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Our Backwards Approach to Road Safety 29

CopenhagenFamily2

A family in Copenhagen by MarkA / RateMyVelo.com

English-speaking countries generally take a backwards approach to improving road safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Instead of addressing the root causes of danger, politicians implement band-aid solutions that ignore the root cause in the name of maintaining unimpeded traffic flow for motor vehicles. In most cases, motor vehicle flow is more important than cyclists’ safety and this has been proven time-and-time again.

The current mayor of Toronto has made this very clear in his plans to remove bike lanes on Jarvis street because it added 2 minutes to motorists’ commute. It’s okay for cyclists to ride 5 minutes out of their way to a nearby bike lane littered with potholes, but god forbid we make motorists wait 2 whole minutes to get to their destination.

In Australia, (and some Canadian provinces), the solution for cyclist safety involves mandatory helmets for all. Mandatory helmets do nothing to help prevent collisions in the first place. In Toronto, a motorist can legally hold a coffee in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and steer with his knees while listening to loud music. But a cyclist by law must always have 2 hands on the handlebars (in case the cyclist encounters one of these distracted drivers).

While walking to the park last night with my dog (a 400 meter walk), we were almost struck by 2 separate distracted drivers. One was rolling quickly through a stop sign turning right and slammed on his brakes when he saw us in front of him, and the other was turning on to the street and looking the opposite direction when he almost struck us.

The Toronto Police have recently been on a blitz targeting cyclists rolling through 4-way stops. Just last week I witnessed 2 cyclists get pulled over, meanwhile the police ignored 2 motor vehicles who also rolled through the stop sign. The blitz was clearly targeted at cyclists.

This blitz comes on the heels of a video posted by the Toronto Star that shows more than 50% of cyclists passing through a red light.

Problem is, the newspaper intentionally hid the fact that said intersection was basically a “T” intersection that crossed a driveway for a condo building. They positioned the camera in such a way that the driveway wasn’t visible, so it looked like a regular intersection crossing a road. They also failed to disclose this fact in the article that accompanied the video.

In fact, if you watch the video, you’ll see that pedestrians didn’t wait for a green light either because there weren’t any cars coming out of the condo garage. Sure, you can argue that a red light is a red light, but you can’t tell me that these pedestrians or cyclists were being reckless and having blatent disregard for others.

The Star video was released shortly after a video I created to protest the Star’s earlier depiction of cyclists as selfish and rude. My video now has more than 8,000 views, and shows that most cyclists are considerate and use common sense while riding in Toronto, and the real danger is distracted motorists and a reckless delivery man who forced cyclists out of the bike lane.

The newspaper later disclosed the fact that its video was recording a condo driveway in a a follow-up blog post, conceding that this “skews things”. But by then the damage was already done and people were demanding that police target cyclists.

There are plenty of great analogies to explain our backwards approach to road safety. My favourite is an article written by Kim Harding which compares the Taliban approach to safety for women to the UK’s approach to keeping pedestrians and cyclists safe.

This morning while walking to my doctor’s office, I noticed some men cleaning office windows above. I pondered to myself what might happen if these workers started falling from the buildings and dying in numbers. I assume they would investigate the cause (perhaps the ropes they are using are old and need to be replaced), and they would solve the root cause of the issue. They may even halt all window cleaners from performing their duties until a full investigation has been done and the problem rectified.

The point is that they would address the root cause of the issue. They wouldn’t simply mandate that all window cleaners wear helmets, because a helmet *may* save their life. They don’t put a pile of pillows at the bottom of the building in case the rope breaks. They fix the rope.

Similarly, when a plane crashes, they don’t decide to hand out parachutes to all passengers on similar planes just in case people need to jump if something goes wrong mid-flight. They get to the source of the problem and *prevent* it from happening (by implementing a change to the mechanics or inspection processes for airplanes).

Yet the solution to road safety here is not to slow down motorists, or build better bike infrastructure, or better educate drivers, or implement safe passing laws, or change our laws to hold the more dangerous road users accountable, or enforce no parking in bike lanes.

