Safety comes first when biking to work

spauff@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 22, 2012 

When Kristen Bundy moved to Columbus in 2010, one of her factors for choosing a place to live was her bike.

Gas prices were high and as an avid cyclist, Bundy wanted to be able to bike to work.

On good weather days, Bundy bikes three miles along Phenix City neighborhood streets, across the Dillingham Street bridge, along Broadway to her job as a graphic designer at TSYS.

“I’ve been impressed with how light the traffic is on Broadway,” she said.

But even when traffic is light, Bundy is still on her guard.

“I’ve learned to be very defensive and assume the cars never see you,” she said. She said sometimes drivers will try to outrace cyclists or cut them off at turns.

“They’re not used to knowing how to interact with cyclists,” she said.

According to the National Highway Safety Administration, 630 cyclists were killed in fatal crashes in 2009 -- that’s about 2 percent of all traffic fatalities nationwide that same year.

However, the number of people who bike to work on a regular basis is small. In 2010, bicycle commuters across the U.S. totaled 730,000 -- about 0.5 percent of all commuters -- according to a survey from the League of American Bicyclists. In Columbus, 76 of the 79,300 commuters surveyed reported biking work -- about 0.1 percent.

Pat McHenry, who bikes to work at Columbus State University, has heard from the skeptics.

“People say, ‘I would never go out there -- people will run you over,’” said McHenry, associate dean of the College of Letters and Sciences.

Though the number of bike commuters may be small, local cyclists say choosing to bike to work can be done safely and easily, as long as you plan for it.

Bruce Sellers, a shop manager at The Bike Shop on Miller Road, has been biking to work since 1978, after his Volkswagen caught on fire. He sold the car and bought a bike for $250. He commutes every day from midtown.

A cyclist planning to bike to work should start with solid knowledge of a good route, he said.

“Pre-ride the route,” he said. “Do it early on a Sunday when there is not much traffic. Ride in traffic as if you were a vehicle.”

But don’t forget that a bicycle can’t compete with a car in terms of speed and size, Sellers said.

“You’re not as fast as a vehicle,” he said. “You’re no match for a vehicle.”

Sellers said cyclists should not ride on the sidewalk or on the highways. He recommended that cyclists stay off large main roads, like Macon Road, unless they are experienced.

“There are a lot of neighborhoods you can cut through,” he said, adding that there are several businesses in midtown, like Publix in the Cross Country Plaza shopping center and Country Life and Chick-fil-A off Wynnton that can be reached easily by bike.

Be a predictable rider, look drivers in the eye and wear a helmet, he said. “It’s cheaper than brain surgery,” he said.

Bundy said she doesn’t ride in the rain or when it’s dark out, so drivers can see her. In turn, drivers should be aware of cyclists, she said.

“They should move over,” she said.

McHenry, who said drivers have yelled at him before, agrees.

“Give cyclists room when passing,” he advises motorists. “Treat cyclists as any other users of the road.”

If a cyclist encounters a careless driver, they shouldn’t get road rage, Sellers said. “Ride it off,” he said. “Don’t get angry.”

Sellers is appreciative of drivers who acknowledge him and stop at intersections to allow him to cross.

“I tip my hat to them, to say thank you,” he said.

Sara Pauff, 706-320-4469

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