By John Yoder
On Wednesday evening May 16, I was part of a group of about 50 cyclists who rode slowly and quietly for an hour through the residential streets of my hometown, Goshen, Ind. As bicycle parades go, this was a very modest one: there were no banners, no police escort and no coordinated clothes to identify us as coherent group. What we did have was a common purpose: to be part of the worldwide Ride of Silence, an occasion held each year all over the world to remember cyclists killed or injured on the highways in the past year.
For the first time in three years, we had a cycling fatality in our area this year. His name was Freeman Miller, an Amish gentleman, who was riding to work at 4 a.m. According to the police report, he was wearing a reflective vest and had front and rear lights.
Although we had no cycling fatalities in our area in 2016 or 2015, the previous four years were deadly:
- Two killed in 2014: Leland T. Lambright, 80; Devon Lehman, 26.
- Two killed in 2013: Elmer E. Miller, 64; Daniel Yoder 26.
- Four killed in 2012: Raymundo Macjado Sabag, 60; Daniel Runion, 19; David Anglemyer, 18; Wilmer L. Herschberger, 29.
- One killed in 2011: Amanda Zimmerman, 15
For those of us who participate, the Ride of Silence is a time to remember the tragedy of such cycling deaths – annually over 700 in the U.S. — and an occasion to think about my own habits on the road, as a motorist and a cyclist. Rather than simply rage at drunk and distracted drivers during the ride – and certainly there is a time and place for that – I found it more useful to examine the extent to which my behavior has contributed to or detracted from safety for cyclists on the highway.
As a Motorist:
- Do I give cyclists four or five feet clearance when passing them from behind in case they swerve to miss a pot hole or an object in the road?
- Do I keep my eyes on the road instead of texting or talking on a phone, programing the GPS, changing the presets on the radio, inserting a CD into the player or indulging in 100 other distractions?
- Do I slow down when I pass cyclists, knowing that excessive speed comes across as hostility?
- Do I avoid cutting cyclists off by moving back into the driving lane too quickly after passing them?
- Do I avoid racing cyclists to a stop light or stop sign so that I can be ahead of them at the intersection?
- Am I especially alert for cyclists at dawn and dusk when twilight makes seeing them more difficult?
- Am I alert for cyclists coming toward me when I make a left turn at an intersection?
As a Cyclist:
- Do I obey the rules of the road and ride in a consistent and predictable manner?
- Do I wear bright clothes so that I’m conspicuous on the road?
- At dawn, dusk, overcast days and at night, do I have both front and rear lights that are bright enough to be seen from 500 feet away?
- Do I communicate my intentions to motorists with hand signals, indicating that I’m planning to turn or stop?
- Do I ride in such a way as to blend in with traffic, rather than darting around in a reckless manner?
- Do I avoid riding on the sidewalk whenever possible?
- Do I stop for stop signs and stop lights?
- Do I keep my mind alert to traffic conditions by not listening to music with earbuds from a digital music player?
Those are some of the thoughts I had as I participated in the Ride of Silence. If I’m serious about motorists and cyclists sharing the road, I want to drive a car and ride a bicycle in a way that makes it safe for both.
The other impact this ride has on me is that, like most group rides I participate in, it motivates me to continue being a cycling advocate. As part of a transportation minority (i.e., cyclists), I need to keep in contact with a larger group of cyclists, so that I don’t feel isolated in my efforts to make the road safer for cyclists. A group ride shows me at a glance all those who benefit from better cycling infrastructure and
Does this ride change awareness and safety for cycling in the community? That’s hard to say. The last four years the ride attracted coverage from one or two of the local television stations, and in addition to covering the purpose of the ride and showing footage of us on the streets, they have interviewed the ride organizer or myself about what behavior (by cyclists and motorists) goes into making cycling safer. So, we’re able – in a two-minute segment on the evening news — to reach a larger audience and remind motorists that basic respect for cyclists on the road will create a safer road for everyone.. If it causes even one driver to stop texting and put down their cell phone, that’s a victory.
John D. Yoder is a recreational cyclist, former cycling commuter and League of American Bicyclists cycling instructor. He has been active for over 25 years establishing the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, a rails-to-trails project connecting Goshen, Middlebury and Shipshewana, Indiana (www.pumpkinvine.org).