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Cycling New Orleans: Winter riding season

With the change in time Sunday, bike lights become a winter necessity.

When Daylight Savings Time falls back this weekend, the winter riding season will officially be upon the Crescent City. As a result, many local bicycle commuters will find themselves leaving school or work under the cover of darkness. Additionally, though it certainly does not feel like it yet, the increased frequency of passing cold fronts during the winter months increases the chances of commuting in the rain or fog.

In low visibility conditions such as nighttime or inclement weather, it is important for bicycle commuters to maintain a heightened level of caution and to be even more deliberate about following the rules of the road than under normal circumstances. Riding on the road and in the direction of traffic as well as using proper hand signals, stopping at traffic lights and stopping at stop signs will increase safety because that is where motorists expect cyclists to be and what motorists expect cyclists to do.

The most important of the “rules,” however, is the usage of lights and reflectors between sunset and sunrise. According to Louisiana law R.S. 32:329.1, any bicycle in use during those hours shall be equipped with a white light facing forward and a red light facing rearward, each visible up to 500 feet away. Reflectors are also required and shall be visible from the rear and sides anywhere from 100 to 600 feet away.

Regardless of any legal obligation, though, the fact is that using lights after dark or at other times when visibility is impaired will increase the safety of cyclists exponentially. Even if cyclists ride in the correct direction or on the expected side of the road, it matters little if motorists can't see them. And, in addition to making them more visible to motorists, lighting helps cyclists see obstacles that may be in the road.

Especially here in New Orleans, the costs and benefits of not using or using lighting in low visibility conditions are magnified because, depending on what block of a street a commuter is on, there is no guarantee that there will be functioning, much less sufficient, street lighting (South Carrollton below South Claiborne?) or bike path lighting (Jeff Davis?) to help see other commuters or the newly formed sinkhole that has manifested less than a year after repavement as a result of leaking underground piping that wasn’t repaired at the same time the roads were, as it should have been.

Fortunately, while the city may not have a great state of infrastructure, it does have many great independent local bike shops with many different types of lights to choose from. The most efficient lights these days are LED, and cyclists can choose to go with battery powered, rechargeable, or even generator-powered options.

No matter what the budget, local cyclists are encouraged to consult their neighborhood shop to get outfitted with proper lighting for the season or any other time they find themselves riding after dark or in the rain.

M.T. Hinson writes about the biking community for NolaVie.