Things Are Getting Worse

I believe we’ve entered an era in which things are going to get worse for bicyclists before they get better. The tectonic pressure to paint bicycle lanes has become so great that it no longer seems possible to even debate the merits or the claims of safety.

Check out this article from Yes! magazine. Here’s a taste:

“The idea is to create the kind of bike networks that will attract the 60 percent of all Americans who say they would bike more if they felt safer,” says Randy Neufeld, a longtime bike advocate in Chicago who as Director of the SRAM Cycling Fund helped start the Green Lane Project.  “It’s about helping people from 8 to 80 to feel safe biking on city streets.”

That’s what “participation” advocacy looks like. It’s not about real safety or efficient transportation. It’s all about how novices feel. Put more harshly (and, IMO, more accurately): It’s all about fooling novices into thinking they safe — sacrificing them on the altar of participation. Sure, go ride in that door-zone lane. The paint on your left can hold back a 2-ton motor vehicle, and the door on your right, well, what are the chances it’s gonna pop open?

I feel safe riding Springfield’s streets because I know that I am relatively safe (given that few things we do everyday are entirely safe). I did not feel safe riding in Amsterdam this summer because I was in fact not as safe as I am riding in Springfield — the subject of my upcoming documentary film. Amsterdam’s storied bicycle tracks are clogged with too many bicyclists using too little space. The danger is not car traffic. The danger is all the potential ways to crash in a cramped, crowded system. I’ll never ride there again without a helmet.

How is this possible? How can I possibly feel safe on Springfield city streets (and in Kansas City, St. Louis, Wilmington, and Orlando — cities I’ve bicycled in recently) without special accommodations?

Well, I’m obviously a crazy, battled-hardened road warrior, right? That is the stereotype accepted by — I was about the type “much of the non-riding public.” No. That’s the stereotype accepted by some of the advocates of participation. That’s the stereotype that keeps us in the business of painting bicycle lanes for novices. Check out I Am No Road Warrior by Diana Steele for a corrective to the stereotype.

The key to safety is education — understanding traffic, the role of the bicycle in traffic, and all the tools bicyclists have to mitigate the dangers of sharing space with motor vehicles. And here is where we run into the problem of culture (see also On Participation and Amsterdam: My Big Take-away).

Participation? It would be nice if more people rode bicycles in Springfield; it’s a wonderful place to ride a bicycle. It’s tragic that more people don’t ride bicycles here for transportation (and other purposes) if what’s stopping them is fear for their safety.

Everything I’ve just written makes me a crank. The tectonic shift is going to bury me. I wrote on Carbon Trace last year that I was not going to raise too much of a fuss about painting bicycle lanes in Springfield. I thought it was unlikely we’d paint more lanes, so it was easy to make that pledge at the time. Well, I’m taking it back.

This morning I’m off to get some video and pictures of the new bicycles lanes on S. Jefferson.

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Comments 29

  1. Steve A wrote:

    I think you throw out the term “immoral” against your fellow liberals too easily. Ignorant, misguided, blind, or foolish even, but immoral suggests they are knowingly and willfully sending people to their deaths instead of merely drinking the “safety in numbers” kool aid. Even I do not accuse them of that. Even those like Alta that make money off this appear to simply not see what should be obvious.

    Posted 08 Aug 2012 at 8:33 am
  2. Brian wrote:

    “The tectonic shift is going to bury me.”

    Yep. Have fun in the wilderness.

    Posted 08 Aug 2012 at 9:02 am
  3. Brian wrote:

    [Sorry ’bout the mixed metaphor.]

    Posted 08 Aug 2012 at 9:03 am
  4. Andy Cline wrote:

    Steve… Again, when talking ethics or morality I am talking about behavior, not an individual characteristic. We’ll simply have to disagree about the aptness of the word.

    Posted 08 Aug 2012 at 9:16 am
  5. Robert wrote:

    Yes, the key is education.

    Now the magic question…..

    How many bicyclists have you educated in the past week, month and year?

    What about in Springfield in general?

    Posted 08 Aug 2012 at 10:02 am
  6. RANTWICK wrote:

    Yep, I’m afraid your assessment is correct. You are doomed to be seen as a crank and the painted lines will just keep coming. If it is any comfort at all, I get you. I’m way too lazy to do much about it myself, but I get you.

    Posted 08 Aug 2012 at 10:10 am
  7. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    It’s not so much how many we educate, but who.