No, our solution is to slap helmets on vulnerable road users, tell pedestrians to wear brighter clothes, tell cyclists to always have two hands on the handlebars, enforce cyclists rolling through empty intersections, rip out bike infrastructure, and fail to hold drivers accountable for their actions.

We need drastic changes if we’re going to make cycling more comfortable for newcomers.

Thankfully “cycling in numbers” can have a positive effect on safety even without good infrastructure. Drivers are much more cautious on roads where we see lots of cyclists.

James D. Schwartz is the editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com.

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  • Elaine

    How is it that we cyclists “by law must always have 2 hands on the handlebars” when we are also supposed to signal our intentions? :)

    • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

      Because the law is stupid & probably not enforced anyway. But it’s still a dumb law that some politician thought relevant to “improving safety” ;)

  • Elaine

    How is it that we cyclists “by law must always have 2 hands on the handlebars” when we are also supposed to signal our intentions? :)

  • Gustav The Guest

    Does the Toronto Star claim to be a newspaper? Red light jumping my ass! The Star just wanted to promote their agenda with falsified evidence.

    In fact that is a good showcase for another reason to build more bike infrastructure: in countries with Dutch style bike paths the bike path continues uninterrupted past the T-intersection and cyclists avoid the lights alltogether.

  • Gustav The Guest

    Does the Toronto Star claim to be a newspaper? Red light jumping my ass! The Star just wanted to promote their agenda with falsified evidence.

    In fact that is a good showcase for another reason to build more bike infrastructure: in countries with Dutch style bike paths the bike path continues uninterrupted past the T-intersection and cyclists avoid the lights alltogether.

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    Because the law is stupid & probably not enforced anyway. But it’s still a dumb law that some politician thought relevant to “improving safety” ;)

  • http://bicyclestc.blogspot.com/ Ryan

    As Elaine pointed out, this is something I always get a chuckle from. Both hands on the handlebar but you should signal your turn.

    “English-speaking countries”
    I’ve been putting off writing about this for close to a year now. English-speaking countries are a joke for the most part when it comes to cyclist/pedestrian safety and accommodation.

  • http://thecitycyclist.blogspot.com/ Ryan

    As Elaine pointed out, this is something I always get a chuckle from. Both hands on the handlebar but you should signal your turn.

    “English-speaking countries”
    I’ve been putting off writing about this for close to a year now. English-speaking countries are a joke for the most part when it comes to cyclist/pedestrian safety and accommodation.

  • http://www.joyofbicyclecommuting.com Micheal Blue

    Well, James, I do hope and wish that the pertinent people (Toronto politicians, cops, etc) read this post. That media people manipulate people is nothing new.
    That’s why I don’t read/listen to their crap.

  • http://www.joyofbicyclecommuting.com/ Micheal Blue

    Well, James, I do hope and wish that the pertinent people (Toronto politicians, cops, etc) read this post. That media people manipulate people is nothing new.
    That’s why I don’t read/listen to their crap.

  • Gloria

    Cars have been structurally designed to be in accidents, including seat belts and airbags. Bikes have not. Bike designers leave that safety features in the responsibility of the machine operator (bike rider). The argument that cyclists need to be wearing helmets and bright colors to avoid crashes is the same argument that female rape victims should not wear “revealing, easily removable” clothing.

  • Gloria

    Cars have been structurally designed to be in accidents, including seat belts and airbags. Bikes have not. Bike designers leave that safety features in the responsibility of the machine operator (bike rider). The argument that cyclists need to be wearing helmets and bright colors to avoid crashes is the same argument that female rape victims should not wear “revealing, easily removable” clothing.

