BICYCLING in an urban environment can be a mixed blessing. While cycling can be both good exercise and sometimes a quicker mode of transport than being stuck in a car in gridlocked traffic, it also can be hazardous to your health.
One of those hazards has traditionally been local rules and regulations that left bicyclists facing different restrictions in different communities. The Ohio Bicycle Federation lobbied for change and was rewarded when the provisions of the Better Ohio Bicycling law went into effect this week.
The law brings wide-ranging changes in the way bicyclists use the roads, and while this will bring the regulations covering bicycles more in line with those covering automobiles, it also will mean cyclists must be more cautious and aware of other road traffic than ever before.
The law is in some ways a bicyclist's bill of rights. No longer can municipalities mandate bicyclists ride only on sidewalks or trails, for example. Bicyclists do not have to ride on the extreme right of the road if they need to be in another lane to make a turn, avoid a road hazard, or stay out of a right-turn lane.
Making regulations more uniform is sensible. But the new law may in some cases do cyclists no favors. It continues the requirement that cyclists signal for turns - which common sense should dictate - but it allows them to return both hands to the handlebars for safety before the turn. What if a driver doesn't see the temporary hand signal, noticing only both hands on the handlebars? How can a driver assume a turn is to be made?
And allowing cyclists to use left-turn lanes is inevitably going to create potentially dangerous situations at busy intersections.
One of the more interesting facets of the new law's introduction is that cyclists believe they should be allowed to use the road "as if we were cars - same rights, same rules," as Bill Mellon, president of the Toledo Area Bicyclists organization, put it.
Except that bicycles aren't cars. They aren't as fast, and they don't protect their operators as well. The average cyclists riding down busy streets like Monroe, Secor, or Reynolds, and trying to move into a left turn lane, or - if there are no local regulations prohibiting it - riding two abreast as frustrated motorists stack up behind them, are obviously not as safe as they would be on a designated bike path or trail.
Under the new law, bicyclists may still ride on sidewalks but they cannot be forced to. For which many pedestrians will no doubt be grateful.
The Ohio Bicycle Federation says that cycling on the road is safer than on sidewalks or parallel paths. Now that bicyclists have been given much the same access to surface streets - and will be subject to the same traffic laws - as motorists, time will tell if accidents decline.
For now, motorists and bicyclists are going to have to show more patience, be more responsible, and exercise increased diligence as they share Toledo's streets.