News

Bicycling in the dark: Local cyclists offer tips for safer riding in the evenings

Advice includes slowing down, taking residential streets instead of major thoroughfares, using reflective gear and bike lights

Pedestrians cross Churchill Avenue in Palo Alto on Nov. 20, 2019. Photo by Sammy Dallal.

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.

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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.

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Bicycling in the dark: Local cyclists offer tips for safer riding in the evenings

Advice includes slowing down, taking residential streets instead of major thoroughfares, using reflective gear and bike lights

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Sat, Nov 19, 2022, 6:58 am

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.

Comments

Chris C.
Registered user
Community Center
on Nov 19, 2022 at 10:59 am
Chris C., Community Center
Registered user
on Nov 19, 2022 at 10:59 am

A couple of other tips from watching folks biking around here recently:

a) if you are wearing a helmet, do up the strap! In an accident the helmet may fly off your head before your head hits the ground without a strap under your chin.

b) watch out for wet leaves! They can get super slippery and make you wipe out on corners.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2022 at 11:41 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Nov 19, 2022 at 11:41 am

High Vis jackets are mandatory in some countries for bike riders. There are many products out there that light up bikes much better than a red at the back/white at the front. Bikes need to be seen from the side as well! We still have lots of leaves on the trees which means lots of shadows and even during the day there are shadows in which pedestrians cannot be seen as they are about to cross. We definitely need to do a better job with sight lines blocking intersections from landscaping and parked vehicles.

We are all in charge of our own safety. The law should be judged as the bare minimum not an excuse. If I get hit by a vehicle because I am wearing dark clothing as I cross a street at dusk, I may technically be in the right but morally in the wrong because I have done nothing to enable myself to be seen. Safety means watching out for all possibilities, not just obeying the law.


Mondoman
Registered user
Green Acres
on Nov 19, 2022 at 2:05 pm
Mondoman, Green Acres
Registered user
on Nov 19, 2022 at 2:05 pm

Yes, yes, yes to bright flashing white light in front and 2 or more flashing red lights in back. As Bystander alludes, having the right of way as a bicyclist doesn't repair/revive you after you're hit by thousands of pounds of metal car.

The sometimes-fashionable practice of cyclists "taking the (whole) lane" is IMHO a recipe for disaster if there are any cars around going your direction. Ride on the sidewalk if you have to to get through a busier area (being careful of pedestrians, of course). Careful route planning and scouting can help a lot to keep cars and bikes apart.

Certainly stop at stop signs/lights when there are cars around (unless of course you are special).


MyFeelz
Registered user
another community
on Nov 19, 2022 at 3:05 pm
MyFeelz, another community
Registered user
on Nov 19, 2022 at 3:05 pm

In these times of high gas prices it's tempting to get on the bike, affix the kid trailer behind, and wheel around with a bambino. If this was a small podunk town with very little traffic and no cars lining the streets... it's a "maybe". Here, it should be illegal. All year long.


MidTown Guy
Registered user
Midtown
on Nov 21, 2022 at 10:48 am
MidTown Guy, Midtown
Registered user
on Nov 21, 2022 at 10:48 am

It’s not just kids. At Stanford at night it’s amazing how few students have anything like lights or reflectors. For the smartest people in the world this is the dumbest! They fly through stop signs or out of a dark corner oblivious to car traffic. I drive there at a slow crawl in defensiveness. I don’t want to tangle with ambulances and law suits.


Green Gables
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 21, 2022 at 10:49 am
Green Gables, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Nov 21, 2022 at 10:49 am

Wear light colored clothing so drivers can see you, and stop blowing through stop signs.


Consider Your Options.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2022 at 2:08 pm
Consider Your Options. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Nov 21, 2022 at 2:08 pm

Drivers also have responsibility. The law requires all vehicle users to drive at a speed that conditions require (including visibility conditions), regardless of the speed limit. I am always amazed at the high speeds drivers choose as traffic volumes fall outside peak times, especially at night. (Lest you protest I am wrong about this, please look at nearly every traffic speed study ever done anywhere. 85th percentile auto speeds generally jump at night above posted speeds when the opposite should happen.) We drivers are required by law to SLOW DOWN and drive within our field of vision which is very limited by our headlights at night.

