Valley Voices

Franz Weinschenk: Come biking with me, enjoy the ride but obey the rules of the road

Caltrans employees cross Blackstone Avenue head to work during the Bike to Work Corporate Challenge in 2010.
Caltrans employees cross Blackstone Avenue head to work during the Bike to Work Corporate Challenge in 2010. Fresno Bee file

As a longtime bicycle rider, I’m glad to see more and more Fresno folks riding these days. Why not? Many ride for the pure joy of it; other save money on gas and parking fees by biking to work.

Bikers know that riding will keep them trim, fit and healthy, will help them lose weight and stay in shape. With more bicycle lanes and paths being dedicated everywhere in the country, riding will not only become safer, it’ll be a big plus for our environment.

There are two kinds of identifiable bikeways: those that are chiefly for commuters are called bike “lanes,” and those that are principally for recreation are referred to as bike “paths.”

Fresno has many established bike lanes, usually, but not always, on both sides of the street. They are clearly marked with white lines, signs and pavement decals. They are mainly used to get riders from one part of the city to another, possibly for going to work, school, the store or to a meeting somewhere. And the city is adding new lanes all the time.

Fresno is also installing a recent innovation called “detector loops” at busy corners where there are signal lights. These devices are electronic bicycle detectors that will change a red light to green for a biker stopped at that red light even when there are no cars going in the same direction.

As it is now, if a biker gets to a red light with no cars going in the same direction, often the light will just remain red, and the only way the biker can get the light to change is to get up on the sidewalk and punch the button.

What the detector does is tell the red light there’s an eager biker who want to move on – and, just as it would for a car, it will change red to green. You can tell if there is one at an intersection if you see a small white bike design painted on the pavement right above where it is located.

And then there are off-road, scenic bike “lanes” that are primarily used for recreation. Much enjoyed by local riders, they provide a great deal of healthy, safe and scenic diversion for those who use them. Around 90 million Americans ride bicycles. That’s more than all skiers, golfers and tennis players in the country combined.

Local bikers agree there is nothing more satisfying than biking with family or friends perhaps through Woodward Park’s scenic bike path, possibly all the way out to the popular River Center on Old Friant Road. Those eager for even more of a workout can continue on Friant Road, which not that long ago was made into a divided highway with clearly marked bike lanes on both sides all the way to the base of Friant Dam.

Bikers who ride to work tell us that riding saves them money, inasmuch as they don’t need to buy gas or pay parking fees. Even beyond that, they report that the half hour or so they spend commuting out in the fresh air to and from work helps ease work-related tensions. As one rider put it, “There is nothing that makes you feel better than biking past a traffic jam – in the bike lane, of course.”

Biking also promotes a healthy lifestyle. Melissa Johnson, the director of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, puts in this way: “Bicycling is a great way to be active and stay healthy. It’s an ideal low-impact activity that’s fun for all people.” Doctors tell us that just three hours of biking per week can reduce a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke by 50 percent.

Furthermore, bicycle riding is extremely good for our environment because cars and trucks emit a great deal of carbon dioxide compared with bikers, who emit practically nothing. The average car traveling 100 miles emits 259 pounds of CO2 while an average biker going the same distance will emit only 3.2 pounds of carbon. If the U.S. could increase bicycling by only 0.5 percent, we could save 462 million gallons of gasoline a year.

Of course, safety is a big issue. Unfortunately, we do have accidents involving bikers who occasionally are seriously injured, even killed.

First of all, drivers, bikers and pedestrians need to remember that all traffic laws apply to them. As far as bicyclists are concerned, the law states that riders under 18 wear helmets. I strongly advise all riders to wear them.

Bikers always need to ride on the right side of the street and obey traffic lights and stop signs. They should have proper lights on their bikes while riding at night or in the fog. It’s also suggested they dress in bright-colored tops and never use earplugs while cycling.

A bad habit I have observed is that some bikers, after stopping at a red light, go right through that light once the green arrow, which allows cars to make left turns, comes on. Since they didn’t see any cars in the oncoming left-turn lane, they think it’s safe to do so.

However, on several occasions, I have witnessed oncoming vehicles race through the green arrow at the very last second and just barely miss the cyclist who thought nobody was coming.

As for motorists, when they want to make a right turn at a corner, they need to not only look to the left to see if there are any cars coming, they should also look to the right to see if any pedestrians or cyclists in the intersection.

Finally, if motorists wish to make a right turn into a driveway and there happens to be a cyclist in the right-hand bike lane near them, they should wait a few seconds until the cyclist has passed the driveway they want to get into before turning.

For fun, here are some notable local bike events you might consider entering: Blossom Trail Ride, Bike to Work Day, California Classic and Mall to Mall Ride.

See you out there. Enjoy!

Franz Weinschenk is a retired speech and English instructor, as well as the first dean of the Humanities Division at Fresno City College.