Where Should Moms Ride?

An MBA student posted the following image on the Cyclists Are Drivers! group on Facebook. It’s part of a group project, and she wanted feedback and advice.

I offered this comment, which I’m not sure is very helpful at all:

I like the fact you’re targeting Moms. But please realize that by suggesting they ride on the sidewalk you are actually encouraging them to do something more dangerous than riding in traffic. Are you prepared to take moral responsibility for that?

I realize my emphasis on ethics and morality is a big turn-off, but I see no sense in pretending that we are not morally responsible for the advice we give to novice bicycle riders. John Schubert offered a more cogent and useful response (with minor copy-editing and links added by me):

…thank you for coming to this group for comments. You’re getting them.

As Bob said, your framing needs some, er, um, adjustment. And I think you’ll do a lot better if you learn the “bicycle driving” framing from the ground up, rather than pasting corrections onto an “edge bicycling” framing.

The edge bicycling framing is the dominant paradigm you see in society today. That doesn’t make it correct, nor does it make it safe. And it has a set of assumptions that are wrong, wrong, wrong. But it’s part of the culture. I mean, what’s so bad about being out of the line of fire up on the sidewalk? Intersection conflicts, that’s what.

For some new framing:

Start with the premise that the bicyclist has the right to operate safely, and not the obligation to stay out of everyone’s way.

Continue with the icon-breaking concept: other road users don’t aim to run you down. No, they aim to avoid you. (Think of how much people act on the assumption that motorists are itching to aim for and run down cyclists. That’s not how people operate.)

Most of today’s bicycle facilities imitate the “out of the way on the sidewalk” paradigm, and say they “protect” and “separate” the bicyclist. What a shameful lie. What these facilities do is hide the bicyclist from other road users until the moment of impact.

So let’s go to where safety really exists: visible + predictable = safe.

How do you implement this? Far and away the best introduction to the operational details is to take Cyclingsavvy. The LAB course can be helpful too, depending heavily on the quality of the instructor. (LAB has some very good certified instructors, but it also has….. you get the idea. And the course curriculum is not nearly as good as cyclingsavvy, so you only get good instruction if the instructor pushes the envelope of the specified curriculum.)

While you’re figuring out how to get to a Cyclingsavvy course, do a day’s homework. Clear out 15 megabytes on your hard drive and get a half-ream of paper. Download, print out, and study: http://ntl.bts.gov/lib/25000/25400/25439/DOT-HS-803-315.pdf
This document is the Grey’s Anatomy of car/bike collisions, the iconic 1977 Ken Cross study. Yeah, it’s old, but it’s still very relevant. And it’s very readable. It divides car/bike collisions into many different types, and analyzes each type. It discusses the behavior, the expectations, the visual field, etc., of each collision participant.

When you know this information cold, your world changes. You understand why Mr. Sutterfield was aghast, and rightly so, at the suggestion of sidewalk riding. You can look at an intersection and instantly see how cyclists can make the vehicle code work for them in riding safely. And you’ll develop skepticism that one can make a dangerous behavior safe just by playing with a paint brush.

THEN you have the background to make responsible recommendations to others about cycling safely.

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Comments 15

  1. Steve A wrote:

    The moral? Leave morality out of advice. In truth, it is NOT particularly dangerous to ride along a sidewalk at walking speed as long as you don’t have to cross driveways or any streets. Just yesterday, I saw a sidewalk where you could go for several miles that way – if you had the patience. In between Raymond and South Bend.

    I wonder what the lady imagined she’d hear with that flyer from such a group. And no, I don’t think two kids on the back of an Xtracycle is a good idea either, not even at walking speeds.

    My prediction – she shakes her head and publishes the thing with no changes. After all, everyone’s got the Seattle-mandated helmets on.

    Posted 10 Aug 2012 at 11:45 am
  2. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Sidewalks can be negotiated at pedestrian speeds, to be sure. But putting a cyclist there is about as appropriate as making an Olympic sprinter wear lead shoes.

    Posted 10 Aug 2012 at 12:49 pm
  3. Kevin Love wrote:

    Here is a video showing proper transportation of children by bicycle.

    I strongly advise viewers to skip the first 1:15 of someone yapping about what you are about to see and skip straight to seeing it.

