Did you know that more people in Philadelphia commute by bicycle than in any of the 10 biggest cities in the U.S.? There are many good reasons to ride your bike to work, including helping the environment, exercising, reducing stress, or saving time or money. While designated bike lanes have improved cycling safety in recent years, you’ll still need to follow some basic guidelines, especially if your commute takes you into the city.
Tom Kalina, MS, OTR/L, CDRS, an experienced cyclist and advanced clinical specialist with the Driver Rehab Program at Bryn Mawr Rehab, part of Main Line Health, offers these five tips for urban bicycling.
1. Treat your bike like a vehicle
One of the most frequent questions new cyclists ask is, “Do you ride your bike against or with traffic?” The answer is always ride with traffic. Treat your bike as if it were a small car and obey the same rules as the other vehicles on the road. That means stopping at red lights, signaling when you turn, and riding with the flow of traffic.
2. Avoid unpredictable movements
The flip side of treating your bike like a car is also bearing in mind that it isn’t one. Drivers are accustomed to looking for other cars on the road and anticipating the moves another driver would make. You may be clearly visible to the drivers around you; yet they may not be conscious of your presence in the same way that they are with other vehicles. To be safe on your bike, stay in your lane and avoid darting in and out of traffic. Be particularly careful when making turns and keep in mind tip number three.
3. Communicate with drivers (and pedestrians)
As a cyclist, you want to be sure that the drivers around you know your intentions. Don’t worry if you aren’t familiar with current biking signals; common sense motions work just as well. If you are planning to turn left, point your left arm in that direction. Ditto for the right. At intersections, try to make eye contact with drivers or use hand gestures (only the polite ones!) to signal your movements or wave someone through. Good communication should extend to other cyclists as well as pedestrians. If you’re approaching an intersection and someone is in your path, don’t be afraid to shout a warning. Your voice is louder and faster than a bell or bike horn.
4. Practice good biking etiquette
Drivers, cyclists and pedestrians all need to share the road. As a cyclist, there are basic behaviors you’ll want to follow out of respect for your fellow commuters, such as riding single file—particularly in busy areas or areas without a shoulder on the roadway, where lanes are narrower and traffic is more congested. Don’t cruise through stop signs without slowing down. And leave the sidewalks to pedestrians. Bike etiquette is more than just good manners—it’s a matter of safety, too.
5. Plan ahead
Before you try commuting by bike, plan your ride and do a test run. Will you need to use public transit? Cyclists who travel to the city often use public transportation to tackle the first few miles from home to the train station or bus stop. Scout out the stations in advance to see where you can safely lock up your bike. If you plan to bring your bike into the city, can you bring your bike on the train or bus? The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia offers a wealth of information, including parking options, tips on locking up your bike, and bicycle policies for SEPTA and other public transit systems. There’s even a video on how to load your bike onto the bus rack.
Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.