Madison is known for being extremely bike-friendly. This is clearly a boon for the city – more bikers means fewer cars, which means less traffic and less air pollution, and these gains come from relatively small investments in biking infrastructure. However, a recent string of three accidents involving bikes and cars, resulting in the deaths of two cyclists, serves as a sobering reminder that everyone who uses the roads must be safety conscious to keep more deadly accidents from occurring.
In order for cyclists to remain safe on the roads, it’s vital motorists take the proper precautions to help keep them safe. Most importantly, drivers need to be aware of where any bikes may be on the road. Being cognizant of cyclists is especially vital on roads like University Avenue, where there is a bike lane in between the normal lanes and the right turn lane. This is easier said than done because, unlike cars, bikes are relatively small and quiet, which makes them much less noticeable. However, this isn’t an excuse to not notice cyclists. It just means people driving cars need to be that much more vigilant.
Even if motorists do everything right, though, it won’t be enough unless cyclists do their fair share, as well. As someone who regularly bikes to and from class and around campus, I know this isn’t always the case. One of the most common lapses in safety and common sense I’ve noticed is a lack of proper lighting at night. It doesn’t cost very much to get a couple bright lights for the front and back of a bike. For this reason, the city should require all cyclists on the road at night to have front and rear lights on their bike. While it’s an individual’s decision as to whether they value their life enough to buy a couple of lights, they shouldn’t be allowed to subject a motorist to the guilt of having accidentally killed someone.
Further, if cyclists want to be treated as equal users of the roads, then they need to follow the rules of the road as well. While many cyclists follow the law, there are a significant number who don’t. This is especially evident in the heart of campus around class time. In the general area of Linden Drive and North Charter Street, it’s common to see bikes zipping through stop signs without a care in the world. This issue is also prevalent at the intersection of West Dayton Street and North Charter Street, as students blow the stop sign trying to get home from class faster. When traveling around campus on foot, especially when using a crosswalk, I feel almost as threatened by bikes as I do by mopeds – which is saying something.
Of course, this behavior is not only endangering the safety of the cyclist, but also that of the cyclists, motorists and pedestrians around them. In order to counteract this, the police need to start cracking down on cyclists who ignore traffic laws. If cyclists are tearing through stop signs and thus endangering the safety of others, the police should disincentivize this behavior by citing cyclists who blatantly disregard the rules of the road by running stop signs or red lights.
Police shouldn’t go to the opposite extreme, though, and start citing cyclists for minor infractions. There is a significant difference between a cyclist who slows down to a few miles per hour, looks both ways and then rolls through a stop sign and one who, without touching his or her breaks, goes through a stop sign at a normal riding speed. Madison cops tend to be pretty good about exercising reasonable judgment, so I don’t think overly heavy-handed enforcement is a huge worry.
Cyclists certainly deserve to be able to commute safely on roads. However, this requires that we, as cyclists, take some basic precautions and follow the law, just like everyone else on the road. If we can’t do that, then maybe the police should help us along.
Joe Timmerman ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in math and economics.