Between Daylight Savings and a blast of warm weather earlier this week, State College residents were hit with an early dose of spring fever, infecting students with the urge to get outdoors.
Bicyclists, too, rejoiced at the chance to go for a comfortable spin around town, but the increased presence of bikes calls to mind the importance for safety protocol in the State College area.
Joyce Eveleth, an environmental AmeriCorps member in State College and coordinator of the State College Bicycle Ambassadors program, said bike safety is especially important on a college campus.
The Bicycle Ambassadors program is a volunteer-based program comprised of Penn State students and State College community members that encourages alternative transportation options, educates bicyclists and promotes “share the road” practices, Eveleth said.
“State College really is a great place to ride a bike,” Eveleth said, noting that Penn State has been nationally recognized as a bicycle-friendly university.
Still, Eveleth mentioned, everyone has a certain responsibility in promoting bicycle safety in the community.
“It’s important that your bike acts as a vehicle,” Eveleth said. “Bicyclists should handle the same responsibilities as drivers.”
Eveleth also mentioned another tip, which might be considered trite, but is still very essential — always wear a helmet.
“I can speak from experience, they are essential,” Eveleth said.
Eveleth remembered a time when she decided to leave the house without wearing a helmet. Coincidentally, she ended up colliding with another bicyclist and was in the hospital for two days recovering from the accident.
“Head injuries are just not fun, so while it may seem like a pain, it makes a huge difference,” Eveleth said.
Some Penn State Cycling Club members echo Eveleth in the importance of bike helmets.
“We've had a number of accidents in the cycling club that would’ve ended a lot more seriously had the person not been wearing a helmet,” president Ernie Lehman said. “There's nothing like taking your helmet off after a crash and seeing the crushed foam to realize how important it is.”
Lehman mentioned the importance of bicycle rules, especially on campus.
“University policy limits bike use to roads and malls, [and the] borough limits it to just roads, so stick to those,” Lehman (senior-marketing and film/video) said. “It helps maintain good cyclist-pedestrian relations and will keep you safer.”
Lehman also noted the importance of obeying traffic laws and keeping your bike maintained, but recognized that cyclists are not the only ones responsible for their own safety.
“Before you step out into the street, make sure to look both ways,” Lehman said. “It sounds elementary, but because bikes don't make as much noise as cars. Pedestrians take it for granted that nothing is coming.”
Brett Wachtendorf, treasurer of the Penn State Cycling Club, agreed with Lehman, noting any pedestrian not crossing in a crosswalk does not have the right of way, so staying alert is always essential.
Drivers should also stay alert, Wachtendorf mentioned.
“The radio, phone call, text, make up…whatever it is, [it] can wait,” Wachtendorf said. “Your car is a two-ton machine and a cyclist is a 150-pound person. If you don't feel like you can pass them without coming close to causing an accident or you have to rush by, just wait. A life lost is not worth the rush.”
Using turn signals and obeying traffic laws is another way drivers can help bicyclists maintain safety, Wachtendorf said.
One tip all three bicyclists could agree on was the importance of bike lights.
Pennsylvania state law requires any bike rode between sunset and sunrise to be equipped with reflectors or lights visible from at least 500 feet away.
Eveleth and the Bicycle Ambassadors are holding an event downtown on Wednesday where free bike lights will be given away, and the ambassadors will be present to answer any questions about bicycle safety in State College, Eveleth said.
Bike safety, Wachtendorf said, is far more important than risking your own safety.
“There is no rush to get to class or McClanahan’s,” Wachtendorf said. “You'll get there soon enough and life will always carry on whether you're five minutes early or five minutes late.”