Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Some parting thoughts on bike safety

On June 21, following the third bike-auto fatality in about as many weeks right here in little ol' Boise, the editor of the Boise Guardian emailed Bob T and myself, asking for some feedback on the bike safety issue.

From his message:

What I see developing with the "bike issue" is militancy--mostly on the part of bikers who are tired of getting bashed--literally.

It is an age old issue:
- Kayaks and Rafts against those idiots who run the gas guzzling jet boats up and down the Snake and Payette Rivers.
- *&#@ snowmobilers scaring the tight pants off the cross country skiers.
- Mountain Bikers tearing up the trails used by backpackers and hikers.
- Jet skis making waves where decent people are fishing.
All of the above come into conflict and often result in fatal meetings.

I don't have any ready answers, but would like to hear from you guys. Nobody WANTS to hit a biker. While I don't think the bikers are idiots, I do think they tend to be a bit like the handicap/ADA folks when it comes to demands for "rights."

How do you guys feel about REQUIRING BY LAW:
--APPROVED VEST in a brilliant green/yellow/orange color with reflective panels front and back (like highway workers, cops, flaggers, airline ramp people wear)
--HELMET for any and all ages riding on street where speed limit is over 20 mph
--WHITE headlight and red tail light on either the rider or bike visible for 500 feet dusk to dawn as described for cars
--BIKES STOP at all redlights and stop signs just like other vehicles.
--NO BIKES on sidewalks where pedestrian walk/wait devices exist.
--NO EARPHONE devices to be worn by cylists...they need to hear the friendly beep of a car before it becomes a panic warning blast.

What I am aiming for is some give and take. ... Share your comments with me at this e-mail and I will "mine it" for a GUARDIAN piece.

I sent him a response a couple days later. Bob T also contacted him; you may have seen the excellent coverage of Bob's high-visibilty ways on the Guardian.

Dave elected not to use my response. Probably for 3 reasons: 1) he had already put a lot out there on the topic (for which I thank him), 2) I had posted several comments in response to his stories, and 3) I tend to go on and on... he's always worried about losing his ADD readers (hahaha!)

By contrast, I post what's on my mind... if I lose you, faithful reader, I guess that's the breaks. Please come back and try again. Sometimes what I'm thinkin' is short. Other times it goes on and on.

Since I wrote it... here's what I sent to Dave (Mr. Guardian) in its entirety.

Bicycle Safety

On June 15, following the third bicyclist traffic fatality in about 10 days, I posed this question to the Ada County Prosecutors:

"Does a cyclist who's riding legally, visibly, predictably and defensively have a reasonable expectation of being able to arrive safely at his destination?"

That question remains up-in-the-air as the investigation continues. But at least two of the three fatalities seem to clearly be the fault of the involved motorist. (An off-duty bus driver rear-ended Jim Chu on Gowen Road. A 16-year-old youth crossed directly into the path of Kevin Pavlis and fellow riders on Hill Road. Both accidents happened during daylight hours, and there's nothing to suggest that either cyclist was doing anything risky or illegal.)

The fatalities have brought the bikes-on-the-roads issue to the forefront, at least for the time being.

And have started a round of finger-pointing. Angry cyclists who are demanding safe accommodations. And angry motorists who are unhappy about being delayed by slower cyclists on the roads.

Are there some bad drivers out there?


You see 'em every day. Blasting through red lights. Turning without signaling. Yappin' on their phones, seemingly oblivious to the world (and traffic) surrounding them. Endangering themselves and other motorists, but cyclists in particular. They are a menace!

Are there some bad cyclists out there?


Some of them seem as oblivious as their behind-the-wheel cell-phone counterparts. Others seem to be deliberately impeding traffic as they assert their "legal right" to ride two-up on Hill Road and other roads that are popular among cyclists, but also used by the folks who are stuck in their cars.

Many seem to either not know the traffic laws pertaining to cyclists, or have chosen to ignore those laws. (Very much like the motor-vehicle crowd!)



