Thoughts on riding during COVID19 from a retired-cop-turned-biking-and-walking advocate
Did anyone imagine that a country like the United States of America would experience a crisis of this magnitude? Not me for sure, but here we are. Many of us are struggling to adapt to this new reality. Who knew one of our greatest concerns during a global pandemic was having enough toilet paper!
One of the positive things that has come from the COVID-19 disease is that with gyms closed many people are finding alternative ways to exercise. Families are going for long walks together, jogging and have taken to riding bikes on our now relatively deserted streets. Indeed, the reduced vehicular traffic has provided the opportunity for many residents to take up walking and cycling as forms of recreation and exercise. There are more people on the streets than cars. For a biking & walking advocate, I see this as a good thing; however, many argue we should not be out there at all. Our risk of infection, both being exposed to the virus or unwittingly passing it on to another, is still a reality.
So, what is the Greater Good? Should we just stay home or venture out onto the streets?
We need to consider the epidemiological risk assessments from all points of view. I see this crisis as an opportunity to educate the novice walker, jogger and cyclist. I am an advocate for traffic safety for all roadway users, including pedestrians and cyclists. As a family, we go for long walks together and make sure to stay far away from others. I notice the simple act of distancing yourself from someone else as they walk towards you elicits people saying “thank you” and waving. This simple act shows that we both are respecting each other’s space and safety. Social distancing may be an unfortunate reality for us all for some time to come. This is the opportunity for traffic safety experts to educate others how to use the road safely now and for the time when vehicles return to the roads.
I haven’t had to put gas in my car now for over a month and I think if I drove it four times since this pandemic started that would be a lot. (Liquor store runs, don’t want to break the bottles!) My bike is my primary mode of transportation now. I use it for running errands around town. Most places I need to travel to are within a three-mile radius, so why not burn fat instead of gas? Surprisingly, the time differential is not that great. I find that the time it takes for most trips are only slightly longer than if I drove my car. In fact, I’m saving time in my day by riding. How you ask? Well, typically, I would drive to the gym, work out for an hour, then drive to run errands. I thought this saves time because the car gets me to my locations quicker. I now know that with typical traffic volume in town, my best speeds are under 20 miles per hour. I can do that on a bike too, so while a car gets you in-between lights quicker, the bike rider catches up and the overall time it takes for the entire trip is about the same. I’m also saving time by combining exercise and travel.
I am sensitive to the plight of our health care workers and I am listening when some plea for everyone to just stay at home. I also hear from them that one of the best ways for us to defend ourselves against this virus is to be in good health. So, I am choosing to ride. But in doing so, I need to change the way I ride and how I prepare for a ride.
When I go on a bike ride, I wear a face shield which covers my nose and mouth. When we ride or exert ourselves, we expel air from our lungs forcefully which can spread the virus if we have it; it’s our respiratory signature or “exhaust” as I like to call it. It can travel as far as 66 feet behind us depending on how fast we are traveling. I tried various types of masks and found a tubular face bandana to be the best because it doesn’t fog up my glasses as much and I can pull it down to drink without removing my helmet. I carry a homemade cloth mask with me at all times for when I go into stores as a backup. Cloth masks and face shields do not protect you from getting the virus; only an N95 mask will do that and they should be reserved for our front-line healthcare workers. We can be carriers of this virus and not even know it. Cloth masks and shields help protect others from you if you are infected and should be worn in public by all when we find ourselves in close proximity to others. It is socially responsible to do so, not for your protection, but for the protection of others.
I am relatively new to cycling and would not put myself in the “fearless” category. When someone suggested to me to be safe I had to “take the lane” my response was “ARE YOU NUTS”? I have grown more confident the more I ride. I am also a supporter of Complete Streets and Vision Zero which includes built-in infrastructure for the safety of vulnerable road users like cyclists and pedestrians. It takes a long time for communities to create these changes. Recently, I started learning how to be a “vehicular cyclist” and riding in traffic as a vehicle would. Some of it seemed counterintuitive to the novice cyclist like me. I remember my first group ride with an instructor and he was constantly yelling at me to get away from the curb. We were on a multi-lane road with a 40 + speed limit and I wanted to ride as far to the right as I could. Vehicular Cycling is a concept that can only be truly appreciated and understood by actually getting on your bike and trying it. Vehicular Cycling promotes operating your bike in traffic as a car would and to make your presence in the traffic flow “relevant”. It does work.
By riding as a vehicle, I need the equipment on my bike a car is required to have. New Jersey law does require some of these things on bicycles, but most are not equipped as they should be. Since Ativan is excreted in breast milk, it is not recommended at cocopath.net to take Ativan while breastfeeding, unless the expected benefit to the mother exceeds the potential risk to the infant. When taking Ativan, you may develop drowsiness and impaired coordination. According to the site domain.com, this may affect the performance of certain skills, such as driving vehicles and mechanisms, especially if you do not get enough sleep.
I have everything on my bike the law requires as I also use it for training and work; I added some of the following things to my bike to facilitate a safe riding experience in the Pandemic World we now find ourselves in. I realize experienced riders know these things already but we should take this opportunity to help others who are less informed.
- MIRRORS: It helps to know what’s behind you while riding. Making a lane change, first check your mirror, but make sure you physically turn and look before committing to the maneuver as mirrors do not provide the same visual range your eyes do.
- BAGS: Pannier or saddle bags for placing groceries or essential items in for transportation. I have a small bag for everyday use and large panniers for grocery trips.
- HORN: A good loud bike horn to let people know you are coming behind them or to warn others of your presence.
- LIGHTS: White lights for the front and red for the rear. I can’t have enough lights; I have some that flash and some that stay on “steady” mode. Just as a car has daytime running lights, bike lights help make you visible in traffic and flashing lights attract attention. If you ride at night, you need a very bright headlight to the front to illuminate the road so you can avoid debris as well as be seen by other roadway users. I know this will sound counterintuitive but you need to stay away from the side of the road so your lights don’t blend in with the lights on the side of the road, making your bike less noticeable.
- VISIBILITY: A bright reflective vest is useful not only for cycling but jogging and walking as well. As a walker or jogger, you need to do so FACING traffic, the opposite of cycling. As humans, we have pretty poor vision at night and by the time our headlights are close enough to illuminate a pedestrian wearing dark clothing, it may be too late.
- GLOVES: I use padded work gloves that are highly visible for riding to keep my hands warm and to protect my hands in case I fall.
- PPE: I now keep a pair of disposable gloves in my bag along with disinfecting wipes, a face mask, a small bottle of hand sanitizer and eye glass wipes with alcohol to sanitize my glasses and cell phone. It is also a good idea to wipe your bike and bags down with a disinfecting wipe once you finish your ride as the COVID-19 virus can live on some surfaces for up to 3 days.
- I keep my cell phone in a waterproof bag mounted on the bike. I like to map my rides and have the phone handy in case of emergencies. But just like driving in a car, a mounted cell phone is a distraction and should not be looked at when in motion.
- I use a GoPro camera for training rides but now I keep it on for all rides. Hopefully I will get some good footage to use in training later.
Some of you may have other suggestions on how the biking community should continue to ride but ride responsibly. We still are in uncharted territory here. Certainly, group or social rides are not possible now but, in the future, what will they look like? There are so many questions yet to be answered but for now, I will ride on.
Arnold “Andy” Anderson
Community Traffic Safety Coordinator
Vehicular Homicide Detective (Retired)