By Steve Tracy
Even in years like this one where the weather stays warm, here in Davis we get undeniable signs that winter is approaching. For me, the most obvious is all the kids in costume who descend in the afternoon of Halloween Day to loot candy from our generous downtown merchants.
Something less positive happens in late October each year that reveals the magnitude of a long-festering safety issue here in Davis, when the end of daylight-saving time suddenly moves our evening commute from daylight into dusk. Then, looming out of the darkness, comes another indicator species much more ominous and fearful than kids in costume. Yikes!! DARK BIKES!!
We all see them. Actually, we often don’t see them until the last second. Zooming into view from the shadows. In bike lanes, in the middle of the street, on sidewalks, riding the wrong way — virtually invisible.
More evidence that fall is here can be found in the letters that appear in this fine local newspaper you are reading, condemning those bicyclists who ride without lights and run stop signs. Some of these comments seem to target all cyclists and wish the streets could be cleared of them completely.
To be fair, each fall, UC Davis attracts thousands of new students, arriving from places less bike-friendly than Davis with the first bicycle they have ridden in many years. These bikes are often brand-new, and have only the basic reflectors required by law, no operating headlights or rear lights.
The board of Davis Bicycles! has long lamented this issue, and recently had been discussing creating a bike light giveaway program we tagged “1,000 Bikes of Light” (thank you, George H.W. Bush). To buy lights, we designated a large portion of the proceeds from this summer’s Clips of Faith Film Festival brought to Davis by the New Belgium Brewing Company. A huge thank you to everyone who participated in this event, and made this possible.
Enter Dave “DK” Kemp, Davis’ new and very active transportation coordinator, who had a source for lights and described a similar program he had done in Fort Collins, Colo. Eventually, Davis Bicycles!, the city of Davis and UC Davis bicycle coordinator David Takemoto-Weerts joined together to purchase 3,700 lights to give away in the city and on campus. There are three varieties of lights, each branded with one of the logos of the organizations participating in the giveaway.
We began our light giveaway efforts on three weekdays in the last week in September. Kemp and Davis Bicycles! members stood at the bike lanes on Third Street and near the sharrows on Second Street from noon to 1 p.m. We gleefully corralled, chided and cheered light-free cyclists who were riding by and installed our little lights on hundreds of handlebars. This effort will continue on campus and in town until all the lights are gone, and thousands of cyclists are more visible and safer.
Davis Bicycles! will be at the Farmers Market on Saturday, rain or shine, to continue our efforts. One rule — we have to see the bike and install the light, not just hand it to you. We want these lights on handlebars, not sitting on dressers.
We will continue this program in the future, and will be looking for additional sponsors who would like to contribute to improve bicycle safety in Davis. These lights aren’t fancy, or the brightest available, but they do make you visible to motorists. We encourage anyone receiving a light to consider an upgrade from a local bike shop. Then pass the free light on to someone who has no light at all.
We can’t easily change behavior like running stop signs, but we can light the bikes. Please come to the market on Saturday and do your part.
— Steve Tracy is a Davis resident and Davis Bicycles! board member. Matt Biers-Ariel and Mont Hubbard are co-editors of the Davis Bicycles! column, published regularly in The Davis Enterprise. To offer a Davis Bicycles! column, write to them at firstname.lastname@example.org or log on to www.bikedavis.info to see instructions for authors.