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Monday, December 12, 2011

Riding a Bike at Night: Use Some Common Sense

Bicyclist on Twin Peaks

I know I'm going to get some more hate mail. My previous post about bikes on escalators got me a heck of a lot of comments, so if you are interesting in debating this particular issue, please do leave a comment.


Since the time change and the sun is setting around 5PM, my commute from SF State to my home in the Outer Richmond district is dark, and especially kinda creepy along the roads in Golden Gate Park due to the lack of lighting and raccoons jumping in front of your car. I'm not a fan of driving in the evening, but it's what you have to do if you want to get home (or start work extra early and leave earlier).

Almost on a daily basis during the evening commute, I notice bicyclists riding in Golden Gate Park without a headlight and/or a taillight. Even worse is finding a bicyclist with no lights, no reflectors, and no reflective clothing. With the lack of normal street lighting in Golden Gate Park, it's difficult to find a bike rider when they are not using the most basic equipment to make themselves obvious and stand out for their own safety.

Yes, there is a state law: Vehicle Code Section 21201 states the following requirements for riding at night:
  1. A white lamp on the front end of the bike that illuminates the road ahead and can be seen by an approaching vehicle/person from 300 feet, OR a white lamp seen at the same distance but attached on the front of the bicycle operator (e.g. front of a helmet).
  2. A red reflector on the rear that can be reflected from lawful vehicle headlights 500 feet away.
  3. Yellow or white pedal reflectors seen 200 feet.
  4. White or yellow reflectors on the both the front and rear tire spokes, or reflectors on both tires.

It isn't rocket science people, it's common sense.

Why we have laws when common sense should prevail is up for debate, but let's get to the facts, people who do bicycle at night should take additional precautions versus riding during the day. The law makes it clear, but people should be doing more in the name of being safe. Here's some additional suggestions:
  • Put a rear tail light, especially one that rapidly flashes a LED lamp.
  • Wear reflective clothing. You might look like the construction worker in the Village People, but at least people can see you better. If you don't want to wear "Caltrans Orange," why not wear a white jacket? Just please, don't wear dark clothing.
  • Wear a helmet, day and night. If you get hit or fall over, would you like your skull to hit the pavement or have a cushion to lessen the blow? I saw a bicyclist cross over the cable car tracks and slipped and fell to the pavement. Not a pretty scene.

At minimum, having at least a front and rear tail lamp helps a lot in locating you when you operate a bicycle at night. I think a lot of drivers would agree, the more obvious you can be, the better it is for everyone. I fear hitting a bicyclist with my car, but if you stick out like a thorn on the streets, I can start planning earlier to steer clear and let you have the lane.

While I'm at it, pedestrians should at least wear some reflective clothing. Why people jog at night through Golden Gate Park is a mystery, but please just DON'T WEAR BLACK!


Mario said...

I am not sure why you are expecting hate mail. Wearing tail reflectors and tail lights is common sense when riding a bike at night, even though lighting should be better in GGP.

As for helmets, there is considerable debate on it. To avoid injury during an accident, a helmet helps. To avoid a specific accident or to reduce accidents in general, not wearing a helmet seems to help as it keeps drivers alert and invites more potential riders. So this is a tough issue, that I think we should continuously reassess (right now I am still on the side of wearing helmets until some critical mass is established). I wouldn't call wearing a helmet "common sense" though, as I think it should be a carefully made choice.

Anonymous said...

As a driver who doesn't want a bicyclist smeared on his radiator, a-freaking-men to the common sense precautions, Akit. I get so angry at cyclists without lights or reflective gear, I could almost support a law that would make such heedless riders automatically responsible for any accident in which they're involved after dark.

Ryan G said...

I don't usually have to worry much about night bike riders in my area, though I'm always worried that I won't see one because they're insufficiently lighted. With just reflectors, they're practically invisible on Holloway due to the nature of the road surface when I am heading downhill and an oncoming car's headlights blind me (they tend to reflect quite well off the surface).

As for the exercisers out in the dark, again you'd think it's common sense to wear something reflective, but perhaps they're too busy being stylish trendy runners to care about safety. When I'm a pedestrian (versus going out for a run) I don't think much about reflective or bright clothing, but then I'm walking on sidewalks, being aware of other cars, etc. But then I'm more cautious about looking out for turning cars as I'm crossing streets.