Bikes and College 101

Executive Director of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign keeps us on the straight and narrow

YOUR ARRIVAL in this city was detected over the weekend, new and returning SCAD students.

The townspeople of Savannah assembled on Facebook to discuss your impact on the length of the checkout lines at the Gwinnett Street Kroger Store and the level of disarray on the shelves at Target.

And then they turned their attention to what’s really important and began fretting about the demand you are placing on one of our most sacred civic resources, which many locals cherish above all others: parking.

There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “A university is a place where students, faculty, and staff come together to complain about parking.”

In Savannah, residents join in as they compete with students for on-street parking spaces.

In a cruel twist, those of you who are doing your part to free up parking spaces for others will soon become the target of another popular local pastime: Savannahians love to gripe about students on bicycles.

For the last six years I’ve written a column for Connect Savannah in which I’ve implored students to operate their bicycles with caution and care, mainly to lessen the likelihood that they would be hit by cars.

But other people expect me to lecture you on bike safety for another reason.

When I’m advocating for more bike lanes, or even trying to make the case that people on bikes should be treated like human beings, tales of scofflaw cycling are trotted out to demonstrate that people who ride bikes must earn safer streets through good behavior.

What’s more, they say, if we are hit by cars we probably had it coming. This shifts blame onto people who ride bikes while ignoring dangerous driving.

You deserve better, students who travel by bike, so I’m going to do something different this year. I won’t remind you to follow all traffic regulations, use lights at night, and wear a helmet,

(Wait. I just did, didn’t I?) Instead, I’ll try to school your classmates who drive.

click to enlarge Bikes and College 101
Use the "Dutch reach" in opening your car door to avoid blocking the path of a bicyclist in the bike lane.

Go Dutch. A common type of crash happens when an inattentive motorist opens a car door into the path of someone riding a bike. There’s a simple method called “the Dutch reach” (It originated in the Netherlands) that can reduce the chance that you will injure or kill someone with the door of your car. Before opening your door, follow these steps: 1. Check your rearview mirror. 2. Check your side-view mirror. 3. Open the door with your far hand (the hand farther from the door). This forces your body to turn, which will better allow you to see approaching bicyclists. Even if you don’t care about people on bikes, this can keep your door from being ripped off by another car, so there’s something in it for you, too.

Go Slow. A lot of people ride bikes and walk in Savannah. Millions of people come from all over the world to stroll the streets of our city, often bewitched by the its beauty. Your new home has the highest bicycle commuting rate in the state of Georgia. Add in a large number of households without access to a car and you have the recipe for a city where lots of people walk and ride bikes for everyday transportation. If you are not used to driving in such an environment, you better get used to it fast, by going slow.

Not only will this give you time to react, it will reduce the chance that you will kill another human if a crash is unavoidable. Pedestrian mortality rates skyrocket once a vehicle exceeds 30 mph. In fact, many cities are reducing speed limits in residential and urban areas to 20 mph.

Go Offline. Many of us cannot resist looking at our phones while we are driving. If this is you, take steps to lessen your ability to harm others. Put your phone in the glove compartment or in the back seat or in the trunk. It’s not an exaggeration to say this could save a life. Maybe even your own.

Unfortunately for the thousands us in Savannah who travel by bike, not every driver who reads this will follow my advice. We must take matters into our own hands.

I invite you to attend a Savannah Cycling Survival Seminar at the Foundery Coffee Pub, 1313 Habersham St., on Sept. 17 at 7 p.m., Sept 22 at 3 p.m. or Sept. 26 at 7 p.m. We’ll talk about how to avoid the most common types of crashes.

Not exciting enough? You’ll also get free coffee, a free light set courtesy of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, and a free T-shirt.



John Bennett

John Bennett is Safety Education Programs Manager at Georgia Bikes.
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