  • Gclarke

    Cyclists confuse the driving public. As a driver in traffic I can anticipate (and avoid) the actions of other drivers and even with the growing numbers of distracted drivers on the roads there is still a high level of predictability. This accounts for the relative few accidents per driving mile. Then cyclists enter the picture with various cycling styles and we change the equation for drivers. The general rule for divers is upright cyclist will follow the rules most of the time and those with drop handle bars and team jerseys don’t. When cyclists are in traffic the level of predictability drops and this is why drivers dislike cyclists. What’s the solution? Consistent rules for cyclists to follow when using the public roadways, mandatory safety courses, and license bikes. A bike license puts cyclists on equal footing with vehicles when using the public roads. A bike license says to the driving public that we have the same right to the roads as long as we follow a set of prescribed rules just like you driving your vehicle. Cyclists need to become more accountable for their actions if they want to fully participate as a viable transportation alternative.

    • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

      “When cyclists are in traffic the level of predictability drops and this is why drivers dislike cyclists.”

      You are describing symptoms of bad street design. If drivers dislike sharing the road with unpredictable cyclists, then drivers should be proponents of bike infrastructure to reduce the conflict between cyclists and motorists.

      “A bike license puts cyclists on equal footing with vehicles when using the public roads”

      Ummmmm no. It doesn’t. There are already laws that cyclists need to adhere to and cyclists are already held accountable, tickets are already handed out to cyclists who break the law.

      “Cyclists need to become more accountable for their actions if they want to fully participate as a viable transportation alternative”.

      Cyclists are already held accountable just as motorists are – to the extent that our limited police forces can enforce.

      The vast majority of motorists here in Toronto driver over the maximum speed limit with little repercussion. Should motorists not be allowed to participate as a viable transportation method because most of them speed? This is just utter nonsense.

      • Gclarke

        James, seriously? – “You are describing symptoms of bad street design. If drivers dislike sharing the road with unpredictable cyclists, then drivers should be proponents of bike infrastructure to reduce the conflict between cyclists and motorists.”

        Drivers a proponent of a bike infrastructure? Why? What’s in it for them beside less road space, fewer parking spaces, and preceived higher taxes to pay for someones “sport”? This is why bike advocacy groups fail. They are cyclists talking to cyclist about what’s good for cyclists using someone elses funds. Somehow you have to turn the conversation to the motorists who are paying for all of this and show them some marginal benefit of sharing their lane in traffic or somehow place yourself on an equal footing with motorists and assert your rights (and pay for them).

        I remember reading a post with the title “If You Can’t Beat ‘em , Avoid ‘em – How to Ride While Bicycle Advocacy Groups Attempt to Change the World” (http://bmxparts.cheapbmxparts.com/?p=40046&amp&amp) concluding that you have to learn fend for yourself and ride defensively because this bike advocacy stuff is a distance dream.

        Or, said another way, bike advocacy bloggers are having a one way conversation and preaching to the choir and already converted. The trick is to convert the other 99.8% of road users to become advocates too. The battle isn’t in a town hall meeting. Its with your neighbor who drives to work each day. When your neighbor comes over to ask about bike commuting then you’ve won the day.

        • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

          Gclarke: If you spend some time browsing through the articles I write on this website, you will see that I spend a considerable amount of time debunking the non factual fallacies and myths that you are perpetuating. I also spend considerable time showing the various benefits to going “car-lite” (like me) or “car-free”.

          You said: “Drivers a proponent of a bike infrastructure? Why? What’s in it for them beside less road space, fewer parking spaces, and preceived higher taxes to pay for someones “sport”?”

          Your initial comment was complaining about cyclists not being predictable and pissing off drivers. Bike infrastructure takes very little space and ensures bicycles will be predictable and it reduces the conflict between motorists and cyclists. It also encourages more people to use bicycles, which means less cars, which means more space for you. Without bike infrastructure, cyclists are entitled to take the entire lane. Would you rather a cyclist slow you down in your lane than have their own lane? How does that make logical sense?

          You mention “perceived higher taxes”. Bike infrastructure costs considerably less than road space for automobiles, and serves far more capacity than you can with cars. A mile of new urban highway costs $46-100 million, while a mile of a 12-foot-wide bikeway costs just $125,000. The only thing that creates higher taxes is more driving. So soon we forget about the billions of taxpayer money that bailed out the big American auto companies? That money came from both drivers and cyclists don’t forget.

