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With the dramatic increase in bicyclists in Salt Lake City, always a bike-friendly town, I decided to take an hourlong, unscientific survey of riders and their protective gear in the hour before darkness fell on Tuesday.

Part of the effort was driven by the fact that I'd met a man who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a fall off a bike. He wasn't wearing a helmet. But with terrific medical and family care, he survived and thrives today.

Last year, seven Utahns died in car-bike crashes, according to preliminary data from the Department of Public Safety's Highway Safety Office. Two were wearing helmets; five were not. Three died of brain injury and three died of brain and other injuries. One died from loss of blood. Of 690 nonfatal accidents, 619 people were injured and 71 were not.

Cruising around randomly, I spotted 19 riders downtown, in the Avenues, near the University of Utah and several in Emigration Canyon.

On State Street and 700 South, a man rode an old one-speed on the sidewalk, his only headgear a leather cowboy hat. A woman rolled down 500 South, no helmet. Another pedaled north alongside thick traffic on State near Washington Square, no helmet. Up on 100 South and University Street, a bare-headed guy with an old bike waited for the light, his cell phone at his ear.

The rest of the riders I saw wore helmets, although one young guy on 11th Avenue wore what looked like an old German military helmet and pedaled, no hands on the wheel, in shorts and a T-shirt.

The cyclists in Emigration Canyon all stayed inside the bike line, most with lights on and some with reflective vests. One person, ominously, was wearing all dark clothing, no lights and rode perilously close to the line as a big pickup passed him near the summit.

Earlier this week, Salt Lake City released a study showing a 27 percent increase in riders from last year. The city has added many miles of on-road bikeways and green shared lane stripes on roadways.

Last year, the League of American Bicyclists gave Salt Lake City "silver-level" status as a Bicycle Friendly Community and the city wants to earn the gold level this year.

Still, those who ride without safety gear put not just themselves, but the community at large, in peril. Injuries can be devastating, life-changing, for riders and the people who love them. Medical costs can be stratospheric.

The other element of this is, of course, drivers. There's probably not a rider out there who hasn't had a close call with someone driving thoughtlessly, on the phone or texting, and even some with a touch of malice.

Years ago, I bought a 10-speed from Tape Head Company, a music store on State Street, and somehow talked my way into a job as a bike assembler and saleswoman. As I rode back and forth to work — helmet-free in those days — it occurred to me that a lot of drivers never even registered my presence.

So, in my pitches, I'd advise customers — particularly parents buying a present for their kids — that boarding a bike makes you officially invisible.

Things are better now, with better bikes, gear, and rider and driver awareness. Still, seven Utahns, ranging from kids of less than 12 years to one person in his or her 60s — were killed.

It's estimated that about half of Salt Lake City residents, kids or adults, ride bikes at some time or another.

Given such popularity, it's incumbent on all of us to pay attention to one another. Accidents are bad enough vehicle to vehicle. It's even worse when one party is so utterly vulnerable.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at and