Getting Serious About Bicycling Safety

How much of the push for bicycling is about encouraging people to be braver, rather than actually fostering a safe and welcoming environment for cyclists?

An editorial in The Times (UK) by Janice Turner, which Copenhaganize brought to my attention, has me pondering this question. My observation is that there are more cyclists on the road now than before, but the cyclists are overwhelmingly of the type expected to engage in perceived risky behavior – young males.

An Example of Chicago's "Bicycle Infrastructure"

Chicago's Bicycle "Infrastructure"

This morning a pack of cyclists accompanied me on my commute. They resembled a rag-tag peloton, shuffling for position, weaving around traffic and speeding through intersections. Of the dozen or so cyclists in my proximity, not one was a woman and not one appeared to be wearing regular work clothes. The evening commute featured a few women. (You can read more about my regular commute here.)

Mind, I am not criticizing this group. I appreciate them and their presence on the road. My criticism is for a transportation system that fails to accommodate a more diverse – and risk averse – group of people on bikes.

As individuals, Trisha and I don’t have the power to build infrastructure or enforce traffic laws. Therefore, the best we can say is that, despite the awful state of cycling infrastructure in North America, the U.K., Australia, et al, you should ride your bike and enjoy yourself. While we show that cycling is not as difficult and dangerous as it seems, mixing it up with cars every day still takes courage. For every woman who tells us that our blog inspired her to bicycle regularly, there must be several others who were inspired to try, but gave up due to fear.

Even the most conscientious and experienced cyclist is not immune to danger. For example, last week my husband Greg was taking the lane to pass a stopped bus safely, when a car driver squeezed around him, hitting his arm with the car’s side mirror and causing his body to bang against the passenger door. The woman sped away. Thankfully, he was able to regain his balance and escape injury. The responding police officer was respectful, but said there was nothing they could do without a full license plate number and witnesses. That woman cared so little for the man I care for the most, apparently knowing she could behave this way without legal consequence. Even if the police could have tracked her down, we would be lucky if she received a warning ticket.

Of course, no one is immune to danger. Life can be risky, and certainly I would not put bicycling on a list of high-risk activities. If I thought otherwise, no way would I be out there on my bike every day. I am risk-averse. However, there is so much that could be done to make bicycling safer, both objectively and subjectively.

I love bicycling. I usually feel safe riding in Chicago. I hope this blog helps counter the negative and ugly rhetoric that so often accompanies bicycling discourse in media and society at large.  But every now and then, inevitably, I am frustrated and disappointed by the failure of governments to provide a safe place for all road users.

Many citizens have answered the call to be braver, and in the process have found themselves healthier and happier. There is a beautiful momentum of regular people on bicycles, and failing to acknowledge our growing numbers with a comprehensive plan to foster a safe and welcoming environment would be criminal.

I worry over Ms. Turner’s conclusion in the Times article that “a big fat flaw at the heart of democracy is that politicians will never invest in the long term if voters’ initial inconvenience and expense are not rewarded with results before an election.” If that is always the case, we will never move forward.

As of now, we are here. Whether in dresses or lycra, on Dutch bikes or fixies, we are all getting around in a way that benefits ourselves, society and the environment. Will the government embrace us or desert us?

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84 thoughts on “Getting Serious About Bicycling Safety

  1. Carolyn I. says:

    Speaking of safety, on my way home on bike about 10 mintues ago, I was waiting at a red light. It changed. Just as I started crossing the street when our light turned green, about half way, a car on the right side of the crossing road, decided that he wasn’t going to be waiting any more at a red light! He gunned the gas and through the intersection he went, on a red light. It was good that I wasn’t biking fast through intersection and could brake immediately upon him slamming on the gas. It definitely pays to always keep an eye on traffic around you as the unexpected can sometimes happen!

    Despite this I kept on going forward, trying not to get shaken up. I love biking too much to get scared off of it in situations like this.

    • Dottie says:

      I’m with you – I love riding my bike, so radically the best transportation option, and will not stop. I am so happy that you are okay and so mad at that guy who ran the red light! Like you, after two years of daily cycling, my M.O. is to assume every car will run red lights and stop signs.

  2. Kara says:

    Great post. Important post. I am so glad that Greg was ok. What a horrible and frustrating incident.

    • Dottie says:

      Thanks, Kara. Everyone has fender benders in cars, but we are so much more vulnerable on bikes, it becomes a bigger deal. So “horrible and frustrating” is a good description!

  3. Deb says:

    I’m probably not as risk-averse as you though I’m not a high-risk person, but I’d love to have a stress free option to take at least some of the time. My commute is a 14 mile mix of easy and tough, and that goes for physical as well as mental. The half of the commute with bike lanes is on roads with no parking, so it’s almost like a separate infrastructure, in that I have little to worry about while in those bike lanes. On the other half, I have a mix of bad, fast, aggressive roads, and the quiet neighborhood streets.

