With more than 100 miles of maintained bicycle paths in Wichita — including bike lanes along roads— interactions between cyclists and drivers of motor-powered vehicles are commonplace.
Kansas law requires bicyclists to follow the same traffic laws as those driving cars, but the state’s department of transportation recommends those on bikes take additional safety precautions.
Three bicyclists died in crashes in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available online, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation. From 2005 to 2015, there were 49 reported bicyclist deaths and 3,343 reported injuries of bicyclists statewide.
Bicyclists must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians, just as cars are required to, and they should stop within 15 feet of railroad tracks.
Additionally, they should ride with normal traffic flow on the right side of the road, according to the KDOT, and remain within 2 feet from the road’s edge to allow enough space to avoid any potholes or debris.
Over the past 10 years, Wichita has been working to increase bike safety and accessibility with the help of community groups like Bike Walk Wichita. But, the pathways are still being updated, and bikers need to take special care, even in designated areas.
How to bike safely in Kansas
Here are more tips from the KDOT to bike as safely as possible:
Wear a helmet approved by an organization such as the American National Standards Institute, American Society for Testing and Materials or Snell Memorial Foundation.
Be especially careful when navigating intersections.
Listen for oncoming vehicles.
Brake especially carefully when cycling in wet weather or on slippery surfaces.
Be mindful of dogs and other animals.
Load your bicycle correctly.
Eat and drink enough.
It’s also important to ride defensively, KDOT advises, and remember a crash can cause significant injuries even if it is not your fault.
As part of defensive driving, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises bicyclists to assume drivers do not see you, always be on the lookout for potential hazards and avoid distractions, such as listening to music or texting while riding.
There are several steps you can take to mitigate crash risks before heading out on your bike, the NHTSA reports. Here’s what the federal organization recommends:
Make sure your bike is sized properly. A bicycle that’s too big for you will be more difficult to control.
Wear a bike helmet whenever riding, and wear bright clothing when riding during the day.
Ride one person per seat and keep your hands on the handlebars unless you’re signaling.
Carry all your items in a backpack or strapped to your bike.
Tie your shoelaces and tuck them in so they don’t get caught on your bike chain.
When planning your route, use car-free avenues if possible. If you have to ride on the road with cars, choose routes with lower speed limits and less traffic if you have the choice.
What bicyclist should know about the rules of the road
When approaching a red light or a stop sign, Kansas bicyclists are required to follow the same traffic laws as motorists.
Although the Kansas legislature passed a “dead red” law in 2011 allowing bicyclists and motorcyclists to proceed through red lights that fail to change after a “reasonable” period of time, the provision does not apply in Wichita, according to a 2011 article from The Eagle. That said, an officer could choose not to ticket someone after they wait a long time before proceeding.
The “Idaho stop” is another law allowing bicyclists an exception to typical traffic rules. Idaho passed a law in 1982 allowing bicyclists to yield at stop signs, rather than coming to a complete stop and proceeding “when safe,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Kansas law does not have a specific provision allowing the Idaho stop, so bicyclists should approach stop signs as vehicles are required to in the state.
Bicyclists who ride in the dark are required to have a white light visible at least 500 feet ahead in addition to a reflector visible at least 500 feet from behind the bicycle. They may also consider using a flag to increase visibility on rural roads, KDOT officials say.
Those who are riding with children in a carrier must ensure the children are protected from rear wheel spokes and secure them with a strap or seatbelt.
It’s also important for bicyclists to remember to use hand signals to avoid surprising other motorists and causing a crash.
Those riding bikes are “strongly encouraged” to ride on paved shoulders that are at least 3 feet wide when possible, the state’s transportation department says.
Eagle reporter Sarah Moore contributed to this story.