Recently, I read an article (which I have to find again) discussing the impact of reflective, hi-vis clothing on bike riders’ safety. While I still maintain that making yourself more apparent is a good thing, the gist of the article was that because the motorist is not expecting to see a bicycle, the rider is not registering in the motorist’s mind. In some areas, the same would hold true for pedestrians.
Basically, it’s the safety in numbers argument with a bit of a twist. In this case, it is not the idea that a block of riders is more easily seen (although that is true), but that if there were more people using their bikes for transportation, commuting, and errands, then the presence of a cyclist would be more likely to register.
Which brings us back to the infrastructure/safety circle. To make the roads safer for those not in cars (bike or ped,) we need more folks on the roads and streets using those modes. According to studies, there is a fairly large number in the “interested but concerned” category who would bike more often if they felt safer. What would make a lot of them feel safer is separate infrastructure such as bike paths or truly protected bike lanes. In effect, what would make them feel safe enough to use their bikes for travel is to have ways to travel that don’t involve using the road (or using it minimally.) This does nothing to make us more visible on the roadways by making our presence common. In fact, the potential is there for it to make the roads less safe since the motorist now is expecting ALL bikes to be using the paths. While I’m not opposed to the infrastructure described above, there is no way that it will cover everywhere that we as cyclists wish to go, but the investment in any such infrastructure reinforces in the motorists mind that we should no longer be using “their” roads.
In my opinion (slanted though it may be,) we should instead be looking at overall design of roads and cities. We need to throw away the Level of Service (LOS) concept that is based on measuring the number of cars pushed through twice a day at rush hour. Instead, look at the number of people using ALL transportation methods during all times of the day. That major roadway into downtown (think Dodge St. in Omaha) that traditional “wisdom” says needs to be six lanes wide to accommodate traffic into and out of downtown is a hazard to anyone trying to cross it at ANY time of the day. Even with beg buttons (which seem to be programmed for individuals who are above average fitness level,) a pedestrian has to be quick to get across in the allotted time. Again, a design decision that forces us to consider the automobile as our primary means of transportation.
As I’ve stated before in this blog, it is not my intent to force everyone to give up their cars. Instead, my desire is that everyone is able to use the transportation method which best suits their needs, and that 60% “interested but concerned” represents a large number of folks whose needs are not currently being met. So my goal is to reach out to those folks, educate them, show them how it could be, then activate them to force the local governments into the 21st century. Until then…