By Theodore Kortenhof
A year ago, while biking in Appleton, I was hit by a car. I assumed that the driver stopped at the intersection, waiting to turn left, could see me biking in the street. The driver failed to notice me. I was broadsided as the car turned into the street.
I was lucky to emerge free from bodily harm. However, the crash was unsettling. It became distressingly clear that many Appleton drivers are unaware of bicyclists and that many more do not respect the equal standing of bicycles as vehicles on the road. As in my case, many drivers often fail to notice bikes in the roadway.
Outside of actual collisions, I have had numerous run-ins with cars while biking. I was once told to “get off the road” because I was “on a bike.” Apart from yelled verbal suggestions, while cycling I have also witnessed illegal and unorthodox driving in Appleton. Cyclists are regularly cut off, and frequently illegally passed, while riding in the streets around Lawrence campus.
Biking in Appleton, or in any moderately sized city, can be dangerous. However, this does not mean cycling should be avoided. Biking is a viable and acceptably safe means of transportation as long as it is approached with caution.
Wisconsin state stature 340.01(5) defines a bicycle as a vehicle. This means that on the roadway, bicycles are subject to all the same laws, and are protected by all the same rights as any other automobile. This fact is seemingly lost on multitudes of drivers.
The legal standing of bicycles is a double-edged sword. While it grants cyclists protection while on the road, it also means that cyclists must in turn follow the rules. Bikes cannot, for example, blow through stop signs.
I do not intend to scare people away from biking, or to stamp biking in Appleton as unsafe. I merely mean to warn people, particularly people new to Lawrence, that biking in Appleton requires additional caution. With proper reflectors, lights and a safety-conscious attitude, however, biking is as viable in Appleton as it is anywhere else.
While it is a shame that Appleton’s streets are not bike friendly, biking is still possible and can be done safely. On all nearby streets except College Avenue, biking on the sidewalk is allowed. Bike lanes are also present on some streets, and provide an alternative to both the sidewalk and the open roadway.
Riding in the street is also possible where bike lanes and sidewalks fall short. This approach merely requires a proactive mentality on the part of the cyclist. As long as one pays attention to the cars around them, and assumes that cars cannot see them, biking is not overly dangerous.
Bicycling is an economical and convenient form of transportation, particularly on campus. Cycling can both save students time on trans-campus commutes, and give them the means to run errands off-campus. Without my bike, I would hardly ever make it to class on time.
All things considered, biking is ideal for college students. Bikes do not require gas or special parking allowances. Bikes have a minimal environmental impact, and are beneficial to the user’s health. Their only downside is an increased vulnerability on the road. This vulnerability is not a fatal flaw. With a good helmet, reflective clothing and a careful mentality, biking is a great way for Lawrence students to get around.