    Posted 10 Aug 2012 at 5:26 pm
  4. Steve A wrote:

    I love Kevin’s video, though I wondered why motorists were allowed to intrude…

    Posted 10 Aug 2012 at 10:04 pm
  5. Kevin Love wrote:

    Steve,

    To answer your question, Japanese tend to use the Woonerf or “shared space” more than Western countries.

    In the very dense Japanese cities, what makes it work is a high level of policing and law enforcement as well as a very low Japanese car transportation mode share.

    Every so often I’ll put up a link to a newspaper story from here in Ontario about police who arrest a dangerous driver who didn’t cause hit anyone or cause a crash. The Ontario police arrest dangerous drivers for high speeds, “near misses” or aggressive behaviour because their goal is to prevent crashes and KSI (killed or serious injury)casualties.

    Our local police force has published research that for every KSI crash, there are 23 near misses. Their goal is to arrest the dangerous driver on one of the 23 near misses and thereby prevent the KSI crash.

    It seems to work, since Ontario has the safest roads in all of North America. Source for this statement:

    http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/safety/orsar/orsar09/overview.shtml

    The Japanese approach is the same, but very much stronger. The slightest deviation of car drivers from safe practices will result in their arrest and imprisonment.

    There is also an extremely high level of social stigma. Imprisoned drivers routinely are fired by their employers. “I’m in gaol” is not seen as a very good reason for not showing up for work. Just like in Ontario, there are “Strict Liability” laws automatically assigning civil liability for damages to the car driver.

    As a result, car drivers behave themselves in Japan.

    It is my personal opinion that shared space only works when bicycles outnumber cars by a ratio of at least 10:1. Otherwise the car drivers will bully cyclists. This means roads that are through routes only for cyclists, with motor vehicles being limited to loading or perhaps a local car park garage as a destination.

    Here is an example from Den Bosch:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kkBj3hv8bk&feature=plcp

    Posted 11 Aug 2012 at 5:47 am
  6. Steve A wrote:

    Kevin, your description of the Ontario Police is the epitome of “The Safety Pyramid.” It is a favorite topic of my own, as at the website link. EXCELLENT!

    Posted 11 Aug 2012 at 9:59 am
  7. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Spot on, Steve and Kevin.

    Posted 11 Aug 2012 at 2:38 pm
  8. Kevin Love wrote:

    Steve and Khal,

    Thank you. I believe that the legal and law enforcement system is one key reason why Ontario’s roads are the safest in North America.

    But in The Netherlands, the roads are even safer. In my opinion this is due to Ontario having inferior infrastructure.

    Of course, policing is essentially reactive, and police cannot be present all the time at any particular location. Concrete can.

    At least (thank God!) the post-WWII proposal for a system of segregated car-only expressways in Toronto was defeated. This means that it is essentially impossible to use cars for transportation on a mass scale, particularly downtown.

    Those car drivers who try to do so anyway so thoroughly clog the car lanes that they achieve average speeds of as low as 11 km/hr (6 MPH).

    See:
    http://www.torontosun.com/news/torontoandgta/2010/01/09/12401501-sun.html

    Cyclist whizz past. But the lack of proper Dutch-style infrastructure means that most cyclists are adult men. Women comprise less than 1/4 of cyclists. And the schoolchild cycle mode share is disappointingly low.

    The reason why can easily be seen from this video of the Prince Edward Viaduct. Would you send your 8-year-old daughter cycling to school on this crappy, unprotected cycle lane?

    Posted 11 Aug 2012 at 7:11 pm
  9. Kevin Love wrote:

    I should add that I have become a lot less rigid about sidewalk cycling that I used to be. Yes, it is unsafe. Yes, cyclists should be in the road. Yes, the road should be car-free.

    But, in reality, as the saying goes “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Riding on the sidewalk is a lot safer than driving a car. It is particularly safer for children, who are the most vulnerable to the lethal poisons in car pollution.

    So I am OK with sidewalk cycling, since it is better than the alternative. Also, once people gain more experience cycling, they should gain more confidence and move from the sidewalk to the street. When they do that they should start pushing for car-free streets, or at least for proper Dutch-style street infrastructure.

    Posted 13 Aug 2012 at 11:10 am
  10. Robert Hurst wrote:

    Riding on a sidewalk is not necessarily more dangerous than riding in the adjacent street.