    But one thing that I have learned in my 10k miles or so of my bike commuting is that it’s rarely as bad as I think it is going to be. As cyclists we control the behavior of the drivers around us to a certain degree. Something that never seems to be mentioned in discussions about safety (or in surveys, like the recent one for women and cycling) is taking classes to teach us how to be safest on the roads. It made a huge difference for me – I took them just as I was starting to commute, and I don’t think there is anything I could have done to give myself more confidence and to keep myself safer.

    I would love to never have to deal with cars, but realistically if biking is going to be something we can do to get everywhere, we’re going to be on the roads at some point. My perspective is having a 14 mile commute out into the ‘burbs rather than in a city…how could they have protected bike infrastructure for every possible place we’d go? Well, there is that post-apocalyptic dream where cars just don’t work at all. (And hey, we’re running out of oil, so maybe it’s closer than not: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/apr/11/peak-oil-production-supply)

    If discussions of safety assume that we have to have protected bike infrastructure in order to cycle safely, seems like that feeds the warped perception of cycling as risky behavior. I don’t really know what the answer is, because Copenhagen and Amsterdam prove that the key to bike safety is in numbers. The question is how to get that kind of density? Their infrastructure did a lot in that regard.

    And then there’s that old line: “we already have bike lanes. They’re called roads.”

    • Sean says:

      I don’t think it’s solely numbers that make cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam safer. It’s also their comprehensive systems of physically separated bike lanes. The two go hand in hand: good infrastructure draws more cyclists and the numbers encourage motorists to be aware, which increases safety moreover.

      Keep in mind that “bike lanes” can be created from lanes of already existing roads by adding a barrier and perhaps swapping the position of parking lanes, if necessary. Creating these lanes is not as challenging as creating “bike paths” which typically run through scenic areas and need to be created from scratch.

      • Deb says:

        That is a non-suburb scenario. I ride on only two roads that have any parking at all, for a grand total of maybe 1 mile of my commute, and neither road needs anything done to be comfortable to ride on. There is no room on the road that most desperately needs help to put a bike lane, no room to widen the road or narrow the lanes. The only thing they could do is remove a travel lane.

        This is a pretty common scenario for suburban riding. Most people assume that bike commuters are limited to the urban areas, and I guess that’s part of my point. Even in the meccas of cycling, there are people riding on the roads too.

        • Sean says:

          Deb,

          Yes, you’re right. I was thinking of cities where the roads are generally one way and with several lanes, where one lane can be converted into a bike lane. On the roads you are describing, which I assume are two lanes (one in each direction), this is not possible. Here I imagine the concept of “safety in numbers” (as you said) is the most important factor.

          I apologize for not thinking more widely.

    • Dottie says:

      This is an excellent comment – lots of food for thought. Yes, we can definitely control the behavior of most motorists around us, as long as they care and are paying attention.

      I quite like the old line about having bike lanes already, roads, but only in theory. That’s like saying to pedestrians that we already have sidewalks, roads. Not very reassuring in reality.

      • Deb says:

        True, they have to care, and they have to accept that we’re not speedbumps. I think that education would help a lot. Sometimes I feel like I am educating the drivers by being on the road; I can always tell when there’s someone behind me who doesn’t often see cyclists on the road.

        It doesn’t help any of us that when drivers kill cyclists, they aren’t even likely to get a ticket, let alone a fine, let alone anything harsher. People are more scared of getting a parking ticket; the penalties are much more severe. And the blame is almost always put on the cyclist. All the driver has to do is say “I didn’t see them” (even if it was because they weren’t even looking at the road) and they get off without even a ticket.

        If the attitudes of society in general were different, maybe more of us would be more confident about our status as vehicles while on the road. That’s another thing that’s different about copenhagen – the driver is pretty much always held to be at fault when there is a collision with a cyclist or pedestrian. Pretty much the opposite of here.

        Of course if this society’s attitudes were different, we’d be getting the funding for bike infrastructure, rather than it being limited to the ever growing tangle of roads they don’t have the money to maintain.

  4. tina says:

    I have found this to be compatible with my experience here in sf, ca too. Many people are aware that the city is not safe in any lane or any situation regarding cycling but awareness and education is needed when it comes to a safer road. Thank you for your passion and voice in speaking up for cyclist around the globe as it is greatly needed to be heard.

  5. Melissa S. says:

    I’m still too scared to ride in the road in some places. I choose the sidewalk. And I know that I should ride in the road, to make the cars aware of cyclist so that we can be safer….but I’m too scared! One day when I see more cyclists, I’ll ride in the road.

    • Dottie says:

      I’ve seen those areas where you ride on the sidewalk – I would, too! Those kinds of suburban streets with fast speeds and no pedestrians make sidewalks look like good bike paths.

