With the shorter days of standard time, Palo Alto bicyclists have more obstacles to navigate, from the glare of the setting sun to sharing the road with cars in the dark.
"Walking and biking in the city is quite safe compared to the U.S. overall, but there are lots of high-speed roads where the majority of crashes happen," said Arnout Boelens, who is the PTA Council chair of the Safe Routes to School program, a partnership of the city of Palo Alto, Palo Alto Unified School District and PTAs.
Boelens identified downtown Palo Alto, where there is a high concentration of bicyclists and motorists, and high-speed corridors like El Camino Real and Middlefield Road as areas where bicycle crashes occur more often in a report that he posted to Walk Bike Palo Alto, an organization that promotes active transportation, like walking and biking.
Boelens also identified particular times of the day when more crashes occur, such as early mornings, late afternoons and early evenings when more people commute to school and work. Seasonality was another factor, as a high frequency of crashes occurred in January and February, which Boelens attributed to the possibility of a low-setting sun and poor street lighting.
Students represent the largest share of bicyclists on the road, with more than 57% of Palo Alto Unified middle and high school students biking to school in 2019, according to the Safe Route to School's 2021 Annual Update.
Students need to be extra cautious about biking home in the late afternoons and evenings, said Penny Ellson, an active bicyclist who also is a member of Walk Bike Palo Alto and chair of the Palo Alto Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee.
"It's really important to make sure that kids are geared up properly for nighttime riding, especially the middle school and high school kids who tend to ride independently," Ellson said.
California law requires bicyclists to use a headlight before sunrise and after sunset and a reflector on the back of their bikes. But bicyclists can go a step further to ensure their visibility. Blinking lights on the back of bikes, reflective clothing and reflective strips on backpacks are small additions that can help motorists see bicyclists better, Ellson said, adding that her Lumos helmet, which lights up, is another great visibility tactic.
Slowing down, particularly when entering intersections, also is important for nighttime road safety, Ellson said, referring to both bicyclists and motorists.
"So that means really making sure you don't enter an intersection unless you have an excellent line of sight," she said.
Bicyclists can forgo major thoroughfares for slower residential streets that are more scenic, too. Stanford University and Bike Palo Alto both provide maps of bicycle-friendly routes in the area while Safe Routes to School has an extensive list of "walk and roll" routes for student bicyclists.
As the nights get longer, bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists need to be even more aware of each other's movements, Ellson said.
"Using the road in darkness is challenging for everyone: people who drive, walk and bike or take transit. We can all do better to keep each other safe," she said in an email.