Bicycling around Bowling Green during warm weather can be fun, easy, and a safe way to enjoy everything this community has to offer. While doing so, it may be worth reflecting on where and how you ride – on the road or on the sidewalk. When riding your bicycle on the street, you have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists; however, if you ride your bicycle on sidewalks, you are considered a pedestrian and must act accordingly. Interestingly, bicyclists are actually safer when they ride on the road as opposed to riding on the sidewalk – especially at intersections and at driveway openings – primarily because they are more visible to vehicles making turns. This was one of the many lessons learned in 2016 when the City asked Yay Bikes! – a biking advocacy non-profit out of Columbus – to come to Bowling Green to assess the “bikability” of our streets. They also provided information to help City staff when considering the application of “complete streets” in Bowling Green. Complete streets, or active transportation, is the concept of making roads more accessible to all users – vehicle, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic.
According to Yay Bikes!, the streets in Bowling Green are extremely bikeable, with relatively narrow lane widths that help create a safe environment for bicyclists, ensuring vehicles adhere to speed limits. Yay Bikes! suggestions included: updating signage around the City from “Share The Road” signs to “Bikes May Use Full Lane” signs; increasing education for residents to better understand how to safely bike on the roads and for motorists to understand the rights of bicyclists; and, to carefully consider all treatments – sharrows, side-paths, bike lanes – along with the long-term maintenance of each of these treatments when considering their installation.
Section 4511.55 of the Ohio Revised Code stipulates that “every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable obeying all traffic rules applicable to vehicles and exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction.” Practicable is an interesting, and often confusing, word. In this case, it simply means that bicyclists should ride as far to the right as the operator feels he or she can do so safely and reasonably. This does not mean he or she must ride all the way to the right of the lane. As a rule of thumb, someone operating a bicycle should place himself or herself on the road approximately where the passenger tire of a vehicle would be – roughly three feet from the curb. By doing so, this maximizes the bicyclist’s visibility within the roadway. A vehicle wishing to pass a bicycle may do so, even within an area marked by a double yellow line, when the vehicle (or bicycle in this case) is moving less than half the posted speed limit.
A key to safely biking along the roadway is to act as a vehicle. The Revised Code is clear on this – bicyclists must follow all traffic laws including the use of lights during periods of darkness (front and back), stopping at traffic lights or stop signs, and signaling intent to turn. The underlying theme in both the Revised Code and bicycling educational materials is that a bicyclist should be predictable – just as a motorist is predictable. When done properly, riding on the road is much safer than riding on a sidewalk and is much easier as well.
The City has started to implement some of the suggestions from Yay Bikes!. “Share The Road” signs have been changed out with “Bikes May Use Full Lane” signs, educational opportunities for the general public are in the planning stages, and sharrows were included with the repaving of Conneaut Avenue and Fairview Avenue. Weighing the different complete streets treatments will be included in future paving project planning.
The Yay Bikes! website is a helpful tool to better understand some of these issues, the laws, responsibilities, and rights. Visit www.yaybikes.com to get more! Check out the City’s Bicycle Safety Commission webpage too for helpful information.