Bicyclists Brave Weather, Motorists to Get to Work.
Following designated paths, traffic rules make commute safer

By Kevin Cantera 
  The Salt Lake Tribune

  Undaunted by wintry weather, thousands of bicycle commuters in Salt Lake City plan to pedal to and from work throughout the cold season, rolling across slushy roads and spitting salt from their tires.  

   "I ride to work all winter long. I love it," says Valeri Craigle, who makes the steep, 30-minute trek to her job at University Hospital five days a week. "I get there feeling great and ready to work."  

   Other bicycle commuters agree. Pedaling to work -- or even for work -- keeps them sharp and in shape. They brave icy gusts and blowing snow without trepidation. But many say bad roads and inattentive drivers can make cycling perilous.  

   Cars killed 65 bicyclists in Utah in the 1990s, according to the state Department of Health, and between Jan. 1, 1998, and July 15, 2000, 283 accidents in Salt Lake City involved bicycles and cars, two of which left cyclists dead.  

   While 55 percent of bicycle accidents occur in summer months, when there are far more cyclists on the road, slick conditions can increase the danger they face during the winter.  

   "I do not mind the weather, but one thing that really bothers me are drivers who do not pay attention," says Eric Anderson, a bicycle courier in downtown Salt Lake City who rides between 20 and 30 miles a day on the job.  

   Still, he says most accidents are avoidable by following a few simple rules of cycling common sense. Bicycling experts and safety officials agree.  

   Cyclists who ride with the flow of traffic, obey all posted signs and signals and make themselves seen and predictable to drivers have a good chance of avoiding an accident in good weather or bad, says Rob MacLeod, a member of the Salt Lake City Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee.  

   "You have to work together with drivers," he says. "Nobody wants to kill you."    MacLeod, who has cycled to work for nearly 20 years, blames many accidents on cyclists themselves.  

   "The bad motorists I see are a lot fewer than the number of cyclists I see doing incredibly stupid things," he says. "High density traffic and bad weather definitely combine to make conditions worse."  

   Craigle, whose commute goes across the campus of the University of Utah and surrounding roads, is not so quick to call drivers blameless.  

   "I get yelled at all the time," she says. "I do not trust drivers. I am just an obstacle to them, just something in their way."   

  Craigle recalls one motorist who got so impatient as she crossed the street that he chased her 20 yards down a golf course sidewalk in his pickup truck before she escaped.  

   "I try to steer as far away from crazy drivers as I can," she says.    But courier Anderson, who zips in and out of busy traffic delivering documents, has found that most drivers are courteous -- as long as he makes sure they have seen him.  

   "I believe 99 percent of accidents could be prevented if the biker was visible," he says.  

   Cyclists and motorists need to share the road, each recognizing the other's right to travel, says MacLeod. State law allows properly equipped bicycles on all Utah roadways except limited-access freeways, but also requires bikers to observe all the rules of the road that apply to drivers of motor vehicles.  

   And while bicycling on sidewalks is legal everywhere except in the central business district of downtown Salt Lake, it may be more dangerous than pedaling along with traffic on the street.   

  "On the road you are pretty safe if you travel with traffic and follow the rules," says MacLeod. "On a sidewalk you run the risk of hitting cars [in driveways] and running into pedestrians. . . . There are no strollers in the street." Since cycling on sidewalks poses hazards, and riding in traffic carries its own set of perils, Salt Lake City has established a series of bike paths, bike lanes and designated bike routes that crisscross the city. The special passages, created on the advice of the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee, are designed to make bike commutes safer.  

   The designated bike lanes and routes have been set on more than 30 miles of Salt Lake City streets. Many more miles have been proposed.  

   But more can be done to keep cyclists safe, says committee member Mark Smedley, who recently traveled to Boulder, Colo., where he took snapshots of some of the bicycle-friendly features of that city.  

   Boulder's innovations include sturdy concrete planters that separate bike lanes from automobile lanes; wider bike lanes; special sensors under the road that detect bicycles and change traffic signals; and strategically placed speed bumps.  

   "Salt Lake City has made some good steps toward improving things for cyclists," MacLeod  says. "But there is always more that can be done."   

  "It would be so much safer if we had more bike paths," Craigle said. "Anytime I can ride on a path that is separated from traffic I will take it. With cars, it is like risking your life every time you get on your bike."

Last update: Tue Dec 5 23:00:24 2000 by Rob MacLeod