When Alesio hit my car, all I heard was a soft thud, like the sound a Frisbee would make against the window. I was at the stop sign on Dorothy Avenue, near UNLV, scanning for traffic coming north on Maryland Parkway. I looked over my left shoulder and saw a stocky man atop a mountain bike fly into the middle of the street.
I put my Toyota into park and rushed to the grimacing man, who was holding his right leg and rocking on the concrete. Ironically, my week investigating bicycle safety in the Las Vegas Valley had begun just a few hours earlier when I spoke with Lisa Caterbone, owner of BikingLasVegas.com, who teaches basic biking safety classes.
“Riding a bike is a lot like driving a car,” she says. “You have to follow traffic rules. Stop at stop signs and lights, don’t run through them. If cyclists follow those simple things they’ll have a less stressful relationship with motorists, because they’re showing respect to each other.”
Las Vegas hasn’t had a bicycle fatality yet this year, and I didn’t want to cause the first. Of the five in 2009, two were caused by cyclists, according to the Metropolitan Police Department. Vehicles were at fault for the three fatalities in 2008.
Children were the victims of the two most recent bicycle fatalities in Henderson. On April 26, a 13-year-old boy was killed while riding his bike through a crosswalk on the way to school. That death is still under investigation. In June 2007, an 11-year-old girl was struck and killed at an intersection, according to Henderson Police public information officer Keith Paul.
Here’s what I figured happened in my case: Alesio, an immigrant with limited English and no bike helmet, was riding down the sidewalk on the wrong side of Maryland Parkway. I stopped at the intersection, and he veered around the back of my car but instead ran into it.
“There are a lot of cyclists out there every day, no helmets, riding on the sidewalk, riding the wrong way on the street,” says Jim Little, vice president of the Las Vegas Valley Bicycle Club. “You walk against traffic but you don’t ride a bike against traffic because nobody expects you and they don’t see you coming.”
Cyclists don’t have pedestrian rights. Children on bikes should stay on the sidewalk, but adult cyclists must be in a bike lane or the road’s right-hand shoulder riding with the flow of traffic. Walk your bike on a crosswalk. Put lights on the front and back at night and in the early morning. Wear a helmet and light clothing. Police can fine you for offenses (for the Nevada Revised Statues on biking, visit bicyclenevada.com). As for motorists, they should give bikes at least a three-foot cushion.
Law-breaking cyclists give every rider bad street cred, says Tyler Wirthwein, a Cimarron-Memorial High School senior and avid cyclist who participated on May 19 in the sixth annual Las Vegas Ride of Silence, which is dedicated to cyclists killed in accidents in the previous year. Bikes deserve to share space with cars, after all, “we pay the same taxes as those who drive,” he says.
The Regional Transportation Commission works to give cyclists their share of the road and perhaps prevent accidents. It has built more than 80 miles of bicycle routes, 180 miles of bicycle lanes and 100 miles of paths (find a map at rtcsouthernnevada.com/cycling). The RTC plans to add 385 miles of routes and 735 more miles of bike lanes over the next 12 years.
Fortunately, Alesio was able to walk away from our encounter with his damaged bike, refusing medical treatment. Next time he might not be so lucky.