  6. Steve A says:

    Have you and Greg taken a traffic riding course? It’ll help, regardless of infrastructure and bravery, by increasing your street smarts. Looking in the bike league website, I find:

    Traffic Skills 101 Oakbrook Terrace, IL. 7 p.m. Thursdays April 15, 22, 9 a.m. Sunday April 25

    and other courses. If either of you learn anything new, it is time and money well spent. I learned things in the course I took and I’ve been riding for nearly 50 years.

    • Dottie says:

      No, we haven’t taken a traffic riding course. I’ve learned my skills through reading cycling blogs and everyday real world experience. I wouldn’t think such a course would be necessary or helpful given all of our experience, but I’m interested to hear that you learned a lot from one. Oakbrook Terrace is very far for me without a car.

      What I’d love is more traffic school for drivers, especially focusing on interacting with pedestrians and cyclists.

      • Peter Blair says:

        I’m organizing a cycling course at work ( http://www.canbike.net/cca_pages/ ) and am hoping that experienced, and gentle riders join. I commute on the road with streetcars and taxis every day, and consider myself very comfortable weaving in and out of traffic, but comfort does not equate to safety. There are many situations that I have not considered which such a course could help me to protect against. Happy cycling!

  7. David says:

    I’m fortunate that a huge percentage of my 12mi city commute is dedicated bike path. Madison is quite bike friedly! When I do ride with cars it’s very low volume, well except for a 1/2 mi highway shoulder.

    I’m also extremely careful, and always make eye contact with a driver. Although I saw someone yesterday almost get run over in front of me. He couldn’t make eye contact with the driver that was turning right, and the driver was only looking left. The bicyclist was even yelling a bit, and ended up nearly hit and pounding on the car hood.

    I don’t wear work clothes when riding to work. I shower and change at work.

    • Dottie says:

      I’ve ridden in and around Madison a little. Such a lovely town!

    • Mike says:

      Madison is a lovely place to ride! I have to add that I have nearly been hit a couple of times by drivers who I thought made eye contact, but were really looking “through” me. I wasn’t a car, so I wasn’t really there…

      I always figure on the most threatening outcome from motorists (and other road users). It becomes a game–“See, I KNEW you were going to do that!”

  8. donna says:

    Funny you should post about this on the very day I had my scariest encounter (after commuting by bike for over a year) with a car which cut me off in rush hour traffic in the righthand turning lane despite not signalling and having convinced me that he was in fact going to turn left to merge into traffic. Perhaps he changed his mind at the last second, I’ll never know. Fortunately I was going slow enough that he finally realized he came inches from hitting me but what really scared me most is that while my brain was screaming “stop the bike. stop the bike.” my body proceeded to try to avoid hitting him or being hit by going around him.

    I don’t even want to imagine what might have transpired had I been going at a fast clip and not leisurely riding on my Pashley. Something tells me it’s not going to be the last time something like this happens though but next time it does I will be better prepared to react.

    • Dottie says:

      That is scary. I’m sorry you had to deal with that, but glad you are okay. That’s one reason I, like you, prefer to go slow and steady on my Dutch bike.

  9. Stephanie says:

    Hi Dottie, I am one of the “inspired” that you talk about. I have truly been inspired by you and your blog. I have been venturing out on my bike to the grocery store and department store. When I get nervous, I just think of you, riding in the snow, rain, sleet, hail and get a boost of confidence. I am here in the Central Valley of California, not a bike culture…yet. I am working on it!! My daughter is 6 and we ride our bikes to the park and around the neighborhood. I look forward to the day when I can trek across town to the library (that is my next big bike adventure). I am a stay-at-home, homeschool mom so – no bike commute but enjoying my bike non the less!

    • Dottie says:

      Stephanie, That’s really amazing, heartwarming and humbling to hear! You are such an inspiration to me and anyone else out there who just wants to try riding a bike around. Your and your daughter’s bikes are so cute together :)

  10. Su Yin says:

    “That woman cared so little for the man I care for the most, apparently knowing she could behave this way without legal consequence.”

    Wow, that’s a powerful statement. If only everyone thought that way … perhaps we’ll have fewer traffic accidents all round—not just cyclist-car ones.

    I’ve had close encounters but only because I managed to anticipate the silly things that the motorist was likely to do—and did.

    I get rather annoyed too by the alpha male cyclists who woosh pass me when stopped at the lights or do really silly things. And then I catch up—and sometimes overtake—them. Har har.

    On the brighter sight, I’ve noticed more cyclists this year than last—all just normal people getting from A to B.

    • Dottie says:

      That is true. We should always remember that everyone is someone’s’ son or daughter.

      I have so many close calls that are not full blown collisions only because I ride defensively. Makes me nervous for all the new riders out there who do not stay out of the door zone, etc.

      Ah yes, alpha male cyclists. The least they could do is say “on your left” (or “on your right” – sigh) as the whoosh past.