    If you suggest that someone should ride in the street instead of the sidewalk, and they get hit from behind by a vehicle, are you willing to accept responsibility for their mishap? Why or why not.

    Posted 13 Aug 2012 at 8:03 pm
  11. Kevin Love wrote:

    Robert,

    There is no such thing as absolute safety. For example, although it is 17 times safer to cycle in The Netherlands than in in the USA, there are still casualties there. See:

    http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2009/05/worlds-safest-roads.html

    And yes, I certainly do take responsibility for those who follow my recommendations. Responsibility for both the good and the bad. I would like to believe that the good outweighs the bad. Particularly if I can persuade someone to stop driving a car and therefore stop administering the lethal poisons in car pollution to innocent children.

    Posted 14 Aug 2012 at 5:12 am
  12. Andy Cline wrote:

    Robert… As an academic I know how to qualify statements. And I also know that over-qualification leads to boring writing :-) So, yes, you are quite correct that not all sidewalks are more dangerous that the street. But, given the types of intersection conflicts sidewalks create (exacerbated by motorist expectations), generally I think people are better off in the street (also depending upon the street). I accept moral responsibility for that advice because I believe it to be the best advice.

    Posted 14 Aug 2012 at 5:51 am
  13. Kevin Love wrote:

    Andy,

    This bring up the issue of subjective safety vs. actual safety.

    Let’s face it: we can kill a forest printing studies that show it is better to be in the street than on the sidewalk and people will still do it. Subjective safety always wins.

    Esse est percipi.

    The only effective way I’ve ever seen to combat sidewalk cycling is to provide an obviously superior alternative. For example, in New York City, the installation of a protected bicycle lane on Prospect Park West reduced sidewalk riding from 46% to 4% of cyclists. See:

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2010/10/22/results-of-the-new-ppw-speeding-down-cycling-up-big/

    And since seeing is believing, see the video at:

    http://vimeo.com/14815458

    Posted 14 Aug 2012 at 7:32 pm
  14. Robert Hurst wrote:

    If someone understands the intersection conflicts with sidewalks then they can ride sidewalks and avoid collisions quite well. Let’s move beyond ridiculous hyper-simplistic generalizations about sidewalks or streets and teach people how to ride on sidewalks and streets, since they obviously will ride both no matter what, especially in places where riding on sidewalks is legal (Seattle). And let’s not use statistics on children’s wrecks from the 1970s to justify our pontifications to adult cyclists today.

    You are far from the worst offender but you did link to and quote one of the worst as if his words were some sort of Gospel.

    Schubert wrote: “So let’s go to where safety really exists.” Yes, let’s. “visible + predictable = safe.”

    There’s no excuse for not understanding at this late date that riding predictably, in a prominent position on the roadway, in day-glo clothing, with a roman candle on your helmet, does NOT equal safe. Not close to safe, in fact. The rider must also ride defensively, and be prepared to be overlooked by any and all road users despite these things. Only then will you approach “safe.” Most car-bike collisions involving adult cyclists are the result of a looked-but-failed-to-see error by the motorist when the bicyclist is riding lawfully. Schubert’s proclamation about what equals safe is demonstrably untrue, and yet it continues to be repeated and seems to be the basis for an entire religion of cycling practice.

    Will Schubert and those who relay his advice take “moral responsibility” for dispensing this deficient advice as if it were some sort of Gospel?

    Posted 17 Aug 2012 at 3:44 pm
  15. Andy Cline wrote:

    Robert… I never ride with day-glo and such, and often without a helmet, but I get your point and agree with it re: defensive driving. I’ve often been frustrated by the general misunderstanding of your advice to ride as if invisible, which I understand to mean: be aware that motorists might not see you even if you’re riding in traffic as traffic. I’m not sure that anything written here actually contradicts what I think is your excellent advice except that Schubert and I generally think it’s a bad idea to ride on sidewalks.

    Following from what you wrote above, would you also advise that I/we teach people how to ride in bicycle lanes? I ask because here in Springfield we’re painting them like crazy. Another mile or so appeared on Friday (video coming soon). There’s no holding back the flood. So I feel like I’m wasting my time trying to stick my finger in the paint dike. Now I must figure out some other approach. Most of the lanes so far are inoffensive, but a few are door-zone lanes.

    Posted 18 Aug 2012 at 10:25 am