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Why We Focus on Unsafe Cycling and Not Unsafe Driving

7:01 AM PDT on April 23, 2010

2093459393_e9cd266ddc.jpgThings would be different if bicycle safety training were elementary. (Photo: Bike Portland via Flickr)

This morning on Sustainable Savannah, a post about double standards.

John Bennett writes that at two recent meetings in Savannah about
improved bicycle facilities, the discussion turned to unsafe cycling
practices, such as wrong-way riding, riding without lights, and riding
on sidewalks. While Bennett is concerned about those things as well, he
wonders why discussions of investment in bike infrastructure almost
inevitably turn to the question of unsafe cycling:

Are similar suggestions about combating unsafe driving ever promptedby discussions of new roadways? I can’t remember a single instance. Allsorts of elected officials had all sorts of things to say at the groundbreaking for the fifth phase of the Truman Parkwaylast month, but did any mention the need to educate motorists aboutspeeding or aggressive driving? Car crashes, too often resulting infatalities, are a regular occurrences on the existing portions of thelimited access freeway. Wouldn’t a groundbreaking ceremony present anexcellent opportunity to warn about the dangers of distracted orimpaired driving and call for new programs to better educate motoristswho use the Truman Parkway?

Again, I appreciate any concern expressed for the most vulnerableroad users, but I’m curious about the requisite safety discussions thataccompany our conversations about bicycling. Is there a subtleexpectation that as cyclists we must earn, through good behavior, anynew infrastructure made available to us, no matter how small? Is thisexpectation self-imposed? I must admit, I’ve caught myself thinking(and sometimes saying) things along these lines. Meanwhile, asmotorists we enjoy colossal new facilities ($67.5 million in the caseof Truman Parkway Phase Five), without being asked to consider how toensure their safe and responsible use.

I think part of the concern about safe riding practices stems from
the lack of consensus — among people who ride and people who don’t —
about just exactly what safe cycling is. Safe driving practices are far
more standardized and codified, because driving is a mode of transport
that every American is expected to use at some point in his or her
life. People on bicycles are forced, because of a mishmash of
infrastructure and regulations, to make things up as they go along.
Which is why there is so much disagreement about the practice known as "salmoning." (Speaking of which, what do you think of "zebras"?)

It doesn’t have to be like this, of course. In a country with
extensive bike tradition and infrastructure, such as the Netherlands, citizens are educated from an early age
about how to ride. This means that everyone knows what "safe cycling"
means — people on bikes, people on foot and people in cars. And there’s
no need to fret about "cyclist safety" every time a new bike path is

As you head into the weekend, give some thought to slowing things down. Both Boston Biker and Let’s Go Ride a Bike have posts today about the pleasures of riding at a more leisurely pace.

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