Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Safety in Numbers

Photo from

This week the bike safety debate continues.  And the debate continues to be interesting. It is not about the Tour de France pile ups we all want to avoid.  It's about commuting on bikes and how to make that safer.  I have an answer.  More cyclists.  A lot more.

The more cyclists there are in the roads in the United States, the more drivers will expect cyclists.  The more communities will have to respond by training police officers, drivers and cyclists, and building the infrastructure to support cycling. The more people will be present on scary, remote bike paths after the sun sets.

There are serious ways to accomplish this, such as new laws and new bikes lanes.  Governments and companies could establish policies to motivate people to cycle, like subsidies, clean up areas in offices, and bike parking zones.  Restrict the numbers of trucks on the main streets when it is bike commute time and increase the penalties for traffic offenses committed by motorized vehicles that have breached the bike lanes.

There are not so serious ways to this end.  All cyclists could make it their personal mission to look as absolutely fabulous as they possibly can when atop two wheels and ride smugly in the most visible place so drivers grow envious and want to cycle.

Marie-Claire magazine

Or we could all just wait, because 15% more people are commuting by bike across the country today than were doing so only a few years ago and the numbers are going up.

All the elitist cycling cynics - who fear their prior status and way of life are being eclipsed by hearty and hale cycling hipsters who could care less which stretched NYC matron posed stiffly with another of her ilk for Bill Cunningham (ironically a cyclist himself) at the Met - will eventually stop carping and go back to their small worlds and fad diets.  The merchants who opposed bike lanes will find their profits going up despite their fears.  And even grumpy, negative people will re-discover that feeling we all had at the age of eight when we soared down a hill on our very first big bike.
Of course, there is plenty of advice for cyclists out there on safety.  Wear a helmet.  Be predictable.  Wear chartreuse, even though it is flattering to no one.  Don't make fun of a guy with a thick mustache, he might be concealing a harelip.  (OK that advice came from my mother and has nothing to do with cycling.)

But this advice doesn't always help.  I spoke to a colleague today who had a serious fall when she hit a washed out spot on the bike path.  Her concussion was massive, and she does not remember anything after hitting the puddle until she woke up in the hospital.  She was wearing a helmet that was compressed in the fall, she was being predictable, and using a bike path.

I had an accident myself this week when I encountered a sensible woman on a 10-speed with cleats on the Senate side of the Capitol.  I was on my Pashley Princess Sovereign in high heels with my leopard-print helmet.  We both tried to pass through and narrow opening between two wrought iron barriers at the same time and crashed into each other.  I pried her off my peddle and apologized and she did the same.  It never occurred to me that any woman would wear cleats on a commuter bike when she could easily don a cleaver pair of patent leather T-strap pumps.  Then it dawned on me that the only reason we collided was because she could not get her shoe off of her pedal.  So some near tragedies cannot be fixed by law, policy or numbers of cyclists.  I will not advance the theory that cleats are the problem lest   some cyclists set upon me like something out of Lord of the Flies.

The Economist - yup that one, with its sort of everyman for his own hedge-fund venal tone- this week had a piece about who would be in fault in a truck on car incident in a number of different scenarios in the U.S. and the Netherlands.  It is worth a read after the New York Times oped piece that prompted tons of tweets accusing the author of anti-cyclist bias and a blame the victim mentality.  It also reminded me that more people die in bike accidents per capita in the U.S. than do in the Netherlands.  This should not be the case.  We are Americans.  We can walk and chew gum at the same time.  We have much bigger windmills than the Dutch.  In fact we have wind farms.

But being serious for a moment, and certainly no longer than a moment, many people died in the UK this past month in car on bike incidents.  They were fathers, architects, mothers, and societal contributors.  And they were cyclists which we know means something more in the area of personal character.  This shouldn't be happening in the U.K. or the U.S.  If significantly greater numbers of cyclists would make these deaths less likely, then we should help that to happen by whatever policies we can establish.  Links to these stories are here.

And on the good news front, Bixi, the Canadian bike share company, was rescued.  So the Apocalypse is not surely upon us.

So if I see you in the bike lane, be smug, look fabulous, and invite a friend.
Elisa P.

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