  11. Anne Hawley says:

    Count me among the inspired, Dottie! I had just begun commuting and was trying to find my bike-riding style, when I stumbled on your blog. I’ve been an avid follower ever since, and your winter commute dressing guide made me see how really easy it is to ride in the cold–in fact, I’m a dedicated winter commuter now and am looking forward to next year!

    (Also–just bought myself a Dutch Workcycles Oma, largely also inspired by your assurance that it is, indeed, a beautiful bike.)

  12. Anne Hawley says:

    Oh, and to address the actual main point of your excellent post: I’m moderately risk averse, and I ride in a very bike-friendly town, so for me, taking the lane (which my commute requires me to do for about a mile) was not a big leap. I feel largely safe in the lane most of the time. One or two scary incidents made me look very closely at my own behavior, however, and tighten up on that rational risk aversion: I am pretty disciplined about taking no chances, riding very defensively, and being assertive without being aggressive.

    Deb says above that the bike-rider is able to control to some degree the behavior of motorists around them, and I’ve found that to be true.

    We can’t eliminate risk, but we sure have a lot of power over minimizing it.

    • Dottie says:

      Yes, being assertive without being aggressive is a great way to ride – and a great way to put that riding style into words. I feel that a lot of how I ride controls drivers’ behavior around me, for the better. I’m always aware that there are some people who either are not paying attention or simply don’t care, and therein lies the problem.

  13. Zweiradler says:

    I’m glad to hear that your husband is unharmed.
    Some people apparently lose their respect for other peoples’ lives as well as their ability to sum up traffic situations as soon as they start the engine of their car.

    Nico

  14. I’m one of the inspired ones, too. I’m extremely risk-averse, have never had an accident, and that worries me because I feel like it’s only a matter of time before I do and I don’t feel prepared. In Paris, the cars and buses are surprisingly tolerant of cyclists. The real problems are actually pedestrians (who will just walk out right in front of you, usually with their dogs!), and scooters (motorcycles and mopeds). The whole point of having a scooter is to beat the traffic by weaving in and out of cars, and they are a real threat to cyclists. There is very little effort to crack down on dangerous scooters and it infuriates me.

    • Dottie says:

      That’s so nice to hear! I find it so cool that this little place here can inspire someone in Paris :) But I should not be surprised because I’m inspired all the time by people around the world. Trisha and I will be visiting Paris in September (maybe you’ll be around?), so I’ll have to devour your blog of the American perspective.

      I’ll count myself lucky that scooters and mopeds are not a problem in Chicago. There are few of them and they mostly stay out of the bike lane area.

    • Richard says:

      I agree with Accidental Parisian. I’m a Madison slow bicyclist who found myself biking in Paris during an extended research trip, and it was fantastic. Cars and buses were generally fine–I even rode around the Etoile several times (probably the most alert I’ve ever been in my life). But the scooters and motorcyclists were menacing.

      I think Paris is among the world’s great cycling cities–largely flat, compact, and with a growing cycling infrastructure thanks to Delanoë. My one complaint: the Vélib system only works with European bank cards, and not American ones! My beloved Peugeot mixte was stolen, and so now I don’t have a Paris bike anymore, and can’t use the Vélibs without getting a European card….

  15. Lorenza says:

    A very apt post, as I have been thinking about this issue for a while, and I have been reading/finding many articles around too! So it must be on people’s mind, which must be in turn a good thing.

    I think that no doubt there are more cyclists around, this is happenening all over. Perhaps this recession has pushed more people in getting on their bikes to save money and then some of them have realised the benefits (health and money!) and stuck to it :)

    We have grown into a society that thinks owning and driving a car is a right, while instead we’ve forgotten that it is a luxury. ‘We’ have become so self centred in our little own world that the car has become this little tin bubble where once inside, no one else matters. Now for many reasons more and more people are rediscovering the pleasure of simpler means, which in turn are actually more fun, like cycling! Unfortunately it will take time for things to revert or at least balance out, not helped by the fact that human beings are by nature selfish… self-preservation etc.

    My partner cycles every day, he has come close to many accidents (by careless drivers, mostly while on mobile phones!!) simply because he’s out there every day, it is frustrating and sad that I have to worry (always at the back of my mind) everyday and sight a breath of relief when he gets home safely every day.

    I think it’s about sticking to cycling, being out there, showing there cycling is fun, great and accessible to all, by also being super vigilant all the time. I never cycle near the kerb, always at least 1m away, so if cars want to overtake me they have to do it properly (!).

    I am also a little disappointment by fellow cyclists who on a regular basis jump the lights, weave in and out of traffic and set themselves to compete with the cars. Here unfortunately there are more cyclists like that than cyclists who want to go from A to B calmly. We have to come mid way with the drivers…

    In life my father always told me that ‘if you want to be respected, you have to respect others first’. We are all in this together if we want to see real change, and I am sure this is happening already, albeit slowly.

