Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, August 8, 2001
Campus cyclist speaks out for safety


"Be visible. Be predictable" are two of the first tenets of bicycle safety reeled off by Richard Swent, a research scientist at the Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory (HEPL), member of the Stanford Bicycle Coalition and the Stanford representative to the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, when asked for his top cycling tips.

"Be vocal" might be the third. Swent, who's been cycling on campus since 1977, has been speaking out for years about cycling safety and pointing out trouble spots where he sees them, including trouble coming from other cyclists.

Swent frequently posts notices of hazardous intersections, roads and construction sites on the coalition's e-mail list. "Ninety-nine percent of the people, when they see something, they think: This is dangerous. I should watch out." Better, he said, to think: "This is dangerous, I'll do something about it."

Swent also speaks up when he sees cyclists riding dangerously, although most of the time, cyclists tell him to mind his own business.

The campus culture doesn't put a high priority on safe, courteous and legal cycling, he said. Cyclists so routinely flout traffic laws on campus that motorists are trained to watch out for their bad behavior, he said, and that's not doing the cyclists any favors.

Without ingrained good habits, like always stopping at stop signs even when no cars or other bicycles are present, cyclists become vulnerable to mistakes. Cyclists shouldn't even have to think about it, he said. Otherwise, "the time you're sad or distracted, that's the time you won't see the car, the dog, the other cyclist."

Wearing a helmet is a given, said Swent, who teaches bicycling safety to elementary school students. But many accidents involving cyclists and motorists aren't survivable for cyclists, even with helmets. Many motorists don't know how to drive safely around cyclists and drive too fast, he said.

"Helmets aren't enough," he said. He tries to teach students what they need to know to be able to follow the ultimate safety rule: "Don't crash."