May is National Bike Month. I realize that for many of you riding a bicycle went away with childhood or is the result of a car breakdown or losing a drivers license. But for many of us there are few better ways to enjoy the fresh air and scenery as the days lengthen into summer. Not to mention the benefits of endorphins and improved health.
As a recreational rider I find cycling island roads to be a bit like the old saw about soldiering … hours of uneventful pedaling punctuated by a few seconds of terror. With the narrow country roads, distracting scenery and lack of shoulders (let alone bike lanes) combined with pulses of vehicles often over the speed limit we have a potentially dangerous mix. Aside from excessive speed by distracted drivers and cyclists not following the rules of the road more often the real issue is a lack of understanding of the rights and responsibilities of sharing the roads. All of us can be at fault.
We all know, or should know, that bicycles are considered vehicles under Washington state laws. Same road, same rules, same responsibilities. Yet you would not know it when you take to our roadways on a bike and have to resort to full-on defensive tactics at nearly every turn to avoid close encounters of the worst kind with vehicles. I am sure that folks walking their dogs, riding horses or strolling with kids on our neighborhood roads, both in and out of town, would agree that respect for those outside of autos is a little lacking to say the least.
Here is something to think about. Studies that look at bicycle-riding patterns in the United States and in Europe have found that in nearly every instance, when the number of riders on the road increases, the likelihood of accidents declines. This surprising result is known among its researchers as the “safety in numbers effect” and it has been repeatedly documented. The more frequent the encounters with others lawfully using public roads under their own power the more likely it is that vehicle operators make better decisions that increase the safety of all concerned.
A first-time event called Share the Road is planned for May 15 in and around Friday Harbor. A celebration of the fun and many positive benefits of cycling joined with increased awareness of the responsibilities of both drivers and cyclists making use of our roadways. Oil up your chain, air up the tires and strap on your helmet for this community event for all ages and abilities!