          You said: “Somehow you have to turn the conversation to the motorists who are paying for all of this and show them some marginal benefit of sharing their lane in traffic or somehow place yourself on an equal footing with motorists and assert your rights (and pay for them). ”

          This is utterly false. Motorists are not paying for “all of this”. Motorist taxes pay primarily for highways, of which cyclists aren’t allowed to ride on anyway (and even then, highways are being increasingly funded by general taxes instead of fuel/user taxes due to declining fuel tax revenues with more fuel efficient cars). City streets (which cyclists are generally allowed to share) are paid for primarily by local taxes, of which cyclists and motorists both pay for. In fact, non-drivers are disproportionately subsidizing these city streets for drivers. Here’s a study showing how non-drivers overpay their fair share in order to ensure motorists are properly subsidized: http://www.vtpi.org/whoserd.pdf

          Here’s an article I wrote that reached more than 14,000 viewers so far (mostly Americans, and primarily drivers), which shows how much we spend to pay for our cars: http://www.theurbancountry.com/2011/05/americans-work-2-hours-each-day-to-pay.html

          I’d welcome a rebuttal, but please include facts instead of more fallacies & myths.

          • Oregonian

            Looks like Gclarke has no facts to back up his claims.

          • Gclarke

            As to who pays: Here in the U.S. the proposed surface transportation re-authorization bill has become public enemy number one in the bicycle advocacy world as well as in many other interest groups that would suffer from this proposed drastic reduction in transportation funding. The new bill calls for a 33% budget reduction from the previous transportation bill.

            http://republicans.transportation.house.gov/Media/file/112th/Highways/Reauthorization_document.pdf

            The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the House, “eliminates dedicated funding for bicycling and walking, including Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School and the Recreational Trails Program, and discourages states from choosing to spend dollars on these activities that are ‘not in the federal interest.’”

            The fact is here in the U.S. federal and state highway taxes do pay the lions share of bike infrastructure projects through grants and directly through the Highway Trust Fund. (Following the money is mind boggling in U.S. politics … its easier to follow who’s buying their votes).

            As stated in the proposal; “… if fiscal stability is not restored to the Highway Trust Fund, we risk losing it. In 2010, the Trust Fund brought in $35 billion in revenue, but $50 billion in spending was authorized. Over the past three years, Congress has had to transfer approximately $35 billion from the General Fund into the Highway Trust Fund to keep it solvent. Continued spending at this unsustainable rate will ensure the Trust Fund goes broke in 2013.”

            So the Committee is cutting out all programs not directly dedicated to “highway” infrastructure. That includes the “Complete Streets” program which states will now have to pick up the tab. This proposal reforms surface transportation programs by consolidating or eliminating approximately
            70 programs that are duplicative or do not serve a federal purpose including the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (Bike/walk cities).

            Basically, the federal government is cutting out biking and telling the states to use Highway Funds for highway projects (like bridges falling down). Since states are broke and no one in their right mind would propose local property tax increases … biking infrastructure will be a hit and miss priority for cities over the next decade.

            For cyclists … picking the pockets of the motoring and property taxpayer are over. Economics 101 – follow the money.

  • Gclarke

    Cyclists confuse the driving public. As a driver in traffic I can anticipate (and avoid) the actions of other drivers and even with the growing numbers of distracted drivers on the roads there is still a high level of predictability. This accounts for the relative few accidents per driving mile. Then cyclists enter the picture with various cycling styles and we change the equation for drivers. The general rule for divers is upright cyclist will follow the rules most of the time and those with drop handle bars and team jerseys don’t. When cyclists are in traffic the level of predictability drops and this is why drivers dislike cyclists. What’s the solution? Consistent rules for cyclists to follow when using the public roadways, mandatory safety courses, and license bikes. A bike license puts cyclists on equal footing with vehicles when using the public roads. A bike license says to the driving public that we have the same right to the roads as long as we follow a set of prescribed rules just like you driving your vehicle. Cyclists need to become more accountable for their actions if they want to fully participate as a viable transportation alternative.

