Whose Lane is It Anyway?
You’re walking to class on campus when, suddenly, a bike comes flying around the corner. You desperately move out of the way, but the girl behind you isn’t so lucky. She’s on her phone and didn’t notice the bike coming. The cyclist calls out, but too late, and bam! The two collide in a mess of road rash, bike parts, bleeding heads, and broken bones. Nine-one-one is dialed and while you wait, the cyclist and the pedestrian get into an argument over who caused the accident. The pedestrian turns to you and asks, “It was his fault, right?”
Yes and no. This is not an unexpected situation on campuses across America. The unfortunate truth is that pedestrian-bicycle collisions are fairly common. Most are simple sideswipes that leave the cyclist off balance and the pedestrian with a bruise, but some can be serious enough to hospitalize the victims. But why?
Simply put, bikes are everywhere. They are cheap, efficient, useful, and handy for short distances. This lends to their popularity amongst college students across America. Given the sheer number of bikes, impacts are due to happen, but what could be done to help lower the number and severity of impacts?
Initially, some would go to extremes, perhaps banning bicycles or having defined routes through campuses that must be strictly followed. Interviews with freshmen have revealed their distaste for cyclists, but our less-than-savvy classmates may not be seeing a full picture here since upperclassmen have been overall supportive of bikes.
On OSU campus, various regulations are already in effect that forbid the use of bicycles on certain routes. Some of you may have noticed signage to the effect of “cyclists and skateboarders please dismount here.” You may have also seen suggested bicycle routes posted by the RPAC to allow for the ease of traffic in a busy area. These are all ideas some Buckeyes have posited to me when asked what should be done about bicycles on campus.
The Ohio Revised Code classifies bicycles as vehicles, being the exception to the rule since all other man-powered transports are not “vehicles” per se. This makes the bicycle an unusual and frustrating area of traffic law. Governed by the laws of vehicles, it must drive on the right side of the road, signal, have at least one headlight and taillight, and must yield to pedestrians. However, the bicycle may drive on the sidewalk. That’s right. Bikes are legally permitted on sidewalks, except where municipalities prohibit this. Here’s where it gets murkier.
According to the University Police webpage, bicycles are not permitted on sidewalks. While this is allowable under Ohio traffic laws, there seemed be some ambiguity over whether or not this is for all sidewalks and what the university classifies as a sidewalk. Does it have to parallel a road to be considered a sidewalk? As previously mentioned, signage near the Oval specifically tells cyclists and skateboarders to dismount for the small section between buildings. Does this mean that cyclists could ride on these paths before the posted sign? Does the University only ban the use of bikes where posted? Why do the University Police not enforce these principals? The University Police were not forthcoming with that information.
This is, however, not a one-sided story. Interviews with Buckeyes have shown that most pedestrians recognize the need to be more mindful. One of my favorite suggestions was to “stop texting.” Of course we’ve all seen the “Don’t Text & Drive” signs all over the country, but few have recognized the need for people to tear their faces away from their screens long enough to see a bicycle, car, or bus coming right at them. Bicycles must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians, so if you step out in front of one, the cyclist is obligated to do everything in his or her power to stop. However, the stopping distance for bikes can vary quite a bit depending on the bike’s speed, wheelbase (the distance between the axles), road conditions, and the type and condition of the brakes.
But not all is on the pedestrians either. As a cyclist, it is obviously more convenient for you to take the sidewalk at some point and, due to traffic, even necessary. However, for most of campus, the roadways will do fine for most students’ needs. Be safe, be smart, wear a helmet, take the road, and call out or sound a device when passing pedestrians.
For pedestrians, turn down your music, look up from your screens, move to the right for bicycles if they wish to pass you, and do not step out in front of bikes.
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