Road Safety Tips That Can Save Your Life
By Christopher Radcool Reynolds
The crowded streets of San Francisco can be frustrating, at best, and at their worst, they can be deadly. Recently, a cyclist was killed by a truck in SoMa. The incident incited bicyclists to call for safer roads and increased education about bicycle and pedestrian safety. This got me thinking. I wanted to see if I could participate in the fight to make our streets safer for everyone. I reached out to my friends at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and Walk San Francisco to see if there are any rules that most folks are unaware of that could help keep things moving safely and smoothly. I hope that everyone remembers at least some of these rules, but if you want to be proactive, you can pass them along or join the efforts of the SF Bike Coalition or Walk SF.
Sidestep the brutal right hook.
A driver turning right must always merge into the bike lane (where the line goes from solid to dashed), yield to pedestrians, and then turn right as close to the curb as possible so bikes can continue on the left. Never turn right perpendicular to the bike lane, or cyclists may end up T-boning the side of the car. Most people don’t understand this rule, and it is a killer – like, a real killer. According to the SF Bicycle Coalition, it’s the number-one cause of injury to people biking in the city. Signal, watch for bikes, enter the bike lane, and turn from the curb.
Slow the F down.
Speed kills. According to Walk SF, if you hit someone going 25 mph, they’re less likely to be hurt seriously. If you go a little faster – say, 30 mph – there’s a 50/50 chance of serious injuries and a one-in-four chance you’ll kill them. If you go more than 40 mph, things get nasty – 50/50 odds are they’ll die. Cruising down South Van Ness, you might not notice that you’re going 40 mph, but then you also might not notice the lady in your path. In our steep city, speeding bikes can kill too. Chill out.
Know your place.
There’s right-of-way, and then there’s right-of-way. Everyone gets the first-person-to-reach-the-intersection kind of right-of-way. Not everyone gets the user-hierarchy right-of-way. The most vulnerable people are given priority, and those capable of causing the most harm are given the least. The more steel and rubber you’ve got in your ride, the greater your responsibility. Your ride is your sneakers? You’re first! Got a Subaru? It’s your job not to hit the fixie. Box truck? Reread the rules above.
About to get out of your car? Check for bikes and cars. The second-most common cause of injury to cyclists is dooring. It’s the door opener’s fault, so have a look and avoid trouble. It’s pretty simple: check your mirrors or turn your head. Cyclists may avoid the door zone all together. The law allows cyclists to move to the middle of the lane when it isn’t safe to stay to the right. And the mirror works both ways: bikers can check the driver’s side mirror of a parked car they are approaching to check if there’s a driver inside about to open the door.
Stay in the lines.
Dashed lines you can cross. Solid lines you cannot. Double solid lines you really cannot cross. The good people at SFMTA put a lot of thought into these lines. They put solid lines where it makes sense to keep everybody safe. I take this matter personally. My best friend was crushed when a Yellow Cab made an illegal U-turn on Castro Street. If the line is solid, stay on your side; no parking spot is worth it.
WWID? (What Would Idaho Do?)
Understand the principles of the Idaho Stop. We all know bikes rarely actually come to a complete stop at stop signs, and the reason involves the physics of momentum. It sucks to get back to speed if you have to start from a dead stop. It’s never OK for a cyclist to blow through a red light or stop sign, but it really ought to be OK for them to roll through if they creep cautiously and yield to those with the right-of-way. You’ll continue to see bikers using the Idaho Stop, but as of now, the law in San Francisco does not allow it.
Look both ways before you cross the street.
This timeless advice isn’t just for kids. Most accidents happen when people don’t check for cross traffic. Never trust the light. At every intersection, assume there’s a crazy person who’ll plow into you. Look for this crazy person. Cross only if they aren’t there. This rule applies to everybody – the pedestrians who have the right-of-way (having the right-of-way doesn’t mean they can’t get hit), the cyclists who dart through intersections with their heads tucked, and the drivers who blindly trust traffic signals.
Take your call outside.
If you have a call or text, get outside of the line of traffic. It’s illegal to text and drive, but it’s also unsafe to text while walking and biking too. Not only does your phone keep you from paying attention, but also you’re likely to slow your roll too. Swerving out of your lane or walking into that pole on Valencia Street isn’t cute. Do everyone a favor, and pull over or step aside.
Get out of the fast lane.
There’s the fast lane on the freeway, sure, but there is a figurative fast lane everywhere. Slower traffic should stay to the right. Cyclists may hate this one, but according to California law, [CA roadway law 21202 (A)] “A bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb.” Going slowly down Hampshire on your bike? Window-shopping down 24th Street? Standing on the BART escalator? Stay to the right. Consider who’s behind you.
What are you trying to do, anyway?
No one can read your mind, but they can guess where you’re headed if you keep a steady course. By moving in a way that is predictable, you ensure that everyone else can anticipate your next move. If you’re changing course, let people know what you’re up to by telling them. When switching it up, signal. Use your blinker, your arm, or a nod. Don’t keep what you’re trying to do a secret.