5 simple ways to stay safe cycling around campus

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cycling safety 2023 streamCycling is an easier and more sustainable way to travel across UAB’s urban, 100-plus-block campus. But it’s important to stay safe while riding, said David Schwebel, Ph.D., University Professor in the Department of Psychology and director of the Youth Safety Lab who studies unintentional injury in children, adolescents and young adults — especially since most bicycle deaths occur in urban areas and non-intersection locations.

“Bicyclists should be predictable, visible and aware as they move through their cities and neighborhoods,” he said. “By taking precautions before you ride and while you are riding, you can significantly decrease the risk of injury or death while riding a bicycle.”

Before you hop on that bike to commute to work or head across campus, make sure you, your bicycle and your knowledge of the road are ready.

1. Always wear a helmet.

Between 2009-2018, staff in U.S. hospitals treated nearly 597,000 bicycle-related traumatic brain injuries, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

“Helmets save lives,” said Marvin Hart, sergeant in the UAB Police and Public Safety Department. “If the helmet does not fit properly, it can leave important areas of the head exposed to injury.”

Find a helmet that fits snug with the strap on, Hart recommends. States have various laws regarding cyclists wearing helmets — Alabama requires it — but for safety it is recommend that everyone where a helmet when riding. Cyclists should check to make sure the helmet is ANSI- or SNELL-approved by the federal government.

2. Wear clothing that is tight and bright.

What a cyclist is wearing matters. Wear clothing that is bright and fits tight. Clothing that is easily seen enables cars to see cyclists. This is especially important at dusk, dawn and at night. A cyclist’s clothing should have reflectors on it or be bright in color. Avoid loose clothing that could get caught in the bicycle. Long pants and long sleeves could protect against scrapes but should fit tight. In warmer weather, consider wearing knee and elbow pads.

“Avoid dark clothing when riding a bicycle,” Schwebel said. “Dark colors make it difficult for drivers of cars to see a bicyclist. If possible, I recommend not riding bicycles after dark when it is harder for motorists to see cyclists.

3. Perform a strict pre-ride checklist.

Assess your bicycle and its road-readiness. Go through a check list to ensure your bicycle is appropriately sized and maintained.

“Danger can occur if the bicycle fails at the wrong time,” Schwebel said. “Having a quick pre-ride checklist to ensure your bicycle is safe can decrease the risk of injury.”

4. Check these things before hopping on your bike:

  • It’s the right size — one too big can be harder to control
  • Adjust the seat to fit height.
  • Tires are properly inflated
  • Install reflectors on front and back of bicycle.
  • All parts are working properly.
  • Grease chains, if needed.

See something that doesn’t look quite right? Use the self-service bike repair station on the Campus Green outside the Commons for minor repairs and tire inflation.

Or, if more is required, drop your bike off at the Blazer Bike Shop inside the Campus Recreation Center. Chain installations cost around $10, and tube or tire installations cost about $15, with thorough tune-ups running about $30.

5. Know the rules of the road.

Bicyclists must know the rules of road and follow them to ensure everyone’s safety.

“Cyclists are considered vehicles when riding in the street,” Hart said. “It is important to learn and follow the rules as a motorist and cyclist to help protect anyone who is traveling.”

Rules to keep in mind include:

  • Never ride against the flow of traffic.
  • Obey all traffic laws, signs and signals.
  • Pedestrians always have the right of way if riding on the sidewalk.
  • Use hand signals.
  • Look both ways before crossing the street.

“If drivers know where you are going, they will be able to respond and avoid you, just as they would avoid other vehicles,” Schwebel said.

Using hand signals allows others to know what intentions are being communicated. Just like a motorist, tell others what you are doing and where you are going. The most important hand signals to know include left or right turn. Signal a left turn by extending the left hand out. To signal a right turn, extend the left arm out from the body pointing the forearm and hand up in a right angle.

register your bike squareBe sure to register your bike.

UAB Transportation encourages cyclists to voluntarily register their bikes with the department. This can help authorities locate and return stolen bikes or identify owners of ones that are impounded. Students who register their bikes will receive a free helmet and U-lock.

Employees or students who work in non-patient care buildings also can park their bicycles in private offices, according to UAB’s policy on bicycle and other wheeled mobility devices. Bike owners who work in buildings that offer patient care or don’t have private offices can park their bicycles in one of hundreds of bike racks on campus, and School of Medicine cyclists can stow their bike in one of 22 bike lockers on the ground-floor plaza of Lister Hill Library.