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YoungCyclistAndDirectionalArrow

Alaska state law requires cyclists to ride on the right side of the street, with traffic. But to watch some Sitka cyclists, they don’t seem to care even though they can be stopped and ticketed by the police for wrong-way riding.

Recently, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities painted a few directional arrows in the bike lanes of Halibut Point Road to help remind cyclists to ride on the right.

The reason cyclists are required to ride with traffic in the far right lane (unless pulling into a turn lane) is because riding with traffic is safer than riding against it. Even though you might think you’re safer riding against traffic because you can see opposing traffic, you really are increasing your risk. When you hit a car head-on, your impact is more likely to cause injuries or death than when a car hits you from behind (and you can absorb some of the blow because you’re traveling in the same direction).

This study of car-bike collisions from Northern California is a bit old (1990s, see Table 4), but it shows cyclists riding against traffic had a higher risk factor of 3.6 times those riding with traffic.

According to the study, “Table 4 shows that all categories of bicy­clists traveling against the direction of traffic flow are at greatly increased risk for accidents — on average 3.6 times the risk of those traveling with traffic, and as high as 6.6 times for those 17 and under. This result is readily explained: because motorists normally scan for traffic trav­eling in the lawful direction, wrong-way traffic is easily overlooked. To give only a single example, a motorist turning right at an intersec­tion scans to the left for approaching traffic on the new road, and cannot see or anticipate a fast-moving wrong-way bicyclist approaching from the right. (This is one of the most common types of bicycle-motor vehicle collisions in Palo Alto.)

“This finding provides compelling justifica­tion for current traffic law, which requires bicy­clists on the roadway everywhere in the United States to travel in the same direction as other traffic. It also implies that vigorous enforcement of this law, for both adults and children, can substantially reduce the number of bicycle-motor vehicle collisions, and should receive high priority in any bicycle program.”

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