Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Can a cyclist be too visible?

A friend recently pointed me at this article about "blinkie" vs. "solid" night lighting for cyclists. Author Mia Birk says a woman from the Netherlands recently confronted her to complain about state-side cyclists and their dazzling, blinky lights.

Ms. Birk asks, "You can never be too visible, right?"

While I admit I'd never given it much thought, after reading the arguments I remain convinced that you cannot be too visible, at least when you're sharing public roadways with motor vehicles. (I feel less of a need to "shout out" my presence when I'm on a dedicated bike/pedestrian path, as I'm sure I would in the Netherlands, with its famous bike-friendly infrastructure and culture.)
One guy who commented on Ms. Birk's blog, Todd Edelman, writes about "hyper-illumination" HERE. He describes "MonkeyLectric Bike Wheel Lights" that look like a rolling fireworks display. He argues that over-illuminating creates an unfair disadvantage for "vulnerable road users," both pedestrians and cyclists, who are legally-but-barely illuminated.

He says reflective vests "should only be worn by emergency or construction workers or related." And criticizes users of "an excessive number of normal lights or reflectors" and even "bright clothing at night." His worry is that if people in cars grow accustomed to seeing "hyper-illuminated" cyclists, they will no longer watch for "normally-illuminated" cyclists and pedestrians.

While his concerns are the ultimate in altruism ("selfless concern for the welfare of others"), maybe I'm too self-centered. Because I reserve and will exercise the right to use whatever means I can, to be seen by motorists at night. The stakes are high.

(Thankfully, I don't do a lot of night riding. But all cyclists and pedestrians should understand the additional vulnerability they face when using public roadways at night, and take the precautions they can to be safe... even if they exceed the absolute minimum. Legally, I don't believe pedestrians have to do anything to aid in visibility. Cyclists, at least in this jurisdiction, need a reflector on the back and a light on the front. If you feel that's adequate, ride on and good luck.)

[Bob T - I particularly hope to hear your viewpoint on this topic, because you further "enlightened" me. Enlightened... get it?]


Clancy said...

I don't think you can be too visible day or night. I wear a yellow jacket when weather warrants. I also run lights during the night only. The best way to be visible is with smart street-sense riding.

dvicci said...

An interesting theory regarding the hypervisibility of one cyclist increasing the danger of the other, adequately visible cyclist. I don't buy it, but it's interesting.

Along the same, but not quite parallel line, I've wondered if hypervisibility would increase the danger to the hypervisible cyclist in the "moth drawn to a flame" sense. Could being lit up like a christmas tree go beyond attracting the attention of motorists and actually draw them physically toward the cyclist? Is it, in fact, possible to be too visible?

I personally lean towards extra visibility, with dual headlights, blinking rear lights, blinking fork lights and a helmet light, along with reflectors and a reflective jacket.

Bob T said...

I agree that blinkies should not be used at night in places such as multi-use paths where cyclists are not under threat from larger vehicles. They are also not necessary in countries like the Netherlands where there is a superior cycling infrastructure, safety in numbers, and where laws favoring cyclists have resulted in more alert motorists. However, I believe that Mr. Edelman's arguments are invalid in places where motorists are not actively looking out for cyclists regardless of their visibility level. In the locations where most of the readers of this blog live a cyclist must make himself visible enough to COMMAND attention from even the most distracted motorists, not just be adequately visible to those who happen to be looking out for cyclists.

I practice both active and passive visibility. Active (blinkies and solid lights) to attract attention and passive (reflective items and brightly colored clothing) to clearly show my speed and trajectory. I also agree with Clancy on the importance of correct cyclist road positioning.

Most cyclists seem to be unaware of the potential life-saving benefits of using daytime running lights.

Slow Factory said...

Well, well, well. My theory about hyper-illumination is based on my experience cycling and also driving a commercial vehicle in the rain, at night, distracted by passengers etc. For sure it is just a theory and should be proven (or not) with research.

In another blog I suggested that instead of buying lots more stuff for yourself, why not make sure a few totally unlit cyclists have their minimums? Just sayin': Cycling does not make anyone an angel.

Bob T said...

Green, as stated here cyclists are essentially invisible to motorists. Therefore, unless I take steps to stand out from the crowd I will only be joining the ranks of the invisible. What good would that do?

While I would love to be proven wrong, I seriously doubt that the average "bike ninja" would even consider an offer of lights, let alone ever use them.