Are you a driver? I am. Have you taken a look at the new Chicago City Sticker for your vehicle?
Wow! Aside from the overt message on its face, "Share the Road", the new sticker also contains another, implicit message: "Driver, be aware!"
What can you do as a driver to increase the safety of more vulnerable road users, including cyclists?
- Slow down and use caution. Reducing your speed on urban streets almost always leads to increased safety and awareness. You have more time to process and assess the situation on the road, and more time to react, should circumstances change unexpectedly.
When you pass a cyclist slowly and cautiously, you not only maintain greater control over your own vehicle, but also reduce the chance of starling the cyclist, and causing an unpredictable reaction.
- Relax, breathe and concentrate on the task. We have all experienced being stuck in traffic while late for an appointment. When you are worrying about consequences of being late, or other stressful things in your life, you are not really in the present. If you find yourself in this predicament while behind the wheel, pull over, use your cell phone to alert the person you are meeting that you will be late. Then, take a moment to breathe, look around you, and focus on the act of driving.
- Maintain perspective. Slower road users may seem like they are slowing you down, but more often, the traffic is simply not moving any faster. Think of the size of your vehicle, and the impact it would have on an unprotected cyclist. Remember how little you gain through reckless driving, and how much she could possibly lose.
- Communicate. But, please, avoid using your horn. An urban cyclist is usually aware of your presence as you approach from behind. When at an intersection, establish eye contact with the cyclist, and use hand gestures to signal your intention to let her go ahead.
- Look around you. Before pulling out of your parking space, opening your vehicle door, backing up or turning left or right, survey the scene for slower and more vulnerable road users.
- Yield the right of way. Is the cyclist going around a double-parked truck? A pothole? Is she making a left turn? Is it a narrow street, and you can't safely pass her? Just stop and let her go. It will cost only a few seconds of your time.
- Give them space. When passing a cyclist, give her plenty of space. If you stay aware, you too will notice obstacles or possible road hazards she may be trying to avoid. Let her take her time, and don't force her into a tight situation.
- Ride a bike. The best way to become a more cautious, more aware and ultimately better driver is to ride a bike yourself. Next time you have to pick up some milk, go to the post office, or meet a friend for coffee, grab a helmet and hop on your bike. Riding a bike on the street will give you a sense of what is a safe human speed; will help you relax, catch your breath and concentrate; it will give you a whole new perspective on traffic and the magnitude of a car; will teach you a thing or two about communicating with other road users; will force you to look around and notice things you can't see from a car; and it will make you understand why cyclists need the right of way and a little extra space.
You'll never drive the same way again.