Photo by Keri
I dream that some day this gentleman will feel comfortable, safe and welcome riding on the road with his dogs, his kids or a load of groceries.
It is already safe to ride on the road—far safer than the sidewalk—no matter your cargo. But people can’t get their heads around that because they don’t feel safe. And more importantly, they don’t feel welcome.
Bicycling and our community
We hear lots of buzzwords these days: livable communities, sustainability, complete streets, mode share. The core principle behind the buzzwords is that a community where people can easily use non-motorized transportation (walk or ride their bikes) is economically and physically healthy, and a desirable place to live. It’s a place like this.
People want to live, and employers want to locate, in a community where kids ride their bikes to school, families ride together to a park, people ride or walk in their neighborhoods, or to nearby shopping opportunities.
Essential ingredients to creating this kind of community are civility and respect.
Another way to look at the roads
We take to the roads every day to get from point A to point B. We think only of our own schedule and purpose (which is more important than “theirs”). As motorists, we become anonymous islands in steel boxes, crossing paths and getting in each others’ way for several hours every day. But what’s happening here?
Our roads are the one place where we interact as a community every day. We touch each others’ lives on the roads, every day. And we’re stressed out, pissed off and treating each other like enemies.
I’ve said this before. If my only interactions with fellow road users were behind the wheel of a car, I would probably believe the roads were too dangerous and inhospitable for cycling. Fortunately, I have a different perspective because I’ve learned to operate cooperatively among my steel-encased, fellow citizens. Sometimes our interactions even help them remember their humanity.
Much of my writing on this website is to try and help other cyclists learn to do the same. The Dance is a beautiful and empowering thing. Every cyclist who learns it is making a contribution to enhancing the quality of our community.
Our traffic culture
While most motorists are cooperative with an assertive and confident cyclist, there are still the few who wish to enforce selfish beliefs that we do not belong on “their” roads. Those people are emboldened in a community which does not take a stand against their corrosive attitudes. Their actions limit cyclists’ access to roads which are perfectly safe, but made unpleasant by harassment. The result is fewer people choosing to ride, and the majority of those who do, choosing to ride in ways that make them less safe.
Here’s the reality:
- On the whole, cycling is much safer than motoring (with about half the fatalities per million hours).
- In an analysis of Orlando bicycle crash data1, only 8% of crash victims were riding lawfully on the road.
- Only 2% of daytime crashes involved overtaking motorists, and all but one were sideswipes (motorist trying to squeeze past in a narrow lane).
- 44% of cyclists who were hit by cars were riding on the sidewalk – because riding on the sidewalk increases your risk of being hit by a car!
- In 2003-04 there were 17 fatalities. Sixteen involved cyclists violating right-of-way, riding at night with no lights and/or riding while intoxicated. (In light of this, go ponder that first bullet-point again.)
- 63% of Florida adult cycling hospitalizations do NOT involve a motor vehicle (Fla. Dept. of Health)2— the most common hazards are in the places cyclists ride to stay out of the way.
It’s safe and easy to ride on the road and follow the rules. In fact, that is the best way to enjoy crash- and conflict-free cycling. People don’t do this largely because they have been made, by our culture, to feel like interlopers. As a result, many cyclists put themselves at risk of injury or death—riding on the sidewalk, riding against traffic, hugging the edge of the road and skimming parked cars.
To empower more people to ride safely, we must change perceptions, defeat mythologies and cultural biases, and improve civility toward our fellow road users.
Roads are for people.
All citizens have a right to travel by human power on public roads (except some limited-access highways). We test and license operators of motorized vehicles, they operate by revocable privilege (though that’s been sadly skewed toward entitlement in recent years).
All citizens have an interest in the way we interact in our public spaces. All citizens have a stake in the livability of our community.
All citizens will benefit from an environment of civility, cooperation and respect for all road users. And all of us are pedestrians sometimes!
Safety is a product of behavior.
The notion that safety comes from devices like reinforced side-panels, full-curtain airbags, helmets or huge vehicles has led to an overall degradation of conscientious driving behaviors. “But I had to buy a Hummer because everyone else is driving Expeditions!”
Safety is not something we can build or buy. Safety comes from our decisions and actions. Traffic is made up of individual drivers making choices. It is not an uncontrollable force of nature.
We cyclists can control our environment on the road and encourage drivers to make good choices. When we assert ourselves on the road, we are not hapless, helpless victims buffeted by forces outside our control. But we should insist on nothing less than conscientious behavior from all drivers on our public roads.
Changing the culture
Through the generosity of the Winter Park Health Foundation, a coalition of citizens from Eatonville, Maitland, Winter Park and surrounding communities has been formed to take on our traffic culture. The coalition is made up of a broad base of stakeholders—law enforcement, pedestrian advocates, cycling advocates, Safety Council educators and community organizers—working with social marketing experts, Sara Isaac and Tait Martin from Salter>Mitchell.
This will be a testing ground for a Better Way of promoting a culture which supports non-motorized mode share and all its health and livability benefits.
1 Orlando Area Bicyclist Crash Study by Mighk Wilson
2 Traffic Taboo: Law Enforcement’s Key Role in Bicyclist Safety by Mighk Wilson