As bikers, we chase incremental safety improvements by covering ourselves with hi-viz, slathering ourselves in glow paint, decorate ourselves with christmas lights, even emitting radiation from our perfectly sculpted asses for magic cars to see. But with only incremental, and often tenuous, links to improved safety.
The bottom line is that North America's infrastructure is unsafe. So the best way to maximize safety is to bike on only the safest available infrastructure.
It took me 2 years of biking in San Francisco nearly every day before I felt I could go most places in the city without needing directions. Here are the rules I learned.
1. Avoid Fast Roads (VERY IMPORTANT!)
The relationship between vehicle speed and pedestrian fatality rates is exponential. Avoiding fast cars is a great way to keep somebody from talking about your helmet choices in the news.
2. Use Google Maps Biking Directions
Google biking directions is the first step in figuring out a safe route. The vast majority of the time it will provide a survivable route. But not always so...
3. Test Your Route
Using whatever mode of transportation you're most comfortable with (walking, driving, public transit). Look for areas you think might be dangerous and find alternative paths. You'll be surprised by how many side streets you never knew existed.
4. Keep Improving your Routes
As you get comfortable with your routes don't be afraid to test modifications. Is there a side street that looks calm? Is there a path you can see through the trees? Check it out! You might find a way to make your route safer and more enjoyable.
5. Tell Local Politicians This Is Bullshit
All of this knowledge acquisition and route testing takes time and costs lives. There are simple changes all over our communities that can improve safety. To help make your roads safer donate to your local bike advocacy organization or People for Bikes and keep riding.