Is Riding on the Roads Safe?

Summer is here, school is out and bicycles seem to be everywhere. How comfortable are you or your children with riding a bike in traffic? Are you fearful of riding on the roadways? Maybe you feel ok riding on the road but aren’t all that sure that you are following the safest practices?

I’m familiar with people like this. One person I know trains for triathlons but won’t ride their bike on the road because they think it’s too dangerous. They only ride on the Centennial Trail, which limits them somewhat. Another person rides on the road but stays so far to the right they practically hug the curb, which makes it difficult for vehicle drivers – especially those crossing at intersections – to see them. To make matters worse, this person will suddenly swerve out towards the traffic lane when they encounter debris. And I cringe when I see people riding against the flow of traffic.

Is riding on the roads safe? For the most part, yes. Spokane is making progress in establishing bike lanes. The extent of that progress leaves much to be desired, but that’s a topic for another day. Outside of the Centennial, Fish Lake, and Children of the Sun trails, there is little or no protected space for bicycles. Much of the protection and separation from vehicular traffic consists of the rules of the road and the white paint marking the bike lanes and sharrows. But we have to start somewhere, right?

Given that, unless we decide to restrict ourselves to the trails, many of us don’t have a choice but to ride on the roadways. It is possible to do so safely and with confidence. The basics include following the rules of the road (i.e., ride like you’re a car), picking good routes, being visible, and being predictable. Being predictable ties back to following the rules of the road. If we’re all on the same page, then I as a vehicle driver should be able to predict what you on your bicycle will do as we both approach a four-way stop intersection from different directions.

Whether you’re new to riding or are an experienced cyclist, there are ways to improve your proficiency, gain worthwhile experience, and increase your confidence. One option is taking the Traffic Skills 101 class offered by The League of American Bicyclists. This is not just for beginners. It’s for anyone who wants to improve their traffic interactions. The course is nine hours in length and taught over two days. About half is held in the classroom and the remainder is riding on the road where you get to learn by example. (It’s my understanding that quite a few City of Spokane traffic engineers are slated to take this course over the summer. Many of them are non-riders who design our bike facilities. I imagine all kinds of good can come out of that.)

The instructor, Cindy Green, says a class is scheduled for August but the date and location have not been set yet. You can reach her at if you’re interested in attending. The Spokane Bicycle Club supports this program strongly enough that they covered half of the $50 cost for club members who attended the class in June.

Another way to get more comfortable riding in traffic is through the Spokane Regional Health District “Walk, Bike, Bus Program.” The first neighborhood event is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, August 2, in the South Perry neighborhood. Members of the Spokane Bicycle Club and SRHD staff who are Bicycle League Certified Instructors will lead you on a relaxed ride around the Perry Neighborhood to practice your street riding skills. Along with that, you get to meet other people who enjoy riding bikes.

According to Mariah McKay with SRHD, the primary goal for the event is to offer participants an opportunity to improve their road-riding experience and confidence in a safe and relaxed ride with other established members of the cycling community who can model good riding behavior. About 1,000 people within 480 homes in a defined area of the Perry neighborhood are eligible to participate in Walk Bike Bus. If that’s where you live, then here’s a good opportunity for you and your family to benefit from the experience of others. To RSVP your attendance and learn more, check out the Facebook event at

We bike riders are vulnerable when we’re on the road with traffic, but we can ride safely and comfortably if we ride smart and make sure we know the rules of the road. And we can still have fun while we ride too. // (Hank Greer)


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