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Power of the pedal

POSTED October 18, 2011 5:59 p.m.

Lately, I’ve been encouraged to see more bicyclists pedaling their way around town. With the Valley’s air quality issues, the increasing childhood obesity rates, and a country-wide emphasis on “greener” power, bicycling is a beneficial activity.

Around the U.S. new bike lanes and paths are all the rage, helping cash-strapped cities simultaneously green operations and trim budgets—adding bike lanes is far less costly (to taxpayers and the environment) than building new roads. Also, the nonprofit League of American Bicyclists reports that real estate values increase with proximity to bike paths.

In Davis, named America’s top cycling city by the League of American Bicyclists in 2010, bikes outnumber cars and bike paths occupy 95 percent of arterial and collector roads there. Some 14 percent of all commuters in Davis commute to work by bike, which is 35 times the national average. Other cities in the League’s Top 10 include Palo Alto and San Francisco in California; Corvallis, Portland and Eugene in Oregon; Boulder, Colo.; Madison, Wis.; Tucson, Ariz.; and Seattle, Wash.

And while Turlock is not the most bike-friendly town — a 2010 bike path report done by California State University, Stanislaus geography students found that Turlock needed a few improvements to be safe for cyclists — there are quite a few wide paths and shady roads that make pedaling a pleasant undertaking.

I was giving our community a metaphorical pat on the back for its “green” transportation efforts, when I noticed a group of younger riders — who were all without helmets — weaving their way in and out of traffic. Then, in church on Sunday, someone mentioned to me that they were upset about teenagers who were riding their bikes up and down the canal banks.

That type of behavior is a tragic accident waiting to happen.

The 13-year-old bicyclist hit by a car while leaving Beyer High School in Modesto on Friday is still in critical condition, according to the Modesto Police Department. It was reported he was not wearing a helmet at the time. This type of accident is all too common.

In 2009, 630 bicyclists died on U.S. roads; 74 of which were 14 or younger, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Also in 2009, 51,000 bicyclists were injured in traffic.

Most of these tragedies could have been prevented.

Many bicyclists forget that they are required to follow the rules of the road, just like a motorist. They must ride with the traffic flow; stop at stop signs and red lights; use proper hand signals when turning, stopping or changing lanes; and ride in a straight line.

Another important part of bicycling is defensive riding. Just like in driving, you can’t control the stupid moves other drivers make, but you can be alert and prepared for defensive maneuvers.

And, in case any parents are wondering, it is California law for anyone under 18 to wear a helmet while riding a bike.

Bicycling is a healthy activity — for the body and the environment — we, as a community, should support cycling as much as possible. That support should include educating the public on bicycling rules of the road and safety precautions.

For more information on bicycle safety, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Web site at: www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.

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