Ryan Cowan, a Penn State senior, was heading back to campus as day turned to night. In the fading light, a brighter one — a handful, actually — appeared as he neared the busy intersection between Park Avenue and North Atherton Street.
Thanks to a group of bike enthusiasts, he received one before he crossed the street.
“I never really ride at night,” Cowan said, grinning. “But now I can.”
Cowan was one of dozens of cyclists who took home a free bike light as part of CentreBike’s “Light Up the Night” event, a revival of a program from about six years ago, said Andrew Artz, CentreBike’s vice president. On a chilly Monday, cyclists and CentreBike volunteers alike weathered the cold, the former pedaling through their daily commute, the latter promoting night-cycling safety and awareness in the State College community, a top-10 city for cycle-friendly communities, according to Walk Score.
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The momentum has kept rolling. In November, the League of American Bicyclists named the State College and Centre Region as a bronze level Bicycle Friendly Community.
But traffic incidents involving cyclists and motorists still happen, said volunteer and CentreBike member Michele Chernega, which is why shedding more light — both literally and figuratively — on the situation is necessary.
“A lot of times when people are driving, they’re not looking for cyclists,” she said. “I even wave at them because I want them to know I’m there.”
As for the lights, Pennsylvania law requires riders to have a white front lamp visible from at least 500 feet, an amber reflector on each side and a red rear reflector also visible from at least 500 feet. That’s the minimum, however, and additional lights can be added if desired. The rear reflector, for instance, can be swapped out for a red light.
Monday’s event, Artz said, highlights that emphasis on safety and keeping State College both a driveable and rideable area, especially at dusk, when most bicyclist deaths occur, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
But as large metro areas and even boroughs such as State College thicken and rise like bread, cycling has gained popularity. “It beats finding parking,” said Cliff Kanz, a volunteer and CentreBike member.
The NHTSA, for instance, reported the number of cyclists commuting to work nationwide increased by nearly two-thirds between 2000 and 2012.
Jean Bemis, who still rides her bike at age 82, said the community has taken steps in recent years to make the State College area more bike-friendly, such as adding designated bike paths and trails where cyclists and motorists don’t have to jockey for position. One path along Whitehall Road remains a favorite.
As on Monday night, Bemis always wears a safety vest. The smile, though, comes equipped whether on two wheels or two feet.
“Old ladies still ride, too,” Bemis said, laughing. “That’s a path I’m going to ride when I’m 101.”