    I am glad to hear your husband was safe in the end, I know what it feels like, as I said I have been in that position far too many times for my liking, to be honest one incident like that is too many already!

    cycle love <3

    • Dottie says:

      Hi Lorenza. That’s so true about people believing that driving is a right and becoming instantly self-centered once they get in a car. Not everyone, but a substantial enough number that this is a major problem.

      I share your frustration about other cyclists’ behavior. There are too many of us out there now to flagrantly break the rules. I understand that some people feel they need to cycle like that to be safe (gotta keep moving mentality) but the majority of cyclists who ride that way are putting themselves at great risk and I constantly cringe as the blow through lights or ride up the curb to the right of trucks (oy!). That’s a conversation for a different day, though. I can say with confidence that they would not ride that way if they felt safe on the road.

      cycle love!

  16. Academichic says:

    Dottie, great post! I just wanted to add that I too have been very much inspired by you and Trisha! While I always admired those fast cyclists whizzing by on road bikes in the past, it never struck me as something realistic for me to do. Then I found your blog and you and Trisha showed me how one can take up a cycling lifestyle without having to have those great acrobatic and speed skills or having to change one’s entire wardrobe and daily look. You guys were my first bike blog crush and are still the ones I turn to when I need to find the answer to a question by digging through your archives.

    I agree that there is room on the road for all kinds of cyclists, and drivers’ awareness and the infrastructure of cities will only improve when all types of cyclists take to the roads and claim their rights to be there.

    While I live in a pretty not bike friendly city in the US, I am now the very excited owner of a cruiser bike that is waiting for me when I get home. This summer, I’m going to take up full time bike commuting and I can’t wait. Thanks, again, to you and Trisha, for inspiring me and showing me an alternate approach to the cycling life I’d seen out there and passed up before.

    S

    • Dottie says:

      Thanks, S! I love hearing that and I’m glad I’m not the only one who crushes on blogs. I look forward to hearing all about your cruiser fun this summer.

      And I’ll take this opportunity to say that your blog has done the same for me with relation to clothing and the workplace and gender stereotypes and braids and belting and scarves :)

  17. Frits B says:

    “…the cyclists are overwhelmingly of the type expected to engage in perceived risky behavior – young males.”
    Here in Holland we sometimes meet the other end of the spectrum. There was a piece on a blog yesterday about a bunch of over sixties in Oegstgeest, a small town West of Amsterdam, who were riding in a group and refused to stop for schoolchildren on a zebra crossing. According to one of the accompanying mothers, they even had the nerve to shout “keep those effing children out of the way”.
    Hope you and Trisha don’t turn into such kind of grannies :-).

  18. Sad story! But typical from car drivers. Don’t forget that, for them, while you ride your bicycle, you are on THEIR road! Cars get drivers stupids. I invite you to pay a look to this video: http://aparisiancyclist.blogspot.com/2010/03/daily-life-of-parisian-cyclist.html

    But things are changing, slowly, but changing, and the key for the change is the number of cyclists on the roads; more cyclists, more safety for them.

  19. Lanie says:

    In Austin there has been a big push over the last year to improve the cycling infrastructure- more bike lanes, paths, sharrows, and they are working on a bike boulevard through the center of town. I may be imagining it, but I think I can tell a difference in drivers. I have the impression that there has been a little less crazy on the downtown part of my commute :) I think the city is trying hard to send the message that there are cyclists who have a right to be on the road. I hope it continues to improve- we have a long way to go before we´ll be compared to Chicago or Madison!

    • Dottie says:

      I hear Austin is quite a nice place to cycle – and a nice place to live in general. Good to hear that the city is actively trying to improve. I hope to visit there one day.

  20. neighbourtease says:

    Great post, Dottie. I’m so sorry about that scary incident w your husband. That kind of thing is just chilling. You and Trisha have really inspired me. I don’t think I would have thought I could make a 10 mile commute in a NYC winter without your helpful and attitude-free information, so thanks so much for both of those things.

    Like Lanie, describes above, I feel a difference, too, in NYC, since our recent infrastructure improvements. I think this is true even when I’m riding on a street without those improvements. I feel I am in a good position to comment on this difference because I rode my bike years ago before there were many lanes nor much institutional support from the city. I then took two years off to be pregnant and during my son’s first year. I started up again when he could ride in a bike seat :) on a different and much more friendly kind of bicycle, which I think made a difference to my safety because I am more visible and confident on my Pashley than I was on my old mountain bike. There are also many more non-racing cyclists than there used to be and less douchey behavior overall as a result.

