By Jenna Marmon
With the warming weather and changes to our daily lives brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are out walking and biking these days. Whether we’re strolling around the neighborhood to get some fresh air, rolling on a scooter to the market to grab some groceries, or taking a jog or a bike ride for exercise, it’s likely our trip will include sharing a roadway with vehicles and the people driving them.
When we’re walking, rolling (a scooter, skateboard, mobility device), or biking on the street, we’re especially vulnerable because we don’t have the protection that the steel shell of a car offers. We are more at risk of being seriously injured or killed if involved in a crash.
There are extra safety precautions that everyone can make, no matter how we’re traveling.
The critical point to sharing the road is paying attention and keeping our eyes and ears on the road. For people biking that means watching for hazards including road debris and potholes and watching for cars from all directions—especially when someone is turning or entering the road from a driveway or side street. When we’re walking, we need to be especially careful at intersections. We should not assume that someone driving has seen us before we step out, even if we are at a legal crosswalk and have the right-of-way. And as drivers, because even a small mistake can be deadly to others and tragic for everyone, we need to keep our full focus on driving at all times.
We all need to be predictable. No one likes to be surprised, whether it’s by suddenly coming upon a person walking in the road wearing all black, being passed on a bike with little room to spare, or having someone merge across the lane without signaling. We all prefer to be able to anticipate what’s coming at us on the roadway. People walking should wear bright, reflective clothing or carry a light at night, and use sidewalks when they’re available. When they are not, stick to the edge facing oncoming traffic.
When we’re biking, we need to have a headlight and taillight or rear reflector. Use the bike lane and travel the same direction as traffic; signal our intentions. When we’re driving and passing slower moving bicycle traffic, we need to wait until it is safe and pass them with care, giving at least 3 feet of space. As drivers we also need to check behind us before we open our vehicle door into traffic.
Finally, a word on speed. When we’re driving on streets where people are or are likely to be walking and biking (especially kids), the single most effective strategy to keep everyone safe is to slow down. The distance required to stop our car if we’re traveling 30 mph is nearly twice that of traveling 20 mph. If we’re driving 40 mph and hit someone, they have a small chance of survival. But if we’re driving 20 mph, they are very likely to survive. And, we have a better chance of seeing someone in the first place when we’re going slower.
We all have a role in traffic safety; take good care out there.
Jenna Marmon is the Southwest Region Active Transportation Liaison for ODOT. She lives in Medford.