    Law enforcement.
    Elected officials.
    Traffic engineers.
    The media.
    Other educators.
    The military (yes, really).

    And then get those people talking to one another if they’re not already.

    Posted 08 Aug 2012 at 11:32 am
  8. Andy Cline wrote:

    Robert… Again, I offer CT as an education. I’m banging away on these keys to make people aware. And let’s not forget the new Bike Smart Springfield booklet that the STAR Team produced. But the culture is hard to overcome.

    Posted 08 Aug 2012 at 12:01 pm
  9. Ian Cooper wrote:

    “How is this possible? How can I possibly feel safe on Springfield city streets (and in Kansas City, St. Louis, Wilmington, and Orlando — cities I’ve bicycled in recently) without special accommodations?”

    I would add Silver Spring, Maryland to that list. Although there are major 6-lane highways here that some folks might feel uncomfortable riding on, in 99% of cases, there are quiet residential roads that run parallel to these major arterials.

    “Well, I’m obviously a crazy, battled-hardened road warrior, right?”

    Yeah, that must be me and my daughter too – crazily meandering along at the frightening pace of 6-8mph on our commute to and from her school, 2 miles each way.

    Posted 08 Aug 2012 at 12:07 pm
  10. Ian Cooper wrote:

    I’m lucky, I guess, in that I live in Silver Spring, which has been effectively ignored in terms of bike infrastructure. We have very few bike facilities here, and that’s the way I like it.

    I’m hoping that by the time the facility advocates get here, we’ll be beyond the desire for segregated cycling facilities: either the fad for bike facilities will come to an end after the facility advocates have scared all the potential cyclists away (as they tend to do), or peak oil will bring in another oil shock, making driving a motor vehicle unrealistic for the majority of folks.

    Posted 08 Aug 2012 at 12:16 pm
  11. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Mighk tells us whom we must educate. He is correct. They need an antidote to the kool-aid.

    We finished our new bike lanes a year ago and already have a spate of crashes of the classic form–left crosses and right hooks at intersections. Sure, we have more participation. And, more casualties.

    Immoral? Engineers and scientists who are in positions affecting public safety (and lately I count myself in that group) have a higher ethical responsibility. First, do no harm. I take that to mean that in the case of traffic, one should not put people in harm’s way as individuals just to get them as a population to get their blood pressure down. Honesty has been sacrificed on the alter of so-called public good.

    Posted 09 Aug 2012 at 11:19 am
  12. Ian Cooper wrote:

    As for education on matters relating to safety, I don’t know that it can be done in the current environment. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

    If it was only a matter of education, the materials are out there that should allow any intelligent person to educate himself. But some folks don’t want to be educated – they prefer to stick with their own prejudices, especially when their prejudices give them a feeling that they’re on the winning side and making a difference – and I think that’s how the paint and path brigade feel.

    Also, I think a big part of the problem is on the side of the educators: it seems to me that the cycling education establishment is still mired in the ‘skilled and speedy cyclist’ notions of the sport cycling movement. So we’re still trying to teach people tricks like the ‘instant turn’, that make a lot of novice cyclists think we’re trying to turn them into cycling gymnasts. It’s just not going to work – it will turn people off. I’ve argued before that the average Joe is going to be much easier to teach if we focus on inherent skills that everyone has, like the ability to anticipate and assess threats, and to modify speed for every situation (as in the motorcyclist’s ‘Search, Evaluate, and Execute’ system that Khal brought up last week. I think going into a blind intersection at 20mph and relying on two-wheeled gymnastics to get folks out of trouble is just going to get them injured or worse, yet the LAB still teaches these and fails to put anything more than a bare minimum of focus on anticipation and speed modification based on visibility and threat level.

    But when I bring these issues up with LCIs, I’m shouted down. Apparently, the instant turn is what has been taught and it’s what’s going to be taught! Period. This despite the fact that most people find such maneuvers difficult, despite the fact that it reinforces the conception that vehicular cyclists are elitists who are out-of-touch with reality, and despite the fact that it allows a threat to develop into a danger rather than preventing the threat from developing in the first place.

    Posted 09 Aug 2012 at 2:15 pm
  13. Khal Spencer wrote:

    I anticipate working SEE into any future teaching I do, as long as the SEE is not service marked. I’ve already been doing that in a vague way for a couple years under the rubric of “situational awareness” but I concur with Ian that this should take huge precedence over what really are advanced bike handling skills.

