Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Teaching Bike Safety - Who?

One of my ongoing gripes is that there is absolutely NO widespread availability of education for road-going bike riders. And unfortunately, some never get educated about what's proper and improper; or worse yet, they get bad information.

(Somebody has probably told all those wrong-way doofuses that, like pedestrians, they're somehow safer if they're riding towards oncoming traffic. You'd think that their on-street experience would quickly make them realize how many additional hazards they expose themselves and other roadway users to. If you're not observant enough to recognize it... maybe you don't belong on public roadways.)

But... who should take the lead in an education effort?

Supposedly everybody who possesses a driver's license has taken both a written test and a driving test. (Which would suggest competence. However we've all observed that while some licensed drivers are extremely competent, others really have no business on the road, licensed or not. Humorist Dave Barry observes that "We all share one thing in common - we think we are better-than-average drivers.")

Since you don't need a bicycle operator's license, there is no equivalent written or practical test. Thus you lose a bit of incentive to learn safe cycling skills.

Also - and I believe this is significant - since the police rarely enforce bicycle laws unless an accident is involved, there is also not the incentive to ride legally and safely to avoid getting a traffic ticket. (The police are totally responsible for that situation; I sincerely wish they'd prioritize bike traffic at the same level as motor traffic. If tickets were regularly handed out to cyclists who break the law, I can almost guarantee more compliance would follow, and subsequently fewer bike-involved accidents.)

What would my suggestion be?

I would like to see the police teach a 2-hour OUTSIDE bike safety course, maybe starting in 4th or 5th grade, and every year up through high school. Geared to the level of the students. They could do it in the autumn while the weather is still beautiful, and resume in the spring. Outside - where safety practices could be demonstrated and perhaps even rehearsed - would be much more effective than a "theory lecture" in a gym or classroom.

Portland is doing something different - the Portland Water Bureau is sponsoring a "Bike/Truck Safety Event" on Saturday, June 6th. (Info HERE.) The event is intended to "spotlight safety concerns of bicycles and large trucks sharing the road." The Bicycle Transportation Alliance is helping; evidently they did one last September that was quite successful.

(Hmmm... who woulda thunk that the Water Bureau could teach bike safety? That seems unlikely, but also demonstrates some "out of the box" thinking. I like it!)


Clancy said...

Wrong way cyclist= Bike Salmon. That is what happened with the accident yesterday. This morning I saw a guy who looked like bike commuter, salmoning in front of my office

bob t said...

I can see it now:

"Don't be a bike may never have a chance to spawn."

Seriously, I think that the idea of bike education in the schools is a great one but it will take years to make a difference due to the many adults (and seniors) with deeply ingrained bad habits. Better enforcement might have a more immediate effect.

idahospeed said...

For Bike Week the TVCA did go around to the(some) elementary schools and have a three station course consisting of:

a) A safety check- mechanics checked out the bikes of kids and gave them a quick ABC lesson
b) Rules- spoke to the rules of the road(specifically saying "don't ride on the sidewalk" but then leaving the caveat being their parents lest they offend and get sued)
c) Cones- weave through and then stop

Obviously very basic but a good start. I volunteered for the mechanic part(though not a master mech by any means) and the kids were very enthusiastic.

The best path forward would be both education and enforcement. Or, at least one or the other.

Ed W said...

LAB has a long tradition of supporting bicycling education, but cyclists of all stripes are notoriously resistant. The bike salmon wouldn't dream of enrolling. Nor would the hipsters. Even long established club cyclists think there's nothing the course can teach them.

bob t said...

I am wondering at what age are children ready to ride on the road following the rules of the road. I think that most pre-teens would have difficulty doing this safely and may be better off staying on the sidewalks following pedestrian rules.

Clancy said...

Bob t- I am teaching my 6 and 8 year old the rules of the road. I wouldn't trust them by themselves but they are doing a great job when I ride with them.

Start early and often as I don't think a one day class teaches enough. It is one of those items that needs to be learned by habit. Why do you think we don't allow new drivers to drive at night.

Off topic- Here is a slideshow of trip on the Trail of the Hiawatha.

Bikeboy said...

Great points all.

The best incentive, I believe, is more rigorous enforcement. The cops can convince people about traffic laws in a way that nobody else has the power to do.

And a one-day (one-hour?) class is certainly not adequate to ingrain good bike behavior. But started early-on, and repeated at least once a year... it couldn't hurt.

I can remember riding a bike to school as early as 3rd grade... of course that was a different time, and people likely saw more bicycles on the road than nowadays. A generation later, I had concerns about my kids on the roads, when they were still in elementary school... although they rode to and from school without mishap. (By the time they got to jr. high, riding a bike was too "uncool," and it was car-transportation exclusively.) Lots of hands-on practice, with a teacher who knows, is the best way to learn safe bicycling.