Who should do the educating? That's a very good question, but right now it's essentially nonexistent.

You need to take a test to get a driver's license. To ride a bike, you just hop on and go. Maybe your dad or mom taught you (incorrectly!) that you should ride against traffic. Or that the sidewalk is the safest place. As far as I know, there is NO formal effort to get bike riders educated on how to safely operate on public roads. (And precious little effort to educate drivers about dealing with cyclists on the road.)

Who does the enforcing?

It's supposed to be our law-enforcement community. But in the past, they have declared, matter-of-factly, "Bike violations aren't a priority for the department." (I've been told that on several occasions, when I've called to complain about bad behavior by fellow cyclists.)

Perhaps that needs to change!

Perhaps they should issue a ticket to a cyclist from time to time, even if an accident isn't involved.

Here's evidence of the problem - from November 2002 to November 2007, the Boise Police Department issued five (!) tickets for bike riding against traffic (Statute 10-14-06). Now, perhaps a ticket isn't necessary... but the police have traditionally been happy to totally ignore the problem! How about at least flashing the lights and using that PA system to issue a stern warning, even if you're headed somewhere else, Mister Police Officer?

In this cyclist's mind (who is also an occasional motorist with a Commercial driver's license), here are a few pointers for cyclists and motorists:

- CYCLISTS have to know the laws and follow them. We love the freedom that cycling realizes... but that freedom does NOT extend to us making up our own rules, at least on public roads. Using public roads is a privilege (for cyclists AND motorists), not a right. We inherently agree to follow the rules.

- CYCLISTS must understand how vulnerable they are. And they should take every measure possible to decrease the risk. Be visible, legal, and predictable. Ride defensively... it WILL literally save your life! Wear a brain-bucket. Are you sure it's a good idea to surrender your sense of hearing to the iPod? Common sense!

- CYCLISTS should also realize that they are "ambassadors" for cycling. Will the motorists you deal with have a better, or worse, impression of bike riders, after they have dealt with you? If you don't care - GET OFF THE ROAD! We don't need a bunch of uppity spandex weenies out there! (YOU are the ones that all the motorists are complaining about!)

- MOTORISTS must also know the laws and follow them. (You should know that cyclists legally have the right to be on ANY public roadway in Idaho. You have no right to try to intimidate them off your favorite toad. You should KNOW that in Idaho, a cyclist doesn't have to stop at a stop sign. It is treated as a yield sign... you can find out the "why" if you choose, or you can lobby to have that law changed. But for now, it's the law, and you should know it.)

- MOTORISTS must realize that if they choose to multi-task, nothing can steal their attention away from their driving. If you are behind the wheel, you are operating what is potentially a lethal weapon! You might as well have a loaded gun in your hand, with finger on the trigger. Is that phone call, or text message, or the fact that you're behind schedule, more important than the life of a fellow citizen?

- MOTORSTS should quit declaring that cyclists need to stick to bike paths, bike lanes, etc. A transportation cyclist has the same destinations as you do - work, entertainment, church, home, etc. Bike lanes don't go everywhere, and never will. Would Boise be a better place to live, if bicycles were banned from all but a select few roads?

- MOTORISTS should quit griping that cyclists don't pay their fair share! Road building and maintenance fees come from many sources other than registration and gas tax. (If a cyclist owns a motor vehicle, he's also paying those fees, by the way.) Road funds also come from property and income taxes... all cyclists pay, except for the homeless unemployed.

THE GUARDIAN poses this question:

How do you feel about REQUIRING BY LAW:
-APPROVED VEST in a brilliant green/yellow/orange color with reflective panels front and back (like highway workers, cops, flaggers, airline ramp people wear)
-HELMET for any and all ages riding on street where speed limit is over 20 mph
-WHITE headlight and red tail light on either the rider or bike visible for 500 feet dusk to dawn as described for cars
-BIKES STOP at all redlights and stop signs just like other vehicles.
-NO BIKES on sidewalks where pedestrian walk/wait devices exist.
-NO EARPHONE devices to be worn by cylists...they need to hear the friendly beep of a car before it becomes a panic warning blast.