    Better to avoid trouble than to have to do acrobatics around it. I think instilling the confidence to ride without having to do acrobatics makes sense for a heck of a lot of people. I still think as a last resort as well as the most fun, one should never dissuade people from developing bike handling skills.

    What do Mighk and

    Posted 09 Aug 2012 at 5:58 pm
  14. Khal Spencer wrote:

    The 5 layers of safety concept lists layer 1 as “control your bike”. i.e., “…If you can skillfully control your bike by starting, stopping, and turning properly, you will not fall down all by yourself or run into others. Do this and you cut out about half of your injury risk. To ride in groups, a cyclist must have good bike handling skills…”

    There is a fair bit of distance between that and doing instant turns and emergency stops. That said, we had a cyclist yesterday who crashed on Diamond Drive by doing an endo while trying to brake hard to avoid a left turning motorist. The motorist was cited for failure to yield, but that doesn’t magically make the road rash go away.

    So sure, being an adept rider is good. But I suspect that being situationally aware enough to anticipate the left turn failure on the part of the motorist could have given the cyclist a chance to avoid the holy shit panic stop. I’d prefer to teach awareness first, but make sure a cyclist knows how to slide the butt off the back of the seat while braking to high heaven.

    My understanding is the moto course teaches both–mental awareness first, and challenging people to increase their bike handling skills second. I get to find out next week as I have signed up for a MSF course.

    Posted 09 Aug 2012 at 9:37 pm
  15. Ian Cooper wrote:

    WW1 ace of aces Manfred von Richthofen’s advice to his pilots was “Find the enemy and shoot him down. Anything else is nonsense.” He was urging his pilots to avoid the popular but unnecessary aerobatic tricks that many of them spent time practicing. Von Richthofen was not a skilled pilot – shooting was more his thing – and he saw loops and rolls as unnecessary when the same effect could be achieved with with simpler maneuvers.

    When we teach the instant turn and other tricks, it reminds me of von Richthofen’s maxim. The thing that bothers me about the League of American Bicyclists’ Smart Cycling course is not so much that it teaches acrobatic maneuvers, but that it doesn’t put anywhere near as much stress on what I see as the fundamentals of careful cycling. When it comes to accident avoidance, the course overwhelmingly favors reaction over anticipation. I remember when I took the Smart Cycling and League Certified Instructor course, I spent more time on the instant turn than anything else in the entire course – and coming second, third and fourth in terms of practice time were the other accident reaction maneuvers. And I certainly don’t recall any time spent learning preventive measures like making sure you have clear lines of sight, anticipating potential threats, or modifying speed when approaching a blind situation – it’s been a couple of years since I took these courses, but I don’t recall these aspects even being mentioned – not even in the LCI course. To me, when it comes to accident avoidance, these should be foremost and they should be emphasized above all else. For the LAB not to even mention them except perhaps in passing – well, there are three major reasons I chose not to become an LCI – this was probably the most important to me.

    Posted 10 Aug 2012 at 6:12 am
  16. Ian Cooper wrote:

    The thing is, the fundamental problem I have with acrobatic maneuvers in safe cycling courses, is that if you’re properly seeing, anticipating and slowing, you should never ever be in a situation where you have to react to an emergency. But these tactics require imagination.

    To me, acrobatic reaction maneuvers are reinforcing a failure of imagination.

    Posted 10 Aug 2012 at 6:29 am
  17. Khal Spencer wrote:

    I agree with your priorities, Ian.

    Posted 10 Aug 2012 at 6:29 am
  18. Khal Spencer wrote:

    For comparison, here is the overview for the Basic Skills course offered by the MSF. You can click your way through the intro.

    Posted 10 Aug 2012 at 6:34 am
  19. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Where I differ with Ian is that these are not entirely “tricks”. They should not be taught that way, which misses the point.

    Both the Traffic Skills and MSF courses stress that a person should be able to control and maneuver a bike. Especially a motorcycle. SEE means Search, evaluate, execute. You must be able to execute, but it comes last!

    The instant turn starts out basically as an exercise in countersteering. I wonder how many people buy a bicycle or motorcycle and don’t know that to effectively turn these two wheelers, you have to turn the bike handlebars initially in the opposite direction as one’s intended direction of travel? Also, the reason a glancing dooring incident is dangerous is that a glancing dooring puts the cyclist into an instant turn into traffic which can be fatal, e.g. Dana Laird. So I would concur that if LCIs are teaching these as exercises in acrobatics it misses the point by a country mile. When I teach the course, I want the students to know why these skills are important, but I don’t expect to use disproportionate class time to do these to the exclusion of mental drills.

