Biking is becoming increasingly popular in Houston, and while bike lanes are marked along major streets, it’s still not easy to bike safely. Cars are parked in the bike line and cyclists must navigate out of the bike lanes to get around them, and drivers and cyclists alike are frequently unclear on the rules regarding right-of-way. In the interests of helping Houston become a more bike-friendly city, here are a few basics to help drivers and cyclists share the road.
Be considerate of cyclists by slowing down and providing extra space when you are passing a bike. Avoid tailgating by leaving at least four feet between your car and the bike. Look behind you and check both sides mirrors before moving back into your lane after passing to be sure you are well clear of the bike rider. Don’t forget that bikes count as vehicles, so give the cyclist their turn at a four-way stop.
Provide enough space for riders in case they swerve unexpectedly or fall over. Pay close attention to young cyclists and be on the lookout. Don’t assume they are well-versed in traffic laws, like older teens and adults. If possible, do not blare your horn near bike riders who may become startled and have an accident. When parking in the bike lane, check for cyclists before opening any car doors, including passengers.
Whether you’re driving a car or steering a bike, familiarize yourself the US Department of Transportation’s guide to hand signals for cyclists. The guide is available here. Drivers have blinkers and lights to communicate with others on the road, bicyclists use hand signals.
A bicycle must follow all the same traffic rules as a car. Obey traffic lights, stop at stop signs, ride in the direction of traffic, and yield to pedestrians. Cyclists must stay on the right side of the road unless passing another vehicle or obstruction (such as a parked car) or turning left. There are a few special circumstances where it is O.K. not to stick to the right, such as a one-way street with two lanes or a road too narrow to accommodate a bike and car side by side.
Learn and use the hand signals that indicate when you are making a turn or stopping. At night, a white light on the front of the bike and a red reflector on the rear are required by law. Avoid wearing black or other dark colors when riding your bike, day or night. While it’s not a legal requirement, it’s a good idea to wear a high-visibility safety vest or shirt to make yourself easier to spot.
When passing pedestrians on the sidewalk, an audible notice that you are coming should be given, such as “behind!” or “passing on your left”. Be extra alert when moving around obstacles in the bike lane and don’t assume drivers are paying attention and will yield when they are supposed to. Anyone under 18 is legally required to wear a helmet while biking or riding in a baby seat, side car, or trailer on a bike. However, no matter your age, the absolute safest way to ride is with a helmet.
Share the Road
The most important thing to remember when driving or riding, share the road! Stay alert, take precautions and obey all traffic laws, on or off the bike. Be respectful of everyone on the road.
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Social Media & Featured image c/o Yi-Chin Lee, Houston Chronicle.