Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Emphasis on Safety?

There’s a lot of focus this month on getting more people out and about on their bikes. We posted last week about the effort to normalize bike commuting,
a topic that as usual sparked a lot of discussion about sweat,
appropriate clothing, secure bike parking and, of course, safety.

holland_300x298.jpgHow they promote cycling in Holland.

Today we’d like to talk more about the safety issue — or, more precisely, the perception-of-safety issue. M-bike.org, a Streetsblog Network member in Detroit, has a post comparing the Dutch approach to promoting cycling with events like the "Ride of Silence,"
an international annual event — begun in America — that honors
bicyclists who have been killed by traffic while riding (2009’s ride
will be held tomorrow):

Last month Copenhagenize noted the Dutch Bicycle Council’s
collection of positive cycling promotions. Those photos certainly make
cycling look safe, accessible, convenient and fun. There’s no Lycra and
almost no helmets.

Contrast that with the Ride of Silence events that mourn cyclists killed or injured while biking — putting the focus on how unsafe cycling can be.

Does this message encourage more people to ride a bicycle?

Does this message make it more or less likely that parents will let their kids bike to school?

The Copenhagenize site — which posted a parody of the widely circulated Danish video of cops giving cyclists helmets — has taken a strong stand against helmet promotion, precisely because of the effect it has on perceptions of cycling as a safe activity.

Of
course, Denmark and the Netherlands are countries that have
well-established cycling cultures. Here in the U.S., we are just at the
beginning (we hope) of establishing such a culture. The question is how
to do it.

So what do you think? Is it possible to
emphasize safety too much when it comes to cycling, thereby scaring off
a significant number of people, especially when research shows that more cyclists means safer cyclists? Is it counterproductive to emphasize the dangers to cyclists with things like ghost bikes and memorial rides? Or — here in America, land of the automobile — do we need to emphasize safety over all other concerns?

Full disclosure: I always wear a helmet when I ride.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Collecting Data to Push for Safer Biking on Valencia

|
During yesterday evening’s rush hour, safe streets advocates, organized by Catherine Orland, District 9 representative to the Bicycle Advisory Committee and longtime member and volunteer with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, started collecting hard data about how often the bike lanes on Valencia Street are blocked by motorists. Take a wild guess what they found: […]

Are Muni Service Woes and Fare Hikes Pushing People to Bikes?

|
Many San Francisco bicyclists got their start by apparently taking this sign’s message to heart. Flickr photo: mattymatt Could rounds of Muni service cuts and fare hikes push more people to start cycling in San Francisco? The MTA, which operates Muni, doesn’t have data on the phenomenon, but anecdotally, it’s already happening. For Christopher Janson, […]

A Rose By Another Name: San Jose’s Bike Party

|
A crowd assembles at the beginning of San Jose Bike Party, April 16, 2010. Let’s just say right away that Critical Mass is a bike party, and the San Jose Bike Party has a lot more similarities to Critical Mass than differences. A half-dozen San Francisco and Berkeley Critical Mass veterans took a field trip […]