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BikePGH on What You Can Do to Help Keep Our Roads Safe

man riding bicycle

Lou Fineberg, Program Director of BikePGH, is our special guest on tomorrow's episode of No Fee TV. We'll be on hand to talk about Pennsylvania's bicycle laws and important safety tips bicyclists and drivers should keep in mind.

Lou is also this week's guest blogger. Keep reading to learn what your responsibilities are as a driver and bicyclist and how you can do your part to keep our roads safe.

By Lou Fineberg, Program Director of BikePGH

Bicycling is more popular than ever, and it shows no signs of slowing down. More Americans ride bikes than golf, ski, and play tennis combined.

People ride for a number of reasons – to stay fit, to save money, to decrease their environmental impact, but mostly because it's fun. Over the past decade, Pittsburgh has made a lot of headway in terms of bike-friendliness. This progress was spurred on by advocates and has led to improvements in street design, public policy, and changing values.

As a result, we have seen the number of cyclists increase nearly 270 percent according to the U.S. Census' American Community Survey. Fortunately, our state has also taken important first steps to protect those who ride. This past summer, amidst a string of terrible bike and car collisions, Pennsylvania passed two pieces of legislation to protect bicyclists upon roadways: the "Safe Passing Bill" and a revised hit-and-run law.

Safe Passing Bill

The "Safe Passing Bill" (House Bill 170) mandates a number of actions to be taken by motorists and bicyclists to keep both safe on roadways:

1. Every car that passes a bike must give a minimum of four-feet of clearance at a "prudent reduced speed" and may cross the center line if safe to do so.

2. No turn by a motorist may interfere with a bicycle proceeding straight (the classic right/left hook).

3. Bicycles must be operated at a safe and reasonable speed appropriate for bicycles.

4. Bicyclists must ride in the right-hand lane, or as close as possible to the right-hand curb or edge of roadway.

5. This does not apply to a bicycle using any portion of the road due to unsafe surface conditions.

There's been concern among drivers about what this law means, but the spirit of the law is clear. It outlines good driving behavior — slowing down and passing safely. If you can't pass safely you must wait until you can do so.

Pennsylvania's Hit-and-Run Law

The revised hit-and-run legislation (House Bill 208) increases the penalty for motorists who flee the scene of fatal collisions from a third-degree felony charge to a second-degree felony charge. Those found at fault in a hit-and-run-accident face up to 10 years behind bars and $25,000 in fines, increased from seven years and $15,000. It also allows judges to deliver a prison sentence of three to 10 years. This closes a previous loophole that benefited drunk drivers who fled the scene of a fatal crash and turned themselves in the following day, thereby avoiding a blood alcohol test and sidestepping any DUI charges.

How Bicyclists Can Help

In addition to new legislative protections extended to bicyclists, there are a number of safety precautions that bicyclists can take.

1. First and foremost, know the rules of the road. Bicyclists need to remember that they are subject to all the rights and responsibilities as other roadway users as is stated in the PA Vehicle Code. This includes stopping at red lights, yielding to pedestrians, using lights and reflectors at night, and avoiding sidewalk riding in business districts.

2. Second: Be seen. Outfit your bike with lights and reflectors. Bright clothing or clothing with reflective material also significantly helps bicyclists be seen at night. Reflective ankle straps can be particularly effective because the legs are regularly in motion, reflecting light at different angles.

3. Third, ride predictably and don't weave in and out of traffic or ride the wrong way against traffic.

4. Fourth, ride with confidence by communicating your intentions, including signaling when you turn or merge.

5. Fifth, always scan ahead to anticipate sudden changes such as cars turning out of driveways or car doors opening. If you've ever taken yoga you have probably heard the expression "be mindful." When riding a bike be mindful and fight the temptation to let your mind wander.

6. Sixth, take a mental note when you approach intersections and be prepared for the merging of traffic and how it might move. For example, don't assume someone isn't making a right turn because they're not using a turn signal. Observe their actual movement through the intersection and proceed with caution.

As biking becomes more safe and convenient, we will see an even greater number of cyclists on the road. The Mayor recently announced that bike share, a system of shared bicycles available for short-term use by members, is in the works for Pittsburgh. Citizens who want to join the movement and advocate for safer streets can support organizations like BikePGH or contact their elected officials to voice their view that streets must be designed to keep all users safe.

Lou Fineberg helped start BikePGH in 2002. A Pittsburgh native, he returned home in 1995 after serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala. In 2000 and 2001, Lou was a bike tour leader in the Puget Sound and Wyoming for the adventure travel company, Backroads. The following year he authored and published the first comprehensive bicycle guide of Pittsburgh, Three Rivers on Two Wheels. Since 2007 he's been on BikePGH's staff creating, developing, and managing programs that enhance the role of business in bike advocacy.