Archive | November, 2014

Humanizing People on Bikes

21 Nov

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The advocacy group People for Bikes recently launched a media campaign to do just that.  In a way it seems odd that humanizing people on bicycles would be necessary.  We’re right there, sitting on the saddle, not looking particularly like an object or animal most of the time.

But the mentality encouraged by our fast-paced habits and road design, among other things, makes it easy to see people on bicycles, not to mention pedestrians and other motorists, in one-dimensional terms.  They become an obstacle, a menace, or just a stupid *&%$.  The key thing is that you stop seeing commonality and see only how they are not like you: a bad person in one way or another.

It’s hard to not also begin seeing car drivers in this way when you’re on a bicycle, especially when they bear down on you, pass too close and fast, or cut you off.  It also doesn’t help that a person inside a big metal box is hard to see and communicate with other than through crude gestures.

It may sound a bit flower-child-y, and this is not going to make our streets safer by itself, but trying to keep a three-dimensional view of each other on the road could help.  We’re all people on our way somewhere, wanting to get there in one piece.

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Fun Rides Coming Up

11 Nov

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One of the many benefits of being able to use coffee houses as my office a couple of days each week is being fairly well-informed about local events via those cluttered bulletin boards.  Otherwise I might not have known about two group rides coming up that sound like lots of fun!  (By the way, if you are planning a bicycling-related event, feel free contact me via the Contact link so I can help promote it).

The first is a Tweed Ride organized by the Art Deco Society of Virginia (see flyer above for details).  The standards are, I think, not super strict for things like this: the idea is to get a bit of an early 20th century retro feel while also pointing out that one can have fund riding a bicycle with absolutely no lycra.  I’ll admit I’ve never been on a Tweed Ride before, mainly because I have a tweed deficit.  But maybe I can scare up something tweedy or tweedish in my closet.

The second is a Bike Parade put together by a group I had not yet heard of called Ride On RVA.  It’s coming November 22 at 2 pm, meeting at the VMFA and riding through Carytown to celebrate cycling and promote safety in Richmond.  The Facebook event page is here.  Hope to see you out there!

Cyclists Only Have Themselves to Blame?

4 Nov
How is it that Denmark has lower injury and death rates than the U.S. for bicyclists, but so few helmets?

How is it that Denmark has lower injury and death rates than the U.S. for bicyclists, but so few helmets?  From streetsblog.org.

 

At least that is what the recent Governor’s Highway Transportation Association report implies.  Spotlight on Highway Safety: Bicyclist Safety, released October 27, has gotten a lot of attention, for good and bad reasons.  The really disturbing part is the big take-away “facts” that the report highlights: cyclist deaths are reported to be increasing (16% between 2010 and 2012), and two factors — cyclists using alcohol and not wearing a helmet — are said to be major factors behind that.  You can imagine how well that confirms what skeptics of cycling and bike infrastructure already believe: it’s dangerous, and it’s cyclists’ fault.

Responses in Urbanful and other places reveal major problems in these results — problems that reveal entrenched, distorted perceptions of bicycling (see the League of American Bicyclists’ response here, and discussion on NPR’s Diane Rehm show here).

Is Cycling Becoming More Dangerous?

Where to begin?  The biggest one is that the supposed “trend” in greater cyclist fatalities is based on data from 2010-2012.  At the risk of stating the statistically obvious: 3 years does not constitute a trend.  It’s not enough data points.

Second, these statistics do not at all take into account the greater number of people bicycling.  Proportional to the number of cyclists on the road, the trend is downward: cycling is getting safer.  Even the US Department of Transportation statistics support that.

And finally, if you look at the actual numbers on a state-by-state basis, one thing really jumps out: the two states with the worst conditions for bicycling, Texas and Florida, also have the highest increase in cyclist deaths.  So does that mean that there is an especially large number of drunk, helmet-less cyclists in those states?  Or could it be that, ahem, more people are bicycling but the roads in those states are the least conducive to bicyclist safety?

Helmets and Alcohol

This points to the other glaring problem (to put it nicely).  The report states that significant percentages of cyclists who died in crashes had a blood alcohol level above .08 or above, or were not wearing helmets.  But that data was from 2012.  One year.  Even less of a trend.

Secondly, that does not mean that every cyclist included in those number died because they were impaired by alcohol and/or not wearing a helmet.  (Of course it’s a bad idea to ride drunk or without a helmet, but correlation is not causation, so it’s really hard to know how much those factors actually contributed).

The biggest problem, of course, is that focusing on these issues leaves the dangerous conditions on our roads completely out of the picture.  Countries like Denmark with really good bicycle infrastructure have lower rates of cyclist injury and fatality and very low helmet use.

So we’re back to the original point: of course we should discourage drunk riding and encourage helmet use, but it’s misguided to put those in the spotlight when two other factors loom so large: car speeds and road design.

To be fair, the report does in the end recommend measures to make U.S. streets safer for cyclists; it’s just unfortunate that the alcohol and helmet issues were promoted as the most noteworthy results.

Taking It To the Streets

Let’s hope that the skewed message of safety does not become a discouragement for potential cyclists or an excuse to not continue with expanding bicycle infrastructure.

To end on a more positive note, check out the recent local NPR piece about bike commuting and new bike lanes in Richmond.  It features a mom in Church Hill who not only bikes to school with her children, but leads a bike caravan of several kids from the neighborhood to Chimborazo Elementary.  How’s that for a headline on the state of bicycling in the U.S.?