can help by using their headlights at all times, so they are visible to bikes and, likewise, can see all cyclists.

Be predictable

This is a great tip for all motorists in dealing with each other, but especially around cyclists, who are so much more vulnerable. Many roads don’t have bike lanes, so Spring’s advice is ultra-important.

“When riding in Atlanta’s urban landscape, ride in the rightmost lane that serves your destination, in as straight a line as you can, in or near the center of the lane.” That advice seems counterintuitive, since bicycles are slower; we think they should stay completely off to the right. This is not so, for two reasons. “First, because when you “take the lane,” cars know your intentions and can predict what you are going to do. Second, there are often hazards on the far right - doors opening on parked cars, glass, people stepping off the curb, parallel grates, parts of cars that have fallen off and gotten pushed to the curb, you name it. Riding to the far right means that when you encounter a hazard, you have to swerve, and often pushes you out into traffic in a very unpredictable way.”

As for vehicles, Spring said to always use turn signals, so cyclists know what to expect, and to maintain consistent speed.

Be aware

Spring said this is very straightforward: people in both cars and on bikes need to constantly assess their surroundings. “Someone told me once that we check our surroundings 1,000 times a minute. When moving, what’s going on in front of us, to the left of us, to the right of us, behind us, below us, and above us requires constant scanning.” This is yet another reason motorists should not be looking down at their phones while driving, even stopped. And Spring offered another aid to both motorists and cyclists. “Not wearing headphones is key, for it allows us to use one of our critical senses - hearing - to keep us ultimately aware.”

Signal and communicate

This feeds from the previous tip. Motorists should always be on the lookout for cyclists’ communications, Spring explained. “We use our arms to let other vehicles know which way we are turning. We also make eye contact and await a hand gesture or a nod to assure us that you see us. This is so important.” So motorists should acknowledge they see cyclists’ gestures, giving them the go ahead to make their turns safely.

Laws we may not know

Spring wanted to make very clear that bicycles are guaranteed the same rights on the roads as vehicles — that’s Georgia law. He also noted a 2012 state law passed about passing. “When a person in a car passes a person on a bike, the car must do so at least three feet horizontally away from the bicycle being passed. Three feet is the length of a yardstick.”

Riding and driving aware, predictably, with visibility, with proper signals and with enough space can make the ride safer for all involved. As commuting in Georgia evolves, we are all at task to make it safer, especially for those in more vulnerable situations, like cyclists and pedestrians.