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Why We Focus on Unsafe Cycling and Not Unsafe Driving

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

This morning on Sustainable
, 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 prompted
by discussions of new roadways? I can’t remember a single instance. All
sorts of elected officials had all sorts of things to say at the groundbreaking
for the fifth phase of the Truman Parkway
last month, but did any
mention the need to educate motorists about speeding or aggressive
driving? Car crashes, too often resulting in fatalities, are a regular
occurrences on the existing portions of the limited access freeway.
Wouldn’t a groundbreaking ceremony present an excellent opportunity to
warn about the dangers of distracted or impaired driving and call for
new programs to better educate motorists who use the Truman Parkway?

Again, I appreciate any concern expressed for the most vulnerable
road users, but I’m curious about the requisite safety discussions that
accompany our conversations about bicycling. Is there a subtle
expectation that as cyclists we must earn, through good behavior, any
new infrastructure made available to us, no matter how small? Is this
expectation self-imposed? I must admit, I’ve caught myself thinking (and
sometimes saying) things along these lines. Meanwhile, as motorists we
enjoy colossal new facilities ($67.5 million in the case of Truman
Parkway Phase Five), without being asked to consider how to ensure 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 built.

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

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