    ANYWAY, the attitude that motorists have feels really different, but I also feel like my attitude has changed because I feel like myself on my style of bike, like it’s an extension of me rather than some weird uncomfortable ugly thing. Before I was really afraid to behave like a motorist on my bike and I hugged the curb etc, but I really do find that cars are much nicer when you act like them as much as possible. I also never ever feel like I can trust a car or truck, so I don’t take a lot of risks I see other cyclists take. And of course I have had some scary experiences with, all these “safe” behaviors notwithstanding. So there’s all that. Sorry, super long post!

    • Dottie says:

      Hearing from someone who has cycled both before and after this recent boom is so interesting. (I’m making a note of that.) I agree that the type of bike changes drivers’ perceptions – I even notice the difference when I am riding my Betty vs. my Oma. Thank you for the long post!

  21. donnarino says:

    Hey Dottie, speaking of trucks, have you ever found yourself in the position of having a transport truck squeeze into the curb lane while you are riding in it? This happened to me this morning and I know the driver saw me but I wasn’t sure whether he was expecting me to hop over to the sidewalk or speed up to pass him.

    • Dottie says:

      Yes, I usually slam on my brakes and let the moron go in front of me. I find that truck drivers are either super careful or super stupid, 50/50.

  22. Dave says:

    This exact issue, I think, is why I and many others take such an issue with cycle helmet promotion. It’s an issue of “protect yourself, cuz we’re not going to do anything for you!”

    Completely independent from whether an individual person feels comfortable with/without a helmet or whether they’re appropriate for certain types of cycling, etc, the promotion or regulation of cycle helmets is simply an excuse not to do anything about the actual factors that cause danger for cyclists. Forcing or coercing people to wear helmets and reflective clothing and such is the easiest way to both cover liability and not actually do anything.

    That being said, I almost always feel safe riding in Portland, though I would now consider myself in the “experienced” group, and I certainly still understand how many people wouldn’t feel safe. But for me, cycling is almost always a low-stress, relaxing, enjoyable experience, and I would choose it easily for basically any trip in the city over driving or public transit, simply because the experience is much better for me, I enjoy it more. I hope to put that same foot forward on Portlandize, and just say, “it’s easy, fun, cheap, convenient, give it a try!”

    Here’s hoping we do actually make a difference :) Thanks for writing the blog, I really enjoy it!

    • Dottie says:

      I TOTALLY agree re: helmet promotion. The part that really gets me is that the most aggressive and negative/rabid helmet promoters are other cyclists. What a trap to fall into!

      • Dave says:

        I know, it always amazes me that more people don’t see that. It seems sooooo obvious. It’s one area in America where propaganda has been very successful on the large majority of people.

        Keep up the good work. Cheers!

    • Michelle B. says:

      I feel that if motorists see me wearing a helmet it might help them realize that I am a fragile human being. No I don’t have air bags, a roll cage or a steel cocoon, all I have is a helmet. Until there is better motorist education and legislation that helps to protect bikers a helmet is all I’ve got. I wear a seat belt in the car, I wear a helmet when I bike.

      The thing that really gets me is when a kid is wearing a helmet and yet the parents aren’t. Which argues the point, do you think kids should wear helmets?????

      • Dave says:

        I feel like, because of the way our society views cycling safety, that people driving see a person on a bike with a helmet on and think “oh, they’re safe,” and then just drive as usual, because the view so often is, helmet = safety. The inverse is also true, people assume that if you aren’t wearing a helmet (without considering *any* other factors) that you are unsafe.

        I also feel that, the more human you look, the more likely people are to treat you as such.

        I don’t think these are necessarily exclusively true, but I do think there is evidence to support them in many cases, including my own experience.

        I don’t want to really get too far into it here, but there are a bazillion factors I think that make way more difference in your level of safety than a helmet, which is really only designed to protect your head in the case that you crash on your own and come off of your bike in such a way that your head hits the ground.

        Because children are more likely to have this kind of accident than adults, in general, I think it’s more useful for them to wear helmets, but again, I think it also depends on what kind of bikes they’re on, where and how they’re riding, etc. If they’re sitting in the front of your bakfiets, a helmet won’t do them any good.

        So really, I don’t think it’s ever a simple question of “should people wear helmets?” The question should be: “based on how I ride, what bike I ride, where I ride, and the level of protection that a helmet affords me, do I feel that a helmet is beneficial to me?”

        You have to answer that for yourself.

  23. Jennifer says:

    I know for a fact that I would not be commuting to work if I had not found this blog and Lovely Bicycle’s blog. It was a light bulb moment when I read that it was possible to ride in normal work clothes, taking my time, and choosing a bike I actually feel some affection for. Now cycling is the best part of my day.

    Cycling on busy roads still troubles me greatly. I avoid it wherever possible and would go as far as choosing my next house and even my next job based on their proximity to the canal-side cycle path.

    • Dottie says:

      That’s so great to hear! Yes, lightbulb moment is a great way to describe it. That’s how I felt looking at Copenhagen Cycle Chic and Girls and Bicycles two long years ago.

