Officials address growing importance of bicycle safety

by Elena Rozwadowski

With the death of a University student who was riding her bicycle Aug. 17, the importance of bike safety is more apparent.

Geology sophomore Abidah Adam died after a truck hit her while she was riding her bike at the intersection of University Avenue and Washington Avenue Southeast. According to the police report, the truck had the right of way.

Most bike accidents happen when a biker is crossing the street, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. One of the main contributing factors in these accidents is the failure to yield by someone involved.

In most accidents, the drivers say they did not expect a biker to ride out in front of them, according to Bob Works, director of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Section of the Minnesota Department of Public Transportation.

“Oftentimes, cyclists do not follow the rules of the road,” Works said. “They sometimes disregard traffic controls and stop signals, running stop signs and traffic lights.”

These actions catch the motorist off guard, he said.

“The most dangerous situations happen when a motorist is behind a bike,” Works said.

There are many accidents in which the driver tries to pass a bike, but does not give the bicyclist the 3 feet of space required by state law, he said.

At the University, Parking and Transportation Services tries to promote safety issues and raise awareness about the possible dangers of biking on campus, said Mary Sienko, the department’s marketing director.

“We just want everyone to be safe on campus,” Sienko said. “We encourage biking as a mode of transportation.”

The department sponsors programs to promote bike safety on campus, like the “Helmets and Headlights” campaign that offers bike helmets and lights to students for $20 each. Since the program began in spring 2005, the department sold more than 4,000 helmets and 2,000 light sets, Sienko said.

To educate students and staff, Parking and Transportation Services has a “bike liaison” to communicate with the University Police Department and organize safety discussion groups. Students are also informed about bike safety and state laws at orientation.

“We try to communicate an overall package,” she said.

Sienko said the most important rules to follow are to stay off sidewalks and to ride with traffic.

“The rest of the rules are common sense,” she said.

Steve Johnson, deputy chief for University police, said the biggest causes of bike accidents on campus are riding the wrong way on the road and ignoring road signals, both of which can cause collisions with cars and other bikes. He also said riding on sidewalks can be dangerous for pedestrians.

Johnson recommended helmets because they can make a difference even in minor accidents.

“No matter what your mode of travel, the No. 1 thing you can do is follow traffic laws,” Johnson said. “Be aware around you in case someone else isn’t.”

Students said they feel safe riding their bikes on campus, despite the recent accident.

Philosophy senior Steve Osterberg said he only started biking on campus recently, and although he doesn’t wear a helmet when he rides, he always “looks both ways” and exercises caution around cars and people.

He said he encourages others to use bikes on campus.

“There are bike lanes all over the place,” Osterberg said, “so you should pretty much be able to get anywhere on campus.”