I've posted in the past on what drivers need to do to stop endangering cyclists. This time I'm going to write about what us cyclist need to do to avoid getting hurt in traffic. As a cyclist I'm probably more annoyed by seeing somebody doing something dumb in traffic on a bike than most motorist. Cyclist doing stupid things only angers drivers and makes them that little bit less likely to care about my right to bike in traffic. This is not going to cover the basic bike safety thoughts like helmets and a properly functioning bike, rather to cover behavior in traffic.
Lets start with the basics....
1. Be visible.
This has some rather broad implications when it comes down to it. It's about a lot more than just wearing a bright color. While high visibility colors help, it's not the most important piece of this. When I say be visible, I mean put yourself in a place were a driver is going to see you. If you ride on the sidewalks you will get hurt eventually. On the surface it might seem safe but consider this. When a driver approaches an intersection they are not expecting to find something faster than a pedestrian coming out at the crosswalk and in many cases will pull across the crosswalk to see around the corner before turning. Now if a rider is heading across the crosswalk they are most likely going to be moving much faster than a pedestrian and can find themselves in a rather risky place. However if the cyclist is riding on the road with traffic they will be in a position the driver will naturally be checking and is much more likely to be seen.
Another important part of being visible has to do with low light conditions. If you are riding in anything other than broad daylight, particularly dusk/dawn, you are very hard to see from a car. Make sure you are aware of this fact and take extra precaution, as well as ensure you have reflectors and flashing lights on your bike. I say flashing lights because, these will catch the drivers attention much better than a steady light.
2. Be predictable.
This is probably the most important bit of advice I can give you as a cyclist. If you are predicable, the drivers will know where you are going, and will be able to adjust accordingly. Don't dodge in and out of a lane, if you are riding down a road with street side parking, don't move into the parking spaces only to dart back out around a parked car. Rather hold your line on the edge of the traffic lane and ride straight. It might slow the cars down a bit, but you won't be swerving in front of a Buick that way.
3. Signal your intentions.
This ties in with predictability, but always let traffic know what you are about to do. Signalling that you are about to turn or make a lane change will avoid surprising the driver behind you.
4. Follow traffic laws.
When riding in traffic, always follow the same laws the cars do. If you are turning left, safely get into the left turn lane. If you come to a red light, Stop. Don't go the wrong way down a one way, don't blow a stop sign, don't make an illegal left turn. If it's illegal for a car to do it, it's illegal for you to do it and it will add to your risk as a cyclist.
5. Know when to take over a traffic lane.
When riding in an urban environment there will be times when it is critical to your safety to take over a traffic lane (ride down the middle of it). In general if possible you should always stick as far to the right as is possible when riding. This allows cars to get around you safely. However there are times when it's safer to take up a spot in traffic. If I need to make a left turn I will usually take the left turn lane to prevent cars from pulling up beside me. When approaching a stop sign, it is often safer to occupy the lane to help prevent the cars behind you from making a turn across you. That being said, as soon as is practical, get back to the right so allow the cars that are probably now behind you to pass. Avoiding road rage incidents is always in your favor.
6. Watch for blind spots.
Every car has blind spots. Be aware that when approaching a car from the rear, they most likely won't be able to see you. If you are pulling up to the right of a car, be prepared to take evasive action if they make a sudden right turn in front of you. Similarly parked cars might suddenly pull out or open their doors not realizing you are there. You can minimize the risk of doors by leaving enough space for a door to open without taking you out.