This cyclist's reply:

Those are good ideas that would make bike riding safer. And bike riders could voluntarily to do all that stuff today! But do we need to mandate them by law? (I'm getting old! I can remember a time when the smart people survived and the stupid people didn't. I believe Darwin referred to it as "the law of natural selection.") Particularly I wonder if we need another few pages of laws, when our law-enforcement people are stretched too thin to enforce the laws already on the books!

FINALLY: I've been a dedicated transportation cyclist, here in Boise, since 1986. (The last time I drove a car to work was in September, 1997.) And I sincerely thank the folks I share the road with. Most of you are alert and patient. Most of you use your turn signals. Most don't try to intimidate me or practice "the law of the jungle." I try not to hold you up, and you are aware of my presence and help me get safely to my destination. (My family and friends thank you, too, for helping to keep me safe.)


db said...

Well said. I would've been even longer-winded -- I would've cited how, in many European countries, bikes and cars coexist without a lot of special mandates for cyclists.

Clancy said...

Could not of said it better. Mine rendition would of been much shorter.

I am kinda miffed about the quietness from organizations like TVCA or SWIMBA on this matter. As for the enforcement, BPD could keep very busy downtown.

Bikeboy said...

Good point, Clancy... about the deafening silence from the local bike-advocacy organizations!

Why aren't they more involved?

Why aren't the cycling "clubs" more proactive in educating their members about the importance of being good ambassadors for the activity? (The timing might be bad, since the cyclists appear not to have been at fault. But haven't they heard the legitimate complaints that these tragedies have brought to light, by motorists about cyclists?)

Clancy said...

Expensive settlement in a 2 cyclist deaths in California.

I could see a civil suit in the Chu's death as it is the most open and shut case.

I would like some cards to handout stating bike laws on one side and 4 or 5 reminders on the other side about cycling etiquette/rules of the road. They would be handed out without a lecture.

bob t said...

Although I'm not an "insider" at any of the local bicycle advocacy organizations I would not necessarily interpret their silence as inaction. I imagine (and hope) that they are working tirelessly behind the scenes on this issue. I suspect that some of what they are doing will eventually be made public.

The city of Boise just announced the creation of a bicycle safety response team. There is also a bicycle safety event scheduled for this Monday, July 6th:

Ride of Silence and Rally For Bike Safety
Stand up speak out and be heard
Monday, July 6, 2009

A ride to honor the cyclists lost in collisions and to continue our community dialogue about roadway safety

5:30 pm cyclists gather on Smith Street south of Hill Road (location of loss of Kevin Pavlis)

Ride of Silence to the Boise City Hall (route TBA)

In a Ride of Silence cyclists take to the roads in a slow, silent procession to honor cyclists who have been killed while cycling on public roadways.  The Ride of Silence is a free ride that asks its cyclists to ride no faster than 12 mph and remain silent during the ride. www.rideofsilence.org

The ride will be escorted by the Boise Police Department.

6:00  Rally for Bike Safety-  Boise City Hall

Speakers to include Family members of lost cyclists, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, Roadway Safety Instructors and a chance for every cyclist to introduce himself to the community.

The Rally For Bike Safety will start by honoring the lost cyclists.  It will then focus on the responsibilities of all roadway users to abide by the rules of the road and each others safety as fellow citizens.

Cyclists who need to drive to near the start of the ride are asked to park at the Ridley's lot on Bogus Basin Road.  Smith Street is about 4/10ths a mile west on Hill road from the Intersection with Bogus Basin road.   The Ride of Silence will be about 5 miles long.

All cyclists are welcome and encouraged to come to the ride.  All of the community is invited to the Rally for Safety

The Silent Ride and rally is a cooperative event organized by the SouthWest Idaho Cycling Association and its constiuent clubs.

For more information contact SWICA Manager Kurt Holzer, kurtholzer@hotmail.com.