San Francisco Bicycle Messengers

-Posted On November 7, 2011 In Bicycle Injuries-

I’ve previously written about bicycle safety tips to help my fellow cyclists by promoting what I think are some of the safest cycling habits.  Cycling is supposed to be about fun, healthy exercise and it should also help us to relate well to the environment.   Safe bicycling habits will help to prevent bicycle accidents, particularly bicycle collisions with cars, and thereby bicycle injuries.

As a San Francisco Bicycle Accident Attorney, my experience has taught me that some of the most common threats are found where you might least expect them, so following these simple precautions may help you avoid bicycle injuries.

  • Don’t ride drunk. This seems obvious, however, many people think only driving drunk is dangerous. Bicycling requires coordination and impairment from alcohol clearly lowers your ability to control the bike and to avoid sudden hazards.
  • Ride with traffic. If you do not ride with traffic, you may end up surprising a motorist and getting hit simply because he or she did not expect you to be there.
  • Don’t ride with headphones. One great advantage for cyclists is their relatively lower speed and less wind noise. Many times, you will hear a car or truck or motorcycle well before you will see it coming. Headphones isolate you from hazards, increasing your danger of injury.
  • Wear a bicycle helmet. I know there is a big debate on this issue, but I stand firm. Even though bicycle helmets cannot prevent all injury, they certainly help. Why not wear a bicycle helmet? Fashion?
  • Be predictable. This means that bicycle riders are in more danger when they violate driver expectations. You may have the right of way, but if you fail to ride predictably, then you increase the odds of surprising a motorist and contributing to a collision. And if bikes and cars collide, the bicyclist is generally the injured party.
  • Be visible. Let them know you are there and make sure you are seen as best you can. This is a part of being predictable also.
  • Be aware of parked cars–don’t get doored. Ride wide if you can, and keep an eye out for drivers and passengers about to open doors into traffic.
  • Be vigilant. As a bicycle rider you are more vulnerable to serious personal injuries so you need to protect yourself and ride defensively. Yes, they will turn left right in front of you and yes you should cover the brakes when passing cars on the right as they will also cut in front of you by making a right turn.
  • Be a defensive cyclist. All of the above adds up to this simple summary. Because you are the party most likely to suffer injury, you must try to constantly see and evaluate and strategize to keep yourself safe.
  • Use a turn signal (i.e., your arms). Let drivers and pedestrians know what you are doing. Accidents are usually surprises to at least one of the parties. Signals help prevent bicycle accidents.

bikemessenger_0926.jpgThe masters of bicycle safety in San Francisco could well be the bicycle messengers. Why would I say this when we all see so many bike messengers disobeying the traffic laws? While some who scoff laws do act a bit self destructive, bicycle messengers put on more miles in more congested areas and avoid so many accidents daily through defensive and sometimes overly aggressive riding. While I do not condone the violation of the traffic laws, I do admire how the bicycle messengers look after themselves by doing sometimes annoying things like screaming as they ride through intersections. It may be annoying but when drivers know the bicyclist is in the intersection, they are far less likely to hit him or her.

A tight-knit community, part of the San Francisco Bike Messenger Association (SFBMA)‘s mission statement is:

We the messengers of the Bay Area, known as the San Francisco Bike Messenger Association, or SFBMA, hereby state our mission; to promote unity and solidarity within the messenger community and to raise the status of our profession.”

They, of course, keep track of their own, and even hold fund-raisers to help out those couriers who are injured such as the “Hard-Luck Benefit Series” of concerts and the Joe Corio’s Groundhog Day “49-Mile Ride.” They have also established the Broken Bones Fund, a fund created to provide emergency financial assistance to injured San Francisco messengers.

While not the first bike messenger association–second to New York City which formed the Indepedent Courier Association in the 1980s–the SFBMA has been influential and dedicated the world Messenger Appreciation Day, October 9th, when Parté and Nosmo King, brainchilds behind the SFBMA, convinced Mayor Art Agnos to declare this a San Francisco holiday.

The bicycle messengers have it as part of their constitution to keep the bicycle community safe and protected from injuries in their statement to “Ally ourselves with workers in other industries under the principle that ‘an injury to one is an injury to all‘.”

It goes without saying that this radical group of enthusiastic cyclists traverse the serious hills of San Francisco and ride along with busy City drivers all day long on the job. They put themselves in harms way for the betterment of the community, cutting down their carbon footprint and city traffic, by hand-delivering hundreds of packages and documents to and from businesses. The bicycle messenger is an important member of our San Francisco community and should be protected from injuries.

About the author: Claude Wyle is an aggressive advocate for Bay Area bicyclists. Claude has decades of experience representing those harmed by the wrongful conduct of others, and, as a San Francisco bicycle accident attorney, has fought to protect the rights of injured cyclists throughout his legal career. Claude is also an avid cyclist himself and member of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition and is a sponsor of Safe Routes to School.

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