      Busy roads suck. The fact that everyday and experienced cyclists like us avoid them says a lot.

  24. Tali says:

    “I worry over Ms. Turner’s conclusion in the Times article that “a big fat flaw at the heart of democracy is that politicians will never invest in the long term if voters’ initial inconvenience and expense are not rewarded with results before an election.” If that is always the case, we will never move forward.”

    It is not true that democratic politicians can’t bring about a change in the status of cycling, they did quite well in Denmark and the Netherlands.

    English speaking governments successfully carried out a multi-decade programme of motorisation, which is why we are where we are. And now, they’re starting a multi-decade programme to transition the vehicle fleet towards electric power, even though this may turn out to be a case of throwing good money after bad. So, short term thinking is only part of the story.

    The problem is that, when it comes to hard decisions, they think there are more votes in sustaining the happy motoring society, even if there is a reasonable chance it will turn out to be unsustainable in the long term, rather than discouraging motoring in favour of other forms of transport.

    • Dottie says:

      True that Denmark somehow made the switch in the ’70’s. I have a hard time imagining the same thing happening here, at least not in the foreseeable future. But thanks for the optimism!

  25. Scott says:

    Dottie, the situation you described with Greg’s close call, going around a stopped bus, is a bad spot in Chicago. My understanding is the cyclist who was killed at Wellington and Damen last year was doing this same thing. Since I started my traffic abiding dutch cycle method, I have very few close calls anymore. But it was still happening when passing a bus sticking out of a bus stop. Now I often just wait behind the bus unless it is clear I can pass. It’s frustrating to have to stop like that, but I usually take the opportunity to light a cigarette and we are moving again before long.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      Do you know where I can get a good handlebar mounted ashtray? ;)

    • cycler says:

      i don’t smoke myself, but I share your attitude about waiting for buses. I’m just never in enough of a hurry to bother passing them. I might try the 6-pack in the basket thing though….

    • Dottie says:

      I’m glad you found something that works for you.

      Trying not to pass buses would be a disaster for my commute, though. On my normal route during rush hour, if I can pass the No. 11 bus once, I will never see it again, because it gets stuck in so much traffic while I fly by in the bike lane. If I tried to stop every time the bus pulled over, I would make my trip more dangerous by tucking behind the bus and creeping back in traffic constantly, not to mention sucking on exhaust fumes the entire time. For me, it’s not about being in a rush, it’s about what works and what doesn’t.

      As much as I’m against smoking, I kinda love the idea of someone smoking while cycling ;)

      • Scott says:

        I really only smoke cigarettes when I am awheel. It limits the quantity and gets many smiles from the pedestrians.

  26. E A says:

    I’d love for kids to get cycling “traffic school” as soon as they reach legal age to ride on the roads.

    In the meantime, Dottie, I agree that
    “As of now, we are here. Whether in dresses or lycra, on Dutch bikes or fixies, we are all getting around in a way that benefits ourselves, society and the environment. Will the government embrace us or desert us?”

    That sentiment is at the core of the annual Ride of Silence – we’re all cyclists and all vulnerable road users. We have so much more power as a unified group.

    As Chris Phelan commented following the very first Ride of Silence in Dallas in 2003:
    “We had strength in numbers. We were unified over the one thing that brings us all together: death. Our own or someone we are close to. As Mike Keel pointed out, everyone out there is someone’s daughter, son, father, mother, or grandparent.

    There is the realization we all just one ride away from death despite our safety record. This is, after all, the one sport where one must be concerned about being killed before they can enjoy, learn or excel. A poignant point.”

    Let the silence ROAR – Wednesday, May 19, 7 PM, 2010

    http://www.rideofsilence.org/

    One day. One Time. World wide.

  27. Dave says:

    Sport? What sport? :D

  28. cycler says:

    I’m so sorry about Greg’s near miss, and I’m really really glad he’s OK. There have been a lot of scary and tragic incidents this week, in Boston, DC, & NYC.
    I think that it’s more of a coincidence than a correlation with the good weather bringing out newbies, as at least the DC cyclist was quite experienced.
    I worry too though that we are just normalizing risk instead of reducing it. It’s the great chicken and the egg debate. Infrastructure>more riders or more riders>infrastructure.
    While people often perceive cycling as more dangerous than it actually is, when things go pear shaped, there aren’t airbags and crumple zones to compensate for errors and other’s inattention.

    One thing that I think will help, more even than increased numbers of bikers on the street, is an increase in people trying bicycling. Anyone who tries to bike in traffic gains a new perspective that can help counteract the selfishness that motor centric culture can create and support. if everyone were sometimes a biker and sometimes a pedestrian, we would all be better drivers

    I am hopeful that the “biking in your normal clothes” movement (hmm, that doesn’t roll off the tongue quite like chic cycling) as evidenced in your blog, will help people try to get on a bike and see what it’s like from here.
    I think that’s the way people will really get serious about safety, when they’ve seen it from all sides.

