Cycling is a wonderful way to get around New York City. More and more people are ditching packed buses and trains in favor of cycling. It’s a healthy, eco-friendly way to explore the city or commute to work, and becoming much more accessible with the rise of Citibike. The New York City government has also made strides in bike safety by installing hundreds of miles of bike lanes over the past decade, increasing to 1,133 miles as of 2017 from 513 miles in 2006.
Sadly, however, thousands of cyclists are injured every year, and some even lose their lives. You may have even seen “ghost bikes” around the city — bicycles spray painted matte white and chained to a sign post or fence as a memorial to yet another cyclist killed on the streets.
These statistics shouldn’t deter you from cycling. In fact, studies show that the more cyclists there are in the streets, the safer it becomes for cyclists — likely because others on the street become more accustomed to sharing the road with cyclists.
Still, if you’re going to brave the city streets on two wheels, you should be hypervigilant. You can decrease your chances of a bike accident by following these six tips for safer cycling in New York City:
Never assume drivers see you. If you can’t see a driver in the rearview mirror, then he or she can’t see you. Always be mindful of others’ blind spots. This is especially true for large vehicles, like buses and trucks.
Intersections can be especially deadly. You can avoid getting “hooked” by turning vehicles by looking over your shoulder and across the intersection for cars that may turn into you.
Practice defensive cycling. Many cyclists look just in front of their wheel as they ride, but it’s actually much safer to look further ahead.
While you should be scanning for potholes or other obstructions in the road, you should also be constantly scanning your surroundings for potential hazards, like jaywalking pedestrians and erratic motorists, and keeping a sensible stopping distance from all other road users.
Some cyclists accept getting “doored” — or colliding with an opening door of a vehicle — as inevitable. But if you watch out for cars that have just parked or pulled over (especially taxis), and ride at least a car door’s length away from parked vehicles whenever possible, you can reduce the risk dramatically.
Obey traffic laws. In most cases, you will be cycling with motorists on the street, and you should be following all traffic laws. In New York City, cyclists older than 12 are not permitted on sidewalks.
Make sure you are riding with traffic, not against it. Pause at stop signs, yield to pedestrians at crosswalks, and at red lights, wait until the light turns green unless a sign indicates that bikes should use the pedestrian signal.
You should also use bike lanes wherever available. Planning your route in advance can help you identify the safest routes with bike lanes. Even in a bike lane, however, you should not let your guard down. Instead, treat the bike lane like another lane of traffic. Like anywhere else, cars can move into your lane, pedestrians can walk in front of you, or car doors can unexpectedly swing into your path.
Communicate with drivers, pedestrians, and other cyclists.
The more predictable you are, the safer you’ll be. Cars use signals to avoid collisions, and as a cyclist, you should, too.
Get in the habit of using hand signals: a bent left elbow with fingers raised upward means you’re turning right, while pointing your arm straight to the left means you’re turning left. A bent left elbow with your fingers pointing downwards means you’re stopping.
You should also make eye contact with drivers and others on the road as much as possible. To avoid collisions with other cyclists or pedestrians, when passing use a bell or say “passing on the left.”
Use bicycle safety equipment. At a minimum, your bike should have reflectors, a white headlight, and red taillight. If riding at night, make sure you wear light-colored, reflective clothing.
Many cyclist deaths are due to head injuries — a proper fitting helmet can go a long way. The NYC DOT provides fittings and free helmets at events around the city. You can call 311 for more information.
You should also be sure that you can hear what’s going on around you at all times. That means ditching the headphones.
Sharpen your bike handling skills.
If you’re just starting to ride again after time off the saddle, consider taking the time to brush up on your bike handling skills before hitting the streets.
Navigating New York’s streets can mean cycling in a narrow path, dodging potholes, and braking quickly. You should make sure you can start riding in a straight line and stop smoothly.
Make sure you have the skills to handle these types of situations. If needed, practice on a quiet street before taking longer rides through the city.
If you’re involved in a bike accident, get off the road into a safe area and follow the steps outlined in our post Involved in a bike accident? Here’s what to do, including immediately getting a police report, gathering contact information for other parties and witnesses, and properly assessing and documenting injuries and other damage.
An experienced personal injury lawyer can be invaluable in navigating this process. If you’ve been involved in a bike accident, [LAW FIRM] can help. Contact us for a free consultation today.