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How do you determine which roads are safe to ride on and which should be avoided? What traffic patterns do you feel comfortable riding in, and which ones set off alarms? What sorts of intersections do you avoid? How about for nighttime riding; are the same roads safe at night, or do you take a different route at night than you would during the day? Are there any statistics on ratio of accidents to total bicycle usage on certain roads to help inform this decision?

There are several streets in my area that I will always avoid. There are a few parkways with no shoulders whatsoever, narrow lanes, winding roads, fast moving traffic, and very few stop lights and side streets to calm traffic. There are several that I feel pretty confident on, with reasonably wide bike lanes, low traffic, and frequent intersections that mean that traffic doesn't usually get too fast and drivers are on the lookout for people turning in. I'm just wondering if there are any more objective criteria I can use, or good rules of thumb, for where it's safe to ride.

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4 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I consider several factors.

  • Traffic density
  • Traffic speed
  • Road shoulder or not
  • Bike lane or not
  • Route efficiency
  • Road condition
  • Bus and truck traffic density
  • Streetcar routes

The main combination that I really work hard to avoid is high density, high speed, and no shoulder or bike lane, with poor road condition thrown in as a bonus. I will ride on high density, low speed roads without a lane/shoulder most any time.

For intersections, if possible, I tend to avoid ones that are poorly signaled; but on some routes I just have to be extra careful on those. At night, high speeds and poor road conditions gets extra weight.

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I try to avoid any road that'll have me cycling on the same lane (i.e. no bike path or shoulder) as cars allowed likely to go more than 50 km/h (30 mph), day or night (if I have a bicycle with proper lights). However, depending on where you cycle this is not always possible. In those places I take my rear-view mirror with me on my bike and stay out of rush-hour traffic.

As per Murph's comment, winding narrow country roads are usually pretty safe to ride despite the high speed limit because the traffic density is low and all the corners keep car-speeds down. So I changed "allowed" to "likely". This of course requires some local knowledge.

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You might want to clarify that 50 km/h is about 30 mph for those of us who still use the imperial system. –  Brian Campbell Oct 17 '10 at 2:33
    
Interestingly, a lot of the nicest roads to cycle on in the UK (narrow country lanes) would fail that constraint as the limit on those is often 60mph... In a broad sense you're not wrong - that's not too bad a metric but it shows how hard it is to formulate a generic answer –  Murph Oct 17 '10 at 10:04
    
In the UK the default speed limit is 60mph (100kph) for any road without a specific limit - which is most country lanes! –  mgb Feb 11 '11 at 3:42
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Determining the safety of a roadway as a cyclist is rather simple if you realize that its all about negative space. By that I mean if the roadway is our space, everything not a car, obstacle, or other cyclist is negative space.

The first question is is there enough negative space (where you want to be) to accommodate you. ie. a pack of ten cars one meter apart moving at 5kph has a lot more of that navigable negative space then 4 cars with 5 meters apart at 50kph.

Next is the condition of the road. Some times this may take a trip or two to discover pot holes, rough shoulders, backwards grain grates etc. But mainly your general assessment of are you comfortable ridding on that with the speed and reaction required for the surface

Providing those conditions are met, it may be worth a try.

Of course be reasonable, if something seems like a bad idea it probably is, and even if it sounds good, its probably bad.

Most importantly be safe & smart. Its not difficult & will keep you alive.

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Two words..."common sense!" An experienced cyclist will want as light a traffic pattern as possible during the hours you intend to be on that particular road section. A wide berm or preferably, your own "bike lane." As few intersections as possible, and those intersections that are there..having a traffic signal device rather than stop/yield signs and turning lanes. Fairly well lit area if night rides are required ( although too many business/advertising signs may distract drivers! ), and the driveways are always dangerous places where vehicles enter/exit. Of course using proper safety equipment on your bike ( rear-view mirror(s), lights and possible horn ) as well as your personal safety equipment ( helmet, proper clothing ) always make the experience less traumatising if you're prepared for the possibilities. The Oregon Bicycling Manual... ( http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/BIKEPED/docs/bike_manual.pdf )...is the best bikeing manual I've come across for the bicyclist to take a look at. Every state should have a bicycle manual as good as this one. It's good to read for motorists too! If the cyclists do what a vehicle driver expects, you're much safer. The state of Oregon seems to be a leader for keeping their bicyclists safe from what I'm seeing!

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