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Defensive Cycling: Staying Safe on the Streets

A Large of Group of Riders in Critical Mass 13 near Farmgate
In a city like Dhaka, staying safe on the streets while cycling is a lot tougher than anywhere else. It feels like a warzone of traffic and pedestrians and potholes where every element is designed to trip you, break you or even kill you. Whether you are a pedestrian or a cyclist, you are always in the crosshair of some driver's assistant who has been given the steering wheel because he can differentiate between a cow and a goat.

How do you stay alive then? Staying visible, signalling oncoming traffic, staying on the side lanes all help, but still is not enough. What you need to practice is defensive cycling. And here is how that goes

  • Complete all the basics of safe cycling, wear a helmet, use tail-lights and head lights, stay highly visible, use a horn, a bell or your voice to the full extent to ensure that others know that you exist
  • Assume everyone on the roads are trying to harm you. No, they are not oblivious to you. They know that you exist and is constantly trying to run you over, trip you, put you in a pothole or just trying to put you in an accident. Beware of cars, buses, trucks, cycles, rickshaws, pedestrians, dogs, cats and even birds. Once you are in this mindset then you can start on the next steps
  • Never cross a road assuming that the oncoming traffic will slow down for you. Assume that they will run you over. Maybe not today, but someday. I drive a car and I can assure you that drivers are not constantly looking at the road. They get distracted just like everyone else. Try finding a group of people to cross with, or signal to oncoming traffic and once they have slowed down, only then can you cross
  • The same rule applies for changing lanes, take a look at the back, see if the driver has seen you, if not, wait. Even if you have to go to the sides of the road to wait, that is preferable to being run over
  • Do not break traffic rules. On the same note, do not assume that anyone else is maintaining traffic rules. On a traffic signal, if the lights are green, still check around for the car, bus, motorbike, cycle etc. who is trying to speed away from the red light from another point.
  • Pedestrians are the deadliest creatures on the road. Everyday I ride a car, I see at least 10 people who are crossing the road with their back turned to oncoming traffic. They fail to realize that their backside is not a magical defense system preventing traffic from hitting them. Get out of this I-CAN'T-SEE-THE-CAR-SO-IT-DOESN'T-EXIST mentality. When crossing the road, look on both sides and then and only then cross, and cross as fast as you can
  • Do not ride on the wrong side of the road. And when you are on the right side assume that someone is going to come from the wrong side.
So far, these are the points I could think of. Please let me know of additions, deletions, corrections in the comments. This is the beginning of the defensive cycling movement in Dhaka. And we hope that it will help us in preventing accidents on the Dhaka Streets.

Happy safe cycling.


RUBEL _RAF said…
we should speedup and use the second lane from the left while passing through the flyover exits [NOT the entry points] at Airport road, of course after checking vehicles coming from the exit and from behind.
we should slow down, give right hand signal and wait for the chance to pass while passing through the flyover entry [NOT the exit points] at Airport road, of course after checking vehicles coming from from behind.

I'm not fully sure about the entry point strategy . if anyone else have a better one, please share.
Raiyeem Farhan said…
i'd say know about the buses and their routes. specially where they stop to load/unload passengers. it'll help you to avoid not only imminent accident but also you'll be able to move swiftly around the cramming vehicles behind the slowing down bus.
Unknown said…
For me, slowing down is the first thing to do whenever I approach a complex traffic scenario (intersection with mixed traffic from all directions). If in doubt, I walk the bike (across busy intersections with complex traffic flow). If there are vehicles behind me, I slow down and let them go, so that I can ride at my own pace. At low-light conditions (twilight, early morning workouts, after dark), I wear bright colored attire and turn on rear blinker.
Rahin Haider said…
Here is a situation I face now and then while commuting in Dhaka: local buses frequently come in the middle lane and starts to slow down. In such a situation, a cyclist can find him/herself either in front of the bus or just behind of it. In the first case, I usually just speed up and overtake the first slow vehicle I find in front of me (most of the time it's a Rikshaw) to ensure my safety. The second case may seem easier, but it's deceiving enough. I tend to take the left lane in this case, but only to find passengers of that bus either getting on or down, sometimes add that a Rikshaw may come from opposite direction. Then the only solution is to stop completely. Another somewhat rare but dangerous scenario, the bus is in front and suddenly speeds up, the cyclist thinks that danger is gone, then out of nowhere there is a passerby in the middle of the road who had not seen the bike for the bus and did not expect anything behind the big vehicle given the noiselessness of the two-wheeler! Moral: The danger is never gone, it just changes the face.

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