Where rubber meets road for bicyclists

Those who ride bicycles on campus and around town are responsible for following the rules, both on the street and the sidewalk. (Allison Evans | The Collegian )

Toward the end of last year, The League of American Bicyclists (the leading national membership organization for cyclists in the U.S.) listed Manhattan as one of three bronze-level bicycle friendly communities across the state of Kansas in their latest data release.

Nevertheless, local experts and members of the cycling community said they believe that Manhattan may have a few more milestones to pass before becoming better equipped in handling cyclists on the road.

The K-State campus, in spite of its efforts in bicycle regulation, did not make the cut as a “bicycle-friendly” campus as far as league is concerned. The state of Kansas still remains free of any universities that hold that title.

The bicycle-friendly standard suggests many laws and regulations, one of which is a law that implements increased penalties for harassing, injuring or killing vulnerable road users – including cyclists – and a law making it illegal to drive distracted, use a handheld cell phone or text while driving. Both laws which are not in full effect across the state of Kansas.

Another significant attribute to becoming a bicycle-friendly community, according to the League of American Bicyclists, is providing bicycle education for both motorists and cyclists throughout the state.

Clint McAllister, bicycle specialist at Big Poppi Bicycle Co., said he believes that bicycle education – for both cyclists and motorists – is the most important factor in improving the cycling scene in the Little Apple.

“There’s quite a number of rights and responsibilities that cyclists out there aren’t aware of,” McAllister said. “It all comes down to the fact that these laws or regulations are seldom communicated by authority to those on the road whether it be cyclists or motorists. I think ‘bike ed’ is an equal responsibility of the city, the university, and businesses that handle bicycles in Manhattan.”

McAllister said that Big Poppi’s starts with themselves, as they make sure that anyone who buys a bicycle from them is explicitly informed of the laws, rights and responsibilities on the road.

“As a bicyclist, you are required to stop at a stop sign, yield at a yield sign and give turn signals,” McAllister said. “When someone comes in for a bicycle, they don’t just buy it and walk out with it. If it’s their first time, we instruct them on how to correctly operate the bike and how to handle traffic and what they should and what they shouldn’t be doing. Also, depending on what type of rider they may be and what kind of bicycle they’re getting, we advise them on things such as whether or not they should usually take the sidewalk or the pavement and which sidewalks in town are permissible to use and which aren’t.”

In July 2011, the state of Kansas adopted two new laws concerning bicyclists, first of which is the 3-Foot Passing law, which requires any vehicle attempting to pass up a cyclist on the road to only do so at a distance of 3 feet to either side of the cyclist; preferably on the left since they’re usually on the right side of the road.

The other law, which is called the “Dead Red” law, allows the driver of a motorcycle or the rider of a bicycle to proceed through a red signal if the red light has failed to change to green within a reasonable period of time, preferably more than 30 seconds, because the signal has either malfunctioned or has failed to detect the vehicle.

Steven Howard, bicycle specialist at Pathfinder: Outdoors and Bike Specialists in Manhattan, said that as the new laws and regulations are an improvement in how bicyclists use the road, there are still a few more things that we can work on. Specifically, there are regulations that can be added to make Manhattan even safer not only for bicyclists, but also for motorists pedestrians as well.

“One of the technical challenges that Manhattan faces is the maintenance of bike lanes across town and the KSU campus; I’ve witnessed many instances where debris sat for weeks on a bike lane and hadn’t been cleaned off,” Howard said. “Snow becomes a problem too when it’s taken off the road and thrown to the side, totally blocking the dedicated road for cyclists. With that being said, bicyclists should also be allowed to not use the bike lane upon their discretion for reasons including the ones I just mentioned. Some bicyclists would not be able to take the sidewalk or bike lane for their specific commute, and those should be entitled to get on the road with the traffic and face as little issues as possible.”

Howard said he also agreed with McAllister, adding that enhancing bicycle education is the most important factor when it comes to making sure as many people as possible conform with the rules and regulations regarding cyclists.

“I think there’s a couple of simple but very effective solutions to any bike problems that we may have around town,” Howard said. “First, the city can include questions on bicycle laws in driver’s license tests; a small assurance that anyone who gets on the road realizes their rights and responsibilities regarding a bicycle anywhere near them. Second, just like K-State has an Alcohol Edu course that is compulsory for incoming freshmen before enrollment, I feel like as a university we should start thinking about a ‘Bicycle Edu’ course that is also compulsory. We have a significant number of cyclists around campus and I think this works for the benefit of the general public too. Cyclists can learn more about different dismount and yield zones on campus and where and where not to ride. It can be as small as a 15-minute comprehensive slideshow with some followup questions.”

Maj. Donald Stubbings, patrol director for the K-State Police Department, said he believes that as Manhattan grows within the next few years, it will be able to build more tangible infrastructure that will help support the system of laws that govern the relationship between bicyclists and both motorists on the road and pedestrians on sidewalks.

“One of the things we do have in Manhattan here that’s helping facilitate the progress towards becoming a better bicycle friendly community is Bicycle Patrol,” Stubbings said. “Other than their job in maintaining safety for the general public, bike officers play a huge role in educating other cyclists on how to correctly operate a bicycle and also bring motorists’ attention onto how to better handle driving on the same road as a bicycle.”

Stubbings agreed with Howard and McAllister when he said that the first and most integral step is to educate the general public on bicycle rules and safety.

“We try to enforce the laws for cyclists as often as we find violations given the large number of bicyclists on campus and around Manhattan,” Stubbings said. “However, as Manhattan and the K-State campus both grow, students and residents of the city will hopefully have more and more education on bicyclists rules, rights and responsibilities and we’ll have much better enforcement then.”