In the month since the citywide ColumBIKE BikeShare program launched in Columbus on May 21, more than 200 riders have opted into the program through hourly, day or annual membership passes.

As ColumBIKE’s participation continues to grow in the coming months, city law enforcement officials are urging cyclists to learn the rules of sharing the road with motor vehicles and to be aware of other common courtesies that will keep riders and drivers safe.

“There are more bicycles than ever on the road, so we want everybody to be safe and to try to be as visible as possible,” said Matt Harris, spokesman for the Columbus Police Department.

The most important thing to remember when riding a bike down city streets is that all traffic laws that apply to vehicles also apply to bicycles, Harris said. That means bikers must obey all traffic signs, stop at stop signs and red lights, yield the right of way when necessary, etc.

Story continues below gallery

If cyclists do not comply with traffic laws, they can receive the same citations as drivers, Harris said. Infractions such as disregarding stop signs or other violations that increase the risk of being on the road are likely to earn cyclists a ticket, he said.

While the traffic rules in state and municipal ordinances governing bike riding on public streets are generally well-known, there a few requirements that are often overlooked, Harris said.

Light it up

For example, the state and city ordinances require all cyclists to equip their bikes with lights on the front and back and to use those lights between sunset and sunrise, a rule Harris said many cyclists often think is a safety suggestion, rather than an actual requirement.That rule is all about increasing visibility of cyclists when they are riding in the evening hours, Harris said, especially if they are riding on a main road.

Columbus resident Tim Kreig, who rides a bike as his main mode of transportation through the city, said he knows about and follows the rule about lights. His routes often force him to ride in the road with other vehicles and having lights on his bike makes him feel a little bit safer, especially if he’s out riding in the evening hours, he said.

Similarly, many cyclists may not know that riding on the sidewalks is prohibited, Harris said. Instead, bicyclists are encouraged to either ride on a trail, in a designated bike lane or in the road with other traffic.

Parents who are uncomfortable with letting their children ride in the road are encouraged to accompany the children and also to wear bright clothing that will increase the visibility of riders to passing motorists.

Kreig said he tries to adhere to the suggestion to wear bright clothing when riding, but cannot do so when he is dressed for work. In those instances, Kreig said he uses his lights and moves his bike closer to the center of the lane to increase his visibility.

alternative routes

In Columbus, Harris said cyclists like Kreig are lucky to have access to alternative routes that do not force them to ride alongside larger vehicles if they feel unsafe doing so.“In town with the People Trails, there are safe places to ride,” he said.

But sometimes, cyclists have no choice but to join larger vehicles on the road. In those situations, Harris said there are some courtesies that motorists should be willing to show bicycle riders.

The most important thing to remember when driving near cyclists is to give the riders enough space on the road, Harris said.

Although it is not a requirement, most bicyclists will choose to ride on the far right side of the lane, leaving enough room for vehicles to safely pass. Kreig said he generally tries to give drivers that courtesy unless other safety factors prevent him from doing so.

If a bike is in the middle of the lane, drivers should maintain their distance, Harris said.

“They have the same right to be on our city streets as vehicles,” he said.

Additionally, motorists should reduce their speed on roads where they know cyclists likely are to be present, Harris said. Cars generally approach bikes at a faster speed than they approach other vehicles because bikes cannot keep up with the speed of passing cars, which means drivers should exercise extra caution on roads that are frequented by cyclists, he said.

Most of the time, Kreig said the drivers who share the road with him are respectful of his space. However, there have been a few instances in which a car has intentionally passed too close to Kreig’s bike as a way of sending a message that he was in the way.

Harris cautioned drivers against that sort of behavior and instead urged them to be respectful of bikers’ space and safety, even if they are in a hurry.

Common courtesy

On the flip side, Harris also said cyclists should try to show common courtesies to passing vehicles when they are sharing the road.For example, riders should not wear headphones when they are on a major road, because the sound in the headphones could drown out the sound of an approaching car, which increases the safety risk of both the cyclist and the driver. Similarly, cyclists should not text while riding or engage in other distractions that could put themselves or other people on the road at a greater risk for injury.

Kreig said he chooses to follow the headphone rule as a way of giving himself extra protection on the road.

One of the best ways to add protection while biking is to wear a helmet, Harris said.

Although there are no laws governing helmet use, Harris said wearing a helmet is always a good idea. Today’s technology has made most helmets more lightweight, so it has become easier to find head protection that fits well without feeling too heavy, he said.

“If you fall off your bike or are struck by a vehicle, sometimes you don’t have control over how you might land,” Harris said. “Especially for young riders and children, we strongly encourage wearing a helmet.”

Kreig said he always wears a helmet when riding.

Finally, Harris said one of the most effective ways to stay safe while sharing the road is to stay educated on traffic and safety rules and to stay cognizant of your surroundings.

Less than a month ago, Kreig said a friend who he often bikes with was struck by a vehicle as he was trying to cross the People Trail on 25th Street.

Although his friend is OK and didn’t sustain injuries that sent him to the hospital, Kreig said the collision was caused by a driver who was not paying attention to her surroundings. The driver was looking out for cars, Kreig said, but was not on the lookout for bikes.

That type of situation can occur anywhere at anytime, Harris said, so it’s important to be constantly vigilant and alert.

“It’s (bikes) all over town,” Harris said. “It’s important for folks to remember that someone on a bicycle or in a car or on foot might not be paying attention … so we need to be responsible and focused on our driving and not be distracted by other things in the vehicle.”

Where to read bicycle ordinances

The Indiana Code about bicycles can be found by visiting iga.in.gov/legislative, then selecting Laws – Indiana Code. Laws regarding bicycle use are covered in chapters 9-21-11-1 through 9-21-11-14, 9-21-1 through 9-21-3 and 9-21-37.

The Columbus Municipal Code can be found at columbus.in.gov on the clerk-treasurer’s webpage. Bicycle laws are covered in Chapter 10-56.

General bicycle rules

Bicycle rules enforced at both the state and city level include:

  • Riders must be firmly attached on regular seats.
  • The number of riders on a bike may not exceed the number of seats on a bike.
  • Riders may not ride more than two abreast except on designated bicycle-only paths.
  • Riders may not carry any item or package that prevents them from keeping at least one hand on the handlebars.
  • Riders may not attach themselves or their bicycles to a motor vehicle.
  • Riders must obey all traffic laws and signs also applicable to motor vehicles.
  • Riders must have lights on the front and back of their bikes.

If you go

Race2Bicycle Safety

The Columbus Park Foundation and its partners are offering race2play events involving bicycle safety at three local parks this summer. “Friday Night Flicks & Race2Bicycle Safety” will include a showing of a movie and bicycle safety tips with an obstacle course.

  • When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 15 and Aug. 5
  • Where: Morningside Park (Friday), Ninth Street Park (July 15), Pence Street Park (Aug. 5)
  • What: Race2Bicycle Safety program followed by Friday Night Flicks showing of “Minions”
  • Who: Free and open to the public, families encouraged to attend
Author photo
Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.