    • Dottie says:

      Absolutely, the more people who both cycle and drive, the better! Understanding the cyclist’s perspective is so important to interacting with cyclists on the road. I have been very saddened to hear about the bicycling tragedies around the country lately.

  29. Trisha says:

    Such a great post and comments. Glad G is OK, and couldn’t agree more with cycler’s comment that “if everyone were sometimes a biker and sometimes a pedestrian, we would all be better drivers.”

  30. Michelle B. says:

    I think car drivers tend to not see bikers or even pedestrians as human beings, they are just things, not people. I have been thinking on this for quite some time and have been trying to come up with a good campaign to start giving a face to bicyclists & pedestrians. My personal idea was to have a sign or wear a shirt that says something to the effect that “I am a wife, daughter, sister, aunt, co-worker, biker”. Or “If I were your daughter would you drive that close to me?” Just anything to help drivers recognize that we are just like them, just on bikes. Or “I want to get to work/home in one piece, same as you.”

  31. Scott says:

    There were so many bikes this morning on Milwaukee Ave. I think maybe it was the highest number I have ever seen. The group I was in outnumbered cars at some of the stop lights. There is one spot at Ogden Ave where cars turning right often honk and pass the cyclists way too close. Today there were three other cyclist in that spot with me and the car just chilled out for 10 seconds until he could turn. I think it really showed how increasing the volume of cyclists makes it safer for everyone.

  32. [...] hits a parked truck, but he doesn’t. One of my favorite Cycle Chic writers asks if the government will embrace cycling, or do we all just have to be brave? A flawed new bike lane debuts in Baltimore. A pseudo Sarah [...]

  33. Adam says:

    Great post and discussion Dottie. Although I consider myself very seasoned, and spent years riding in New York before I chose to move back to my hometown, a much less bike-friendly place but much calmer, I have to remind myself sometimes to slow down and not be the alpha male cyclist. Even more so since I purchased a cargobike to take my one year old around.

    The more I cycle regularly the more I understand that it isn’t a substitute for the experiece of driving–even though it may be a practical transport substitute. Cycling is a much more poetic rush. I am thankful that there are a cluster of blogs that promote the growth of this reverie.

    Sorry about your husband’s brush with injury. When I visited a friend in Chicago last October and spent a lovely day cycling I had a carefree blast! A true testament to your city’s culture.

  34. Brooke says:

    Hi, found your website when I was looking at the Betty Foy (went with the Civia Loring instead…love it!)… anywho, I’m in the middle of a book called “Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities” by Jeff Mapes that is ALL ABOUT cycling, saftey, laws, history, infrastructure, and bicycle commuting. It’s really super good – I started bicycle commuting over a year ago (Austin, TX) and this book has so much insight. Funny enough, the part I just read was about Chicago, and it made me think of your commute since you share it with us! I really recommend it. [I am in no way affiliated with Mapes or the book publisher, I'm just an avid reader and bicycle commuter.]

    • Trisha says:

      Hi Brooke! Hope you and your Civia are very happy. :) Great minds think alike: Dottie actually did a review of PEDALING REVOLUTION several months ago. You can read it here.

  35. scott t says:

    “A Harris Poll shows that half of U.S. adult cyclists would pedal to work or school if they felt it were safe–but most still feel it is not.”

    http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/201003/nocar.aspx

    i dont know how accurate the above linked info is.
    what is an adult cylcsit? one who owns a bicycle??

    i have heard reports that some cities in the netherlands have between a quarter and a third of trips that are mad by bicycle. a country with highly developed bicycle infrastruture.

    if an increase in the us was to rise to 10 or 12 percent – what demands on drivers and bicyclists would take place??

    personally i think with current systems it would be very dangerous. there are enough wrecks in the roadways with basic green, red and yellow signals. throw in bicyclists by the hundreds with varying abilities and often poor road conditions (that can affect bikes more than cars) and share the road seems like a bad idea.

    i have wondered what a us bike system would look like if for every dollar spent on car/truck transport if also a dime was spent on bicycle structures – or even a 20 to 1 ratio.

  36. Lisa in DC says:

    Most safety articles on cycling address issues relating to helmets and/or riding next to cars. I have the good fortune of having an off road trail for most of my commute, so cars aren’t an issue. But kids are a growing problem. They’re pretty tough in my neighborhood. They throw cups of urine on passing cyclists, or knock them off their bikes (& destroy the bikes) among other things. There is currently a bitter debate about whether people should use mace/pepper spray to defend themselves during an attack. I think it’s such a hot topic because the offenders are middle-school age (if they were adults, it would be a non-issue). Does anyone have any ideas regarding personal safety on a bicycle in this situation? Thanks!

  37. [...] Getting Serious About Bicycling Safety [...]

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