I would also give the same advice to drivers that Mondoman gives to bicyclists above. Stop blowing through STOP signs. You put yourself and everyone around you at risk.

All of this is about sharing the road safely. Please drive at a safe speed. That is, within your field of vision, allowing yourself safe stopping time in case something unexpected happens. Follow rules of the road and do your best to be kind and courteous to others. Speeding just 10MPH over a 25MPH speed limit will only shave a second or two off your local trip, but it can increase the risk of killing someone you might hit by over 50%. Killing or maiming another person because you were careless, putting your need for speed ahead of the safety of others, is something you would have to live with on your conscience for the rest of your life. Please drive with consideration for the safety of others.

This isn't just about safety for people who bike and walk--even more people are killed riding in cars each year. Speed kills. Let's all use the road safely and attentively to make our community a safer place for each other.

And, yes, be visible. Bike lights, blinking rear lights, lit helmets, and reflective windbreakers make great holiday gifts for people you love, and they are sold at ALL of our local bike shops. Be Safe, Be Seen.


dollarbin
Registered user
Mountain View
on Nov 21, 2022 at 3:32 pm
dollarbin, Mountain View
Registered user
on Nov 21, 2022 at 3:32 pm

I wear a high visibility jacket and my bike has bright front and rear lights that are on day or night. I follow road rules to a T, and yet within 24 hours I was almost hit by a driver running a stop sign, a driver making a left turn into my lane, and a driver running a red light. Cyclists and pedestrians owe it to themselves to increase their odds by adding visibility and wearing appropriate safety gear, but we first need to have a very long talk about driver inattention.


toransu
Registered user
Barron Park
on Nov 21, 2022 at 6:06 pm
toransu, Barron Park
Registered user
on Nov 21, 2022 at 6:06 pm

It would be nice if Palo Alto actually had infrastructure that protected bicyclists, instead of some lines painted on the road that cars drive about a foot away from.


Cyclist
Registered user
Midtown
on Nov 25, 2022 at 11:51 am
Cyclist, Midtown
Registered user
on Nov 25, 2022 at 11:51 am

Maybe, instead of putting the responsibilities on individuals, whether cyclists or drivers, we should look to improve road design and limit the amount of potentially hazardous interactions between cyclists and automobiles. Painting lines on the ground is not enough, we need seperate, PROTECTED bike lanes all across Palo Alto, especially on high traffic roads that are popular amongst cyclist and around schools. Improving cycling infrastructure is not only safer for cars and bicycles, but also helps create a more walkable, ecological, and vibrant city. Palo Alto has long been a leader in cycling friendliness, but we still have a long way to go.


William Hitchens
Registered user
Mountain View
on Nov 29, 2022 at 5:16 pm
William Hitchens, Mountain View
Registered user
on Nov 29, 2022 at 5:16 pm

If you ride a bike, it is YOUR responsibility to protect yourself.
Most important, don't ride at night. Drive a car. If not ---
Assume that any driver out there wants to kill you. Hide from traffic.
Only ride on well-lit streets.
Wear reflective clothing like safety vests, and elbow and ankle reflectors.
Wear a reflective helmet.
Have a BRIGHT flashing headlamp and tail lamp on your bike.
And cover your bike with reflectors --- red and white are best.
And pray every time you foolishly CHOOSE to venture out onto streets owned and used by autos.
Autos rule the roads. You are unwelcome intruders. Be paranoid because you are totally vulnerable. Your attitude doesn't matter one tiny bit. Get aggressive, and you might die.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2022 at 6:37 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Nov 29, 2022 at 6:37 pm

I was coming out of Costco this evening just as it was dark, lots of traffic, lots of bright lights blinding me. Two pedestrians dodging amongst the cars dressed completely in dark clothes and they were completely invisible to me. I was not moving as traffic was stopped, but they could easily have been hit by any of the cars around me.

