During the morning rush hour recently, I witnessed a horrific accident involving a car and a bicyclist. Sadly, the bicyclist was at fault and wasn’t wearing a helmet. I’ve talked to my kids about the incident and I’m going to share it with you today because I think we can all learn from this sad event.
Here’s what I saw…
I was heading northbound on Lincoln and I stopped at a red light at 11th Avenue. There was one car in front of me. A female biker was heading northbound on the sidewalk next to the roadway and she didn’t stop when the lights turned red. She simply kept going. When she crossed the intersection, the eastbound cars were already fully in motion and one of the cars struck her.
The biker’s body did pinwheels 20 feet into the air and she landed on the top of her head. Her bike was thrown 100 feet farther up 11th Avenue.
I felt like I was watching a life destroyed right in front of me, even though it looked like she would live.
All of us in the cars nearby immediately jumped out to help her and we called 911. The biker was unresponsive, but then she started making noises and moving. However, she was definitely severely injured, with head injuries and broken bones.
I also made the assumption that this woman was a commuter, because she had on a dress, but no helmet.
Since the accident was her fault, this poor woman will be responsible for all of her own medical bills, lost wages, and more. I felt like I was watching a life destroyed right in front of me, even though it looked like she would live.
Denver Bicycle Tips
Here are the lessons we can all learn from this tragedy:
- If you commute to work on a bike, you have to wear a helmet. I don’t care if your hair gets messed up. Bring a brush. Vanity is no reason to risk your life.
- Obey traffic laws when you’re biking. It is illegal to bike on sidewalks. In fact, unless your destination is within 100 feet, if police catch you riding on a sidewalk, you’ll get a ticket. Also, obey traffic lights.
- Pay attention to all nearby traffic. Assume that drivers can’t see you. When you come to an intersection, look in every direction where a car might be approaching. Cars aren’t looking for you! You must look for them.
- When crossing an intersection, don’t move in front of vehicles without getting eye contact with the nearby drivers.
- Wear a helmet. Yes, it’s worth repeating. I can’t stop seeing that poor woman flying through the air and landing on her head.
Denver Bicycle Laws
Over the years, I have found that most bicyclists don’t know Denver’s bicycle laws. (Those who do know the laws often tend to ignore them, but that is truly unwise.) Therefore, I thought I’d share some of the Denver laws that particularly apply to bicyclists who choose to traverse Denver’s city streets:
- Bicyclists must ride close to the right curb. This is especially important if you are riding in traffic and going slower than the posted speed limit. It is your duty as a biker to ride as far to the right as possible. (Auto drivers get very impatient when they get stuck behind a bicyclist who refuses to move over. Don’t be that biker; in any match between a car and a bike, the biker loses.)
- Bicyclists are allowed to use the right-hand shoulder. I strongly recommend riding as far to the right in the shoulder as possible.
- Bicyclists must follow all traffic signals and signs just as if they were in a car. For example, when you come to a stop sign or stoplight, you must stop. (When I’m in my neighborhood and stopped at a four-way intersection, I always look for bikers. They’re everywhere! If I see a biker coming, I tend to wave him or her through the intersection, because I know what a pain it is to stop and then start up again on a bike. It’s very different for the car driver who only has to push a foot down on the gas. However, bikers need to make eye contact with drivers at every intersection to assure make sure they are seen.)
- When riding between sunset and sunrise, a cyclist must use lights, including a white light in front that can be seen from 500 feet away, and a reflector on back that can be seen from 100 to 600 feet away. In the winter (and we have a lot of hearty winter bicyclists in Colorado), when there are more night hours than daylight hours, bikers should always be prepared to wear lights and reflectors.
Read this document from CDOT to learn more about Colorado Bicycling Laws.
What Are Your Rights as a Bicyclist?
Of course, many bicyclists know the laws and adhere to them, but Colorado drivers are impatient (and growing more impatient as our roads become more congested). Here are the rights you can expect as a biker in Colorado:
- You have the right to ride on any public road in Colorado. But remember, you’ve got to obey all posted traffic signals, just like everyone else.
- Cars need to leave 3 feet of space when passing a bicyclist.
That’s really it. Your rights as a biker are very similar to those of an auto driver because we are all expected to behave courteously and follow the law. If you neglect your responsibilities on the road, not only might you get hurt, but you could get a ticket.
Biking is fantastic exercise, good for the environment and a cheap way to get from A to B, but you also have to assume that you have a giant bullseye on your clothing, especially when you’re riding downtown. I never, ever want to see an accident like this one again. Please be safe.