At the intersection of Madison Avenue and Victory Parkway, the end of a one-mile stretch of bike lane presents a dangerous merge back into traffic for me and my blue Trek bicycle.
The driver of the Civic next to me probably has no idea that the bike lane ends and isn't ready to slow down when I have to cut in front of him. I ride in front of him, he's right on my back wheel and honks at me. I try to get over, but another car is merging from Victory Parkway and I have nowhere to go and end up jumping off my bike into the median to avoid being hit.
I've been biking everywhere for nearly two years and run into situations like this all the time.
"Get on the sidewalk!"
"Get out of the way!"
Drivers who don't know how to interact with cyclists create dangerous situations. The ideal situation would to have separate bike lanes everywhere, but Cincinnati has just over eight miles of bike lanes, and almost five miles of "sharrows," markings that urge drivers to share the road.
Those are not impressive numbers for a city this size. With this meager distance of bike lanes, drivers should expect there to be bicycles in the roads, but, almost every time I am out on the road, I have a negative interaction with a driver. As much as I dislike climbing all of Cincinnati's hills, I dislike fearing that a car is going to run me over every time I'm on my bike.
Did you know that in the state of Ohio, bicycles are considered vehicles and are supposed be treated as such? Or that cyclists can be given tickets for riding on the sidewalk, and are urged, for safety reasons, to take up the entire lane while riding?
In the spirit of sharing the road safely, remember these basics when you're driving your car:
• Change lanes to pass: Don't skim by a bicycle, leaving only a few inches for error. We may have to swerve to avoid debris or potholes. (Cincinnati was the first city in the country to install signs around the city informing drivers of this.)
• Let cyclists know you see them: Cyclists are very aware. Do the same. Make eye contact and try to have a friendly interaction.
• Don't try to pass when you can't: If there isn't room to pass a bicycle, don't. Know when you're passing and do it deliberately, not casually.
• Be patient: Countless times drivers have sped by me, dangerously, only for me to meet them at the same red light a half mile down the road. We aren't on the road to inconvenience you.
And now, a tip for cyclists:
• Don't be afraid to take up a lane. Make drivers know they have to go around you; don't try to squeeze close to parked cars to make room. If all cyclists act the same way on the road, drivers will know what to expect.
While small tips and awareness can make for safer roads, the easiest way to teach drivers how to interact with cyclists is by sheer numbers. A higher number and bigger presence on the roads makes drivers more aware of cyclists, and hopefully, will help drivers learn how to safely interact.
How do you get more cyclists on the road? Infrastructure.
In a recent survey, when asked to grade the city's bike infrastructure, 600 local cyclists gave Cincinnati a "C." Cyclists said additional bike lanes are a top priority.
When asked to identify which improvements would influence them to bike more, 85 percent of respondents stated that they were likely or very likely to bike more if the city constructed more bike lanes. From 2000-2008, a grand total of zero bike lanes were installed, but that is changing, and at a rapid pace.
On Aug. 10, construction on the widely contested Riverside Drive bike lane project started. More than 10 bikes lanes are slated to be installed this fall, and the city is looking into creating a "bike highway" along Central Parkway, complete with a physical barrier separating cars and bicycles.
There is also a pilot project
happening at Ludlow at Central Parkway, with painted bike lanes to make drivers aware they are crossing a bike lane.
Another endeavor that will undoubtedly put more people in the saddles of bicycles is the bike share program, which could potentially bring up to 350 bicycles to the city, spread out over 35 rental stations, starting next summer.
"I think we’re really going to start seeing a lot more bikes on the streets of Cincinnati. And as more and more people start riding bikes, Cincinnati drivers will get more accustomed to seeing them, and our streets will really become safer and more comfortable," says Melissa McVay, a senior city planner for the Department of Transportation. She focuses mainly on the bicycle transportation plan. "Many cities like Minneapolis and New York City have seen their number of car-bike crashes decrease at the same time that they’ve seen the number of people riding bicycles there increase. I expect the same will be true for Cincinnati."
Bicyling.Com puts out an annual list
of the nation's 50 bike-friendliest cities. Cincinnati has never been included, but it's a goal. "My boss always talks about making it onto the list," McVay says.
Keep building an infrastructure at this pace, and we may soon see Cincinnati pedal into that list.