What people walking don't understand is just how invisible they are particularly if they are doing something unpredictable at night. With cars coming in all directions with bright headlights, they are just not going to be seen. The same could be said for bikes but at least bikes may have lights and may have reflectors, but pedestrians have neither.

It is time for people walking to make themselves visible too when it gets dark around 5 pm.


James Thurber
Registered user
Mountain View
on Nov 30, 2022 at 10:51 am
James Thurber, Mountain View
Registered user
on Nov 30, 2022 at 10:51 am

Although I always ride with lights front and rear, day or night, the factor of dark clothing is an issue. As days are cold . . . nights are colder and most of our warm cycling gear tends to be dark.

My cousin, who hails from Amsterdam, had a suggestion: "You're pretty light yourself. Why don't you cycle naked? Everybody will see you, for better or worse." I listened but thought that advice should be taken with a grain of salt, a large grain.

Fortunately GOOD bicycle lights are coming down in price and because of advances in LED technology are getting brighter and brighter. In some cases you can outshine vehicle headlamps (you can blind oncoming drivers, too). So get those lights and use 'em, preferably all the time. Nothing like being seen to keep you from gettin squashed.



Consider Your Options.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 30, 2022 at 11:25 am
Consider Your Options. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Nov 30, 2022 at 11:25 am

I do light up. I do ride defensively. I do wear bright clothing. I am keenly aware that, as a bicyclist, I am bound by vehicle code and I follow the law.

Cars (even e-cars) cost massive greenhouse gases (GHGs)to manufacture. If it is a gas-powered car, it belches GHGs in the air every time one fires up the engine. The asphalt and cement roads and parking lots cars require are built and maintained with massive expenditures of treasure and GHGs. Our collective, heavily subsidized driving habit is a key contributor to the climate change that is impacting our planet....and creating the danger to people who walk and bike that you describe.

I am well over 60, I have been bicyclist for transportation at all times of day and night since I was five years old, and I have never once been hit by a car. Bicycling is safe at night when one rides skillfully, legally, courteously, and equipped for the conditions. I have a lifetime of experience doing so. Bicycling in this flat town with temperate climate is an easy, safe, healthy and environmentally friendly choice in a time when none of us should be expending more GHGs than we absolutely need. This is so even for senior citizens with arthritis like me. Bicycling helps me maintain my balance, fitness, and joy of living. Not bicycling would do me (and the planet I love) more harm than good.

If you are interested in learning how to bike safely, here's the class for you. Web Link . If you want to learn how to share the road safely with pedestrians and bicyclists, here is a class for you Web Link


Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Nov 30, 2022 at 1:42 pm
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Nov 30, 2022 at 1:42 pm

You can drive and bike safely, and then there's reality. Years ago, vehicles and cyclists could easily share the road. That ship has sailed. The Bay Area is overcrowded, and vehicles and bikes can no longer do so. The vehicle will always win. As cyclists say. "Cyclists are right. Dead right." If it's worth it to you to go up against vehicles where you can easily get hit and killed, it's a free country. All the bike safety in the world won't stop the other guy. Just keep in mind people speed, text and drive, drive drunk, etc. And then it gets dark. Don't say I didn't warn you.

I would ride somewhere "safe" where I didn't have to go up against vehicles. Common sense.


Consider Your Options.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2022 at 3:42 pm
Consider Your Options. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Dec 1, 2022 at 3:42 pm

It is possible to design streets that are safe for all. Other densely populated
places have done it successfully.

Public streets should serve people of all ages and abilities whether or not they are old enough or physically able to have a drivers license or financially able to own a car. A transportation system that prioritizes people who can drive, excludes far too many and creates a more dangerous community environment for everyone, including drivers.

See the recent NY Times article titled The Exceptionally American Problem of Rising Roadway Deaths.
Web Link
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mid=em-share






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