    Likewise, braking. We had two crashes up here resulting in injury caused by braking endos. If folks have not practiced how to brake a bicycle with disks or linear pull brakes, they are likely to overbrake the front or not use it out of fear. Case 1 could result in an endo crash, while case 2 results in lousy braking. By (down and back) of the bike and modulate brakes, one can better brake without fear of braking, thus being a less fearful rider.

    The purpose of bike handling skills should not degenerate into acrobatics for the sake of acrobatics. Like the WWI case, the reason one learns to handle their vehicle is to make better use of its controls both under normal and adverse conditions, giving one more latitude in action. Certainly the Red Baron would want his pilots to know how to react if a Brit was on his tail. Might as well use pilot skills to fight another day.

    I suspect in fighter pilots more than bicyclists, situational awareness trumps one’s ability to do looping rolls, though. The bottom line is getting to the destination, not doing acrobatics.

    Posted 10 Aug 2012 at 7:40 am
  20. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Not sure what happened to my sentence: By moving the center of gravity of the bicycle (down and back) and learning to modulate brakes….

    Posted 10 Aug 2012 at 7:44 am
  21. Andy Cline wrote:

    Khal and Ian… I think CyclingSavvy does a good job of teaching bicycle handling in the context of situational awareness. So, IMO, the two things work hand in hand.

    Posted 10 Aug 2012 at 8:07 am
  22. Ian Cooper wrote:

    “I suspect in fighter pilots more than bicyclists, situational awareness trumps one’s ability to do looping rolls, though. The bottom line is getting to the destination, not doing acrobatics.”


    I don’t think the LAB is teaching these maneuvers as acrobatics. They’re teaching them as ‘avoidance maneuvers’, but the end result is that the student learns them as tricks because (I think) the context is often missing – or at least not fully defined. My point, I guess, is that in teaching them without placing much more emphasis on prevention, I think in a way they’ve surrendered to the idea that crashes are inevitable.

    I think that’s a bad idea. As the program ‘Seconds From Disaster’ says: “accidents don’t just happen: they are the culmination, the climax of a series of circumstances and events which combine to create the situation”. If we can place heavy emphasis on countering that series of circumstances, an accident can never develop. This is my strong belief – and admittedly it may be the case that the strength of my belief in it comes from the fact that I’ve never had a collision on the road. Still, I doubt it would change if I got into an accident tomorrow.

    Another related issue, to get back to the more general issue of education, is that I think many cyclists are too willing to put all the blame on the motorist, rather than looking to see if there’s anything they could have done better. Many times I see people saying that we shouldn’t blame the cyclist victim when the motorist is the one who hit him. But this fails to address the fact that, if a cyclist was hit by a car, he also failed to either search, evaluate (anticipate) or execute (adjust speed or position).

    Posted 10 Aug 2012 at 8:17 am
  23. Ian Cooper wrote:

    Andy, I’d love to see the Cycling Savvy course. Sadly, I don’t think it’s available in my area yet.

    Posted 10 Aug 2012 at 8:23 am
  24. Ian Cooper wrote:

    And money is tight, so traveling to take the course is not on the cards right now. I hope that I can take it in the future though.

    Posted 10 Aug 2012 at 8:26 am
  25. Khal Spencer wrote:

    LANL pays me to teach cycling safety. I wonder if any organizations in DC teach the course via public funding.

    Posted 10 Aug 2012 at 8:28 am
  26. Andy Cline wrote:

    Ian… I think you’d be favorably impressed with CS. And I do understand your concern with cycling “tricks.”

    Khal… Do you live anywhere near Ian. I’d be willing to help out if need be.

    Posted 10 Aug 2012 at 10:42 am
  27. Ian Cooper wrote:

    My nearest CS instructor is, I think, Rich Froh in Mystic, Connecticut. That’s 350 miles away. If I ever find myself with free time and in the vicinity of a CS instructor, I will definitely grab the opportunity if it’s available.

    Posted 10 Aug 2012 at 11:43 am
  28. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Ian’s in Maryland and I am in New Mexico. Long haul for a bike class! I wonder if WABA does classes.

    Posted 10 Aug 2012 at 12:11 pm
  29. Ian Cooper wrote:

    WABA hosts LAB classes – I’ve taken all the ones they offer, from Smart Cycling to the LCI course. They don’t do Cycling Savvy.

    Posted 10 Aug 2012 at 1:06 pm