  • Gclarke

    James, seriously? – “You are describing symptoms of bad street design. If drivers dislike sharing the road with unpredictable cyclists, then drivers should be proponents of bike infrastructure to reduce the conflict between cyclists and motorists.”

    Drivers a proponent of a bike infrastructure? Why? What’s in it for them beside less road space, fewer parking spaces, and preceived higher taxes to pay for someones “sport”? This is why bike advocacy groups fail. They are cyclists talking to cyclist about what’s good for cyclists using someone elses funds. Somehow you have to turn the conversation to the motorists who are paying for all of this and show them some marginal benefit of sharing their lane in traffic or somehow place yourself on an equal footing with motorists and assert your rights (and pay for them).

    I remember reading a post with the title “If You Can’t Beat ‘em , Avoid ‘em – How to Ride While Bicycle Advocacy Groups Attempt to Change the World” (http://bmxparts.cheapbmxparts.com/?p=40046&amp&amp) concluding that you have to learn fend for yourself and ride defensively because this bike advocacy stuff is a distance dream.

    Or, said another way, bike advocacy bloggers are having a one way conversation and preaching to the choir and already converted. The trick is to convert the other 99.8% of road users to become advocates too. The battle isn’t in a town hall meeting. Its with your neighbor who drives to work each day. When your neighbor comes over to ask about bike commuting then you’ve won the day.

  • Oregonian

    Looks like Gclarke has no facts to back up his claims.

  • Gclarke

    As to who pays: Here in the U.S. the proposed surface transportation re-authorization bill has become public enemy number one in the bicycle advocacy world as well as in many other interest groups that would suffer from this proposed drastic reduction in transportation funding. The new bill calls for a 33% budget reduction from the previous transportation bill.

    http://republicans.transportation.house.gov/Media/file/112th/Highways/Reauthorization_document.pdf

    The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the House, “eliminates dedicated funding for bicycling and walking, including Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School and the Recreational Trails Program, and discourages states from choosing to spend dollars on these activities that are ‘not in the federal interest.’”

    The fact is here in the U.S. federal and state highway taxes do pay the lions share of bike infrastructure projects through grants and directly through the Highway Trust Fund. (Following the money is mind boggling in U.S. politics … its easier to follow who’s buying their votes).

    As stated in the proposal; “… if fiscal stability is not restored to the Highway Trust Fund, we risk losing it. In 2010, the Trust Fund brought in $35 billion in revenue, but $50 billion in spending was authorized. Over the past three years, Congress has had to transfer approximately $35 billion from the General Fund into the Highway Trust Fund to keep it solvent. Continued spending at this unsustainable rate will ensure the Trust Fund goes broke in 2013.”

    So the Committee is cutting out all programs not directly dedicated to “highway” infrastructure. That includes the “Complete Streets” program which states will now have to pick up the tab. This proposal reforms surface transportation programs by consolidating or eliminating approximately
    70 programs that are duplicative or do not serve a federal purpose including the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (Bike/walk cities).

    Basically, the federal government is cutting out biking and telling the states to use Highway Funds for highway projects (like bridges falling down). Since states are broke and no one in their right mind would propose local property tax increases … biking infrastructure will be a hit and miss priority for cities over the next decade.

    For cyclists … picking the pockets of the motoring and property taxpayer are over. Economics 101 – follow the money.

  • Classified

    Distracted drivers are the most dangerous on the road. You do yourself and pedestrians a favor when you pay attention to the road whenever you’re driving, so do it.

    auto finance

  • Classified

    Distracted drivers are the most dangerous on the road. You do yourself and pedestrians a favor when you pay attention to the road whenever you’re driving, so do it.

    auto finance

  • BrettBuen

    IRS collections will not cease until the whole tax debt is paid up, or perhaps it discovers itself out of efforts. Yet, there are still many taxpayers who are obligated to repay the IRS which aren’t aware a levy can extend to Social Security, retirement benefits, winnings, and other a variety of causes of earnings. Uncover what is vulnerable to a levy via the IRS http://www.tax-defense-network-cpnotices.com/cp-notice/notice-of-levy/

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