Commentary: Can cars and bikes share the road?

Driving home from work after dark a couple of weeks ago, I was just about to turn left off a busy commercial street near my house when I spied, out of the black, a cyclist coming at me from the opposite direction. He was clad in dark clothes, had no light or visible reflectors on his bike, and was powering, head down, as fast as he could go.

I paused, muttered something to myself, then prepared to turn again. This time I saw a second bike, which at least had a tiny, dim light, and I waited for him to pass as well. Figuring there might be one more, I peered into the darkness, and when I didn't see anything, I began my turn. Half way through the intersection I took a final glance out my passenger window and saw, coming at me, one more cyclist without a light. I sped up and made it through safely as he passed behind me.

The experience left me rattled. And mad. As a frequent cyclist myself, I know how dangerous riding a bike on city streets can be. I also know that many motorists have no patience for bikes and those who ride them. Riders such as the ones I encountered on my commute that night are one big reason why.

But as more cyclists and more motorists crowd our city streets and rural highways, the two groups are going to have to coexist. With gas prices volatile and expected to rise again with worldwide economic growth, more people are leaving their cars at home. Some cyclists who could drive to work still prefer to ride, for the health of it.

The good news is that, contrary to conventional wisdom, cycling seems to be getting safer, not more dangerous, at least according to the law of averages. Even as nearly 200,000 more drivers have poured onto the roads in Sacramento, Yolo, Placer, El Dorado and Nevada counties since 2000, the number of collisions between bikes and cars has declined.

To read the complete column, visit The Sacramento Bee.