Clarendon Cycles: Visibility Is Key
Now's a very good time to reassess your visibility on Arlington's streets and trails.
It's time for that semi-annual get-your-lights-out reminder. Eastern Standard Time is here, Bike Arlington is doing light-giveaways, and it's well past sunset when most of us are heading home from work.
So what's the point of a reminder column? As BikeHugger recently asked — Do people not realize that it's time for lights?
Well, no, they don't. Not enough of them, anyway.
And by people, I mean everyone using our streets and trails. Cyclists and pedestrians are not as visible as we think we are, and this leads to unsafe situations. Ask any driver or cyclist who's happened upon a "ninja" runner — dressed all in black, save perhaps a small reflective stripe on his shoe — crossing the street or sharing the trail with them.
It should go without saying that everyone benefits from lights. Whether it be an 800-lumen monster headlight on your handlebars or the small silicone-cased blinking lights on a runner's shoes, nothing catches our attention as well as moving lights. So if you're out when the sun isn't? Have them on you.
Unfortunately, people won't always remember their lights or can't be convinced to carry lights (see most of Arlington's trail runners at night). Many incorrectly think that bright colors can subsitute for lights, or that drivers can easily see and avoid them thanks to their own headlights.
The inability to accurately judge our own visibilty isn't just an anecdotal observation. The Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety studied the gap between what cyclists thought made them visible and what actually made cyclists visible to drivers. While the entire study is an interesting read, here's the takeaway:
Drivers recognised more cyclists wearing the reflective vest plus reflectors (90%) than the reflective vest alone (50%), fluorescent vest (15%) or black clothing (2%). [ . . . ] The findings suggest that reflective ankle and knee markings are particularly valuable at night, while fluorescent clothing is not. Cyclists wearing fluorescent clothing may be at particular risk if they incorrectly believe themselves to be conspicuous to drivers at night.
There's good news in there: It's relatively cheap to acquire and use the best passive forms of visiblity (reflective vest and reflectors) and you lose very little by avoiding some of the fashion horrors of cycling.
Back to anecdotal observations — The visibility of Arlington's cyclists have improved greatly over the past few years. In fact, I'd say that visiblity has become the norm (instead of the exception) along commuting routes like the Custis.
While there have also been improvements in pedestrian/runner visibilty, they seem to be lagging as a group. That's unfortunate, as they're certainly the most vulnerable users of the trails when it's dark. A simple reflective ankle strap or small LED light would go a long way to making the trail safer for them.
As cyclists and pedestrians, we owe it to ourselves — and others on the streets and trails — to take responsibility for our own visibility. We can call for others to share our transportation spaces safely, but we can only do that fairly if we've given them a way to see us.
So light up.
You can access a copy of the visibility study PDF here.
The suggestions in last year's Light It Up, Cyclists column remain the same.
Mark Blacknell is a member of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, president of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and a League Cycling Instructor.