Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Highlight the fun of cycling

That's the take home message in this news from Science Daily, which highlights research showing that the more cyclists there are on the road, the safer it becomes. Motorists change their behavior and driver more safely when they see more cyclists and pedestrians on the road around them.
Experts say the effect is independent of improvements in cycling-friendly laws such as lower speed limits and better infrastructure, such as bike paths. Research has revealed the safety-in-numbers impact for cyclists in Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, 14 European countries and 68 Californian cities.

"It's a positive effect but some people are surprised that injury rates don't go up at the same rate of increases in cycling," says Sydney University's Dr Chris Rissel, co-author of a 2008 research report on cycling.

"It appears that motorists adjust their behaviour in the presence of increasing numbers of people bicycling because they expect or experience more people cycling. Also, rising cycling rates mean motorists are more likely to be cyclists, and therefore be more conscious of, and sympathetic towards, cyclists."
Lloyd at Treehugger goes into more detail on the safety aspect, pointing to Bike Commute Tips where Paul writes, "Amen to this. Stop perpetuating the myth of bicycling as a dangerous activity. Leave your helmet at home."

Copenhagenize highlights this part of the article:
Dr Rissel says transport authorities should highlight the fun, convenience and health and environmental benefits of cycling, rather than what he views as an undue emphasis on danger and safety messages, which can deter cyclists: "We should create a cycling friendly environment and accentuate cycling's positives rather than stress negatives with 'safety campaigns' that focus on cyclists without addressing drivers and road conditions. Reminding people of injury rates and risks, to wear helmets and reflective visible clothes has the unintended effect of reinforcing fears of cycling which discourages people from cycling."
Other responses:
  • Carbon Trace in Springfield: In Springfield the number of bikers on the road (and every other available surface) has increased dramatically in the past three weeks because college students are back in town. And I’ve noticed less honking and other cranky behavior by motorists.
  • Amsterdamize: We already knew this, but hey, let’s keep science right smack in the middle of the ‘discussion’ and spread the word, ok?

Images: Catalog photos from Velorbis and Specialized. Guess which is from which?


Mark Brandt said...

It is possible to highlight the fun of cycling w/o leaving your helmet at home. While helmets do not protect against severe collisions, or collisions that do not involve the head they do still save lives (at least its saved mine - the accident was not my fault).

Instead of framing helmets as this mythical shell that protects bikers from imminent death they should be framed as a normal safety measure associated with cycling - similar to seat belts in cars. The rhetoric of leaving helmets at home is foolish. They do not make you less safe.

GhostRider said...

Amen, Mark...I don't wear a helmet because I think of cycling as a dangerous activity. I wear it because I value the accumulated memories, pop culture factoids and experiences I've been collecting between my ears since 1969.

Frankly, I'd rather "have it and not need it than need it and not have it", to dust off an old chestnut.

cafiend said...

"Your results may vary" says the fine print on things like diet programs. Likewise, America's infatuation with trash talk and exerting force on inconvenient populations could dilute the effect we as cyclists wish so fervently to believe in. Motorists who see more and more cyclists could just get more and more pissed off at cyclists. I hope it ain't so, but we in the USA are known for a bit of a "me first" mentality. It makes us avid competitors and sometimes less than adequate at sharing and playing nicely with others.

We await real world results with hope, but years of caution blunting our expectations.

Yokota Fritz said...

Cafiend, I bike across Palo Alto, CA every day which has about a 6% bike mode share. In spite of absolutely nuts behavior by many cyclists (or maybe because of it), drivers here are very cautious around cyclists for the most part. I never get honked at in the SF Bay Area and harassment of any kind is very rare, about the same frequency as I might expect if I were driving.

Downstate Illinois was the worst place I've cycled -- I've been yelled at, honked at, had items thrown at me. I was also the only regular bike commuter I knew back them (early 90s).

murphstahoe said...

I got yelled at on Saturday. I was riding towards GGP on Fell in San Francisco. At Baker, the crazy bike lane ends (crazy in that it's on the left side of the one way street) usually you detour off of Fell onto the Panhandle bike path. However, there was a Breast Cancer walk going on on the bike path and we would have been blocked, so we stayed on Fell.

Some 50ish lady drove by and yelled "GET ON THE BIKE PATH".

Unfortunately I didn't get the chance to mention to her we could not ride on the bike path because people were raising funds for a disease of which she is the prime demographic...

cafiend said...

Fritz, I want it to be true. I just fear the NASCAR mentality.

Murphstahoe, when someone in a motor vehicle yells "get on the bike path" the proper response is "Get on the Interstate!"

Gary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gary said...

Although it's typically motorists who I prefer to not deal with, today was my first time having another cyclist send obscenities my way. I made a left a turn onto a road with a bike lane and damn near went head on into a cyclist riding the wrong way in the bike lane. I quickly swerved to avoid him, and trying to sound as calm as I could said wrong way dude, to which he replied "well f**ck off". I want to see more cyclists on the road, but I also want to see education increase with it so we don't end up with so many suicide riders.

Yokota Fritz said...

Murph, that's just typical big city abuse from and for users all modes of transport :-)

Gary, suicide cyclists are everyday life in Palo Alto. I can count on a near hit at least weekly from cyclists running stops and lights. Last week it was a pair of women chatting who pulled out DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF ME without looking. This morning it was Joe College on his old mountain bike blowing through a stop and nearly got hit by me, by the two cyclists coming the other direction, and by the motorist directly behind me.