The Knickerbiker: Throw caution into your bike commute
It was my fault.
Racing down Third Avenue during a recent evening commute home to Brooklyn, I saw a group of pedestrians oozing onto the 14th Street crosswalk before the signal changed.
Maintaining my speed, I tried a quick swing left to avoid the lead walker — a routine maneuver. Had I checked the blind spot over my left shoulder, however, I would have noticed the barreling red work van into whose side I found myself grinding for the next 30 feet.
I fell to the asphalt and discovered that the damage to bike, body and van were limited to scratches. But I was furious, initially believing I’d been nearly run over by a renegade driver. Then something strange happened: The cops, witnesses and driver all pointed a finger at me.
Why hadn’t I looked to my left? Why hadn’t I simply come to a stop?
The collision caused me to re-evaluate my approach on the road, and to come up with a list of four NYC bike commuter safety rules to keep in mind:
Check your blind spots.
This was the crucial step I skipped, causing the collision above. On bike lanes and shared roads, cars often try to creep (or to blow) by you. Stay to the right and make frequent glances left: You’ll see any impending trouble, and the trouble will know that you see it.
Ride fast, but be prepared to stop suddenly.
Just as slow drivers invite the rage of fellow motorists, slow cyclists are better off staying away from city traffic. Meanwhile, bike commuters riding at speed don’t disrupt traffic; in fact, drivers keep will keep a respectful distance when they realize that you can, and will, cover the next five blocks in equal time.
Keep three feet between you and any parked cars or idling cabs.
For a city cyclist, the fear of getting doored by a heedless motorist is akin to a pedestrian’s dread of falling through a sidewalk grate. Both are rare, avoidable and potentially fatal. You know what? Let’s just move on.
At night, wear bright clothing and flash some lights.
I’ve been strapping a cheap headlamp around my white helmet and flashing red lights behind my bike. My lemon-peel yellow cycling jacket has reflective stripes. Yes, I basically look like a dork, but taking care of my night visibility allows me to ride assertively.
Max J. Dickstein (mdickstein [at] am-ny.com and @Knickerbiker) is amNewYork’s bike columnist.