On The Record

Just FYI:

In the bicycle advocacy world, I am a traffic safety advocate as opposed to a participation advocate.

Participation advocate: A person whose primary goal is increasing the number of people who ride bicycles (aka. mode share). A participation advocate’s primary measure of success in advocacy is increased mode share.

Traffic safety advocate: A person whose primary goal is teaching and encouraging those who ride bicycles to drive their bicycles in traffic as traffic. A traffic safety advocate’s primary measure of success in advocacy is change in bicyclists’ behaviors.

Obviously, there are many advocates who cross this dichotomy and many others who would reject the dichotomy or offer other dichotomies. I point out this dichotomy because I like it, and I fall squarely on the traffic safety side of things. I do not care if another person takes up bicycling. I care that the ones already on the streets drive safely. If mode share can be increased in ways that promote traffic safety, the rules of safe movement,  and proper driving behavior, then that’s wonderful.

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Comments 11

  1. Ian Cooper wrote:

    As a proponent of driving a bike in traffic as traffic, I hate to disagree with you on this Andy, but surely a traffic safety advocate’s goal is to teach safe use of the road, period. Anything else, to paraphrase Manfred von Richthofen, is beside the point.

    After all, what if it eventually turns out that some way of riding a bike is safer than driving a bike in traffic as traffic? Having the goal be to teach integrated cycling and changing cyclist behavior towards integrated cycling are good goals for a safety advocate only as long as integrated cycling is indeed the safest method, which I agree it is now based on what we know now, but if that should ever change, in teaching integrated cycling as “the goal”, we’d would be falling victim to a similar sort of ideologically-based advocacy trap that the paint and path advocates have fallen into.

    Posted 22 Apr 2014 at 7:35 am
  2. Khal Spencer wrote:

    A good example of the end-member position on participation advocacy can be found here:

    Being on my county transportation board for the last umpteen years changed me from a cycling advocate to someone who tries to consider traffic safety, sensu lato. An unbiased view of traffic safety rather than participation or vehicle level of service should serve cyclists, but cyclists have to be masters of their own fate rather than passive riders depending on the government or PfB to keep them alive.

    Posted 22 Apr 2014 at 7:51 am
  3. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Note too that PfB isn’t really a “people’s movement” but is an Astroturf organization run by the bicycling business. It has a financial interest in increasing the numbers of hind ends on saddles.

    Posted 22 Apr 2014 at 7:53 am
  4. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    The crux is in the How. How does one promote safer cycling? How does one promote participation? Many participation advocates will claim to be promoting safety as well (“safety in numbers,” “8 to 80,” etc.).

    I believe getting people to take CyclingSavvy promotes participation, though admittedly not at the levels that segregated designs do, and of course not at the expense of safety.

    The two mindsets might be better characterized as “marginal safety through increased participation” and “marginal participation through increased safety.”

    A key problem with the participation approach is that there are other factors besides bikeways that increase participation, such as economics, demographics, land use, and bicycle parking. For example, left out of most discussions about the increase in cycling in New York City is the fact that the City passed a law requiring most commercial buildings to allow commuters to bring their bikes inside (around the same time they were increasing bikeway mileage). Previously many people would avoid cycling because the risk of theft was so high if they had to park their bikes outside.

    So if participation rose due to factors other than bikeways and the bikeways created conflicts that lead to crashes…but we probably won’t ever see such an analysis.

    Posted 22 Apr 2014 at 8:21 am
  5. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    I should add that safety can change in the same way participation does. A road diet with bike lanes may reduce cyclist crashes, but because speeds have been reduced or due to other factors besides the bike lanes themselves. (In effect, the “experiment” of adding bike lanes was poorly designed because it didn’t control for all other variables.) So you can get an overall decrease in cyclist crashes while at the same time causing some crashes (known amongst bicycle drivers as “taking one for the team”).

    Posted 22 Apr 2014 at 8:36 am
  6. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Road diets are usually proposed as a way to reduce vehicle speeds. So its really not an unintended consequence if it reduces crash severity (i.e., a crash at 25 mph is less lethal, statistically, than a crash at 35 mph).

    My beef with proponents is they want to reduce everything to a single variable or two, i.e., safety in numbers, cycletracks, etc. There are, as Mighk points out, a lot of things going on, so if one really wants to do a causal analysis, one has to do more than scratch the surface.

    More than a few of us have pointed out that cycling mode share rises for a variety of reasons that have to do with encouraging individual choices. So called safe facilities don’t control people’s choices. It is a mix of things such as end use facilities, time expense, financial expense, government policies that guide behavior (i.e., European gas taxes), and individual values.

    Best thing we can do is ensure people who get on that saddle know what they are doing. Reading about a cyclist run over by a train in Santa Fe doesn’t do much for the cause.

    Posted 22 Apr 2014 at 9:04 am
  7. Andy Cline wrote:

    Ian … I’m not seeing the disagreement you speak of (except as a function of your speculation, which, I suppose, would require a change of tactic but not necessarily a change of whatever it is I’m talking about).

    Others … great to have good discussion return to CT — you, too, Ian 😉

    Posted 22 Apr 2014 at 12:18 pm
  8. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Glad you are back, Andy. I really missed this Virtual Pickle Barrel.

    Posted 22 Apr 2014 at 5:30 pm
  9. Eli Damon wrote:

    I think that efficacy, NOT safety, is the main benefit of using driver behavior. My advocacy mission is neither participation nor safety. It is adoption of cycling as a truly useful form of transportation. Of course, safety is an important part of that, but many people achieve safety just fine by either not cycling at all or by cycling only within their little bubbles of comfort.

    Posted 22 Apr 2014 at 6:39 pm
  10. Ian Cooper wrote:

    This discussion is kinda making me question why I’m a cycling advocate. I thought it was because I’m a safety advocate, but if that were true, I would be riding the bus everywhere. The fact that I’m not makes me realize that I’m really an environmentalist first – the reason I cycle is mostly that I hate diesel/gasoline fumes. Didn’t really understand that about myself until now. No wonder I hate motorists with such a passion.

    As for the adoption of cycling as a truly useful form of transportation, I think it’s a noble cause, but I don’t see it really taking off until the rise of global oil prices really makes cars (as they exist now) obsolete. Right now, cars are hideously inefficient compared to bikes, but oil is so freaking cheap that it makes the car’s hideous inefficiency beside the point.

    Posted 22 Apr 2014 at 6:59 pm
  11. Andy Cline wrote:

    Ian … Very cool 🙂 I’m also wrestling with this because of the interesting responses.

    Posted 23 Apr 2014 at 12:17 pm