I've been riding my bicycle nearly every day during the week during my commute for as long as I can remember. At the very least, for the last three years. In doing so, I have to speak for and to those who can empathize: sometimes it's hard. When not always noticed by cars, or when dealing with those who can't obey the rules of the road/sidewalk - whether car, motor bike, fellow cyclist or pedestrian - riding with traffic can be a challenge. The best way to combat the already-present difficulty of maneuvering around and with other people is to be the best you can be on the road. Unfortunately, not everyone can do this.
That's why during this post I will present some various scenarios I've observed that you, me, and all of us would do better with and without on our bicycles.
1. Riding on the sidewalk. I understand that sometimes cars will push you off the road and it just gets annoying trying to be assertive and you just can't take it anymore. Well you know what - riding on the sidewalk is still a bad idea. For one, there are driveways and alleyways, which means that one out of five or so times, there will be a car poking its nose from out of the way, and may or may not be going at a reasonable, cautious speed. This is one of the reasons why it is best to stay off of the sidewalk, because you never know who may be looking from left to right for someone to come zooming by on their bicycle.
Another reason to stay off of the sidewalk is the presence of pedestrians. Whether you are going opposite ways or both are headed in the same direction, people don't always know how to immediately response when there is an object heading towards or sharing the space with them. Besides, on a sidewalk, there is the assumption that most activities taking place will be, well, of the walking sort. Also, if there are yards with walkways and gates, keep in mind that the persons entering and exiting may not always be on the lookout for a bicycle headed in their direction. Just assume that they won't be looking for you at all.
If you must be on a sidewalk, the only suggestion given here will to at least go in the same direction as traffic. This way, if a car is entering or exiting at a driveway, they won't be surprised to see you coming from the other direction. That's not their job to do so.
2. Riding against traffic - in the street. This will continue to make me upset. I don't understand why anyone thinks it's a great idea to ride their bicycle facing traffic IN THE STREET. I am actually wondering if I can do an informal interview with riders who do so just to get a few straight answers. There is no logic to riding your bicycle facing traffic in the street unless you are looking to kill yourself. I once saw a guy on a bike riding the wrong way... he made a left onto a street and was in the right-hand lane. He looked surprised when he was met face-to face with a angry horn of a car who was attempting to make a right at the street he had just turned off of.
Unless you want to die, do not, I repeat, do not right against traffic in the street. It is not safe. It is not smart. Be sure that everyone who is watching you do so is screaming "WHAT AN IDIOT; DO YOU WANT TO DIE?!" on the inside. The number of people I've seen doing so lately has increased to a ridiculous amount that it can't not be pointed out anymore. It's dangerous enough doing so on the sidewalk - what really makes you think that doing so in the street is any more practical?
Don't do it. Don't.
3. Riding without a helmet. There are a lot of college kids on bicycles on the CSUN campus, which is great. There's more than enough parking for them, although individual locking-up jobs need improvement, but I digress. This afternoon I visited the campus and counted two out of twenty-two riders who were actually wearing helmets. I was one of those two.
Okay, so a helmet may give you helmet hair and may sit funny sometimes - but just keep in mind that if it's sitting funny, it's not the right helmet for your head. It doesn't mean that you have to go without a helmet, even though the law says that over 18 years of age it it optional. This is somewhat of a sidepoint regarding general safety, as it is more personal. But, personally, I say that if you value your brain, wear a helmet. If you don't, then go on right ahead, business as usual.
4. Weaving in and out between parked cars. While riding in the street, I've noticed that some cyclists ride alongside parked cars, but then move closer to the curb when there aren't parked cars, therefore moving in and out, in and out between cars. However, this defeats the purpose of being seen while riding in the street. Making consistent moves is your best bet when riding your bike with traffic. Therefore, when weaving in and out between cars, you are proving to be inconsistent, unreliable, and more of a unexpected surprise for cars. This advice also goes to the cyclist that rides their bicycle partly on the sidewalk, partly in the street. Choose one or the other (again, preferably the street, out of the door zone).
5. Riding/walking against the light. On the Orange Line bike path, there are buttons that you can press at each intersection so one can cross the street and head to the other section of bike path. Not everyone remembers to press these buttons. As a result, some ride against the lights, which can mean anything from riding into the intersection when a left-turn arrow is green, or when a right-turn arrow on the opposite side is green, whether or not it is on their side of the street. The fact of the matter is - when it's your turn, it's your turn. Otherwise it will suck being the person who gets hit by a car because you are in the wrong. And for every cyclist that does so, it's another bad impression from drivers towards the rest of us.
Which brings me to my conclusion - ride for yourself, first of all, but most importantly, ride for everyone else. Meaning, look out for yourself by looking out for everyone else. Helmet issues aside, it is always a good idea to ride your bicycle with the assumption that not everyone is going to see you. With that in mind, make yourself visible. Be an active member of the road; don't be a distraction. Don't be a danger, to yourself or others. My hope is that these tips will help raise more awareness of one's surroundings, from the novice to even the most cautious, assertive rider.