Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bike safety public service announcements

A couple of bike safety videos have been making the rounds.

This video illustrating the danger of wrong way cycling from the Los Angeles Department of Transportation won a "Best PSA" Emmy award in 2006.

Streetsblog objects to this "flippant, counterproductive" spot because it "plays up the supremacy of the motorist by likening cyclists to insects," in the same way, I suppose, that the Partnership for a Drug Free America likened drug users to eggheads.

The discussion started with a PSA by the New York Bike Safety Coalition illustrating the importance of paying attention while cycling.

I understand Streetsblog's objection that these ads highlight the dangers of cycling and will discourage people from riding a bike. I publish Cyclelicious in large part to remind people that bicycling is a fun and safe way to get around. A big part of this safety, however, is understanding the risks and paying attention to them. If you regularly ride the wrong way on the sidewalk, you will eventually get hit. As Cycle Dog wrote to me privately, "If a 15mph cyclist and a 35 mph vehicle hit head on, the combined velocity is 50 mph, and that's not very survivable."

What do you think? Are ads like this counterproductive to cycling advocacy? Do they work for their intended audience of people who already bike? Do they scare you from the road, or do they perform their intended function of exhorting you to ride a little more safely?

Speaking of dangerous cycling, I heard there was a bike commuter on I-25 by the I-225 Interchange around the Denver Tech Center area south of Denver. Today is Bike to Work Day in Colorado, and I've heard similar tales of first time bike commuters who take the only route they know to work (the freeway) to get to work.

H/T: Commuter Outrage, Cycle Dog and Paul Metz.

Related: Mindful vs Mindless Cycling.


Duncan Watson said...

I don't like the ad/psa. It places all the blame and responsibility on the cyclist. It claims to be a physics exercise then does a handwave and says "Bugsplatter".

If it was more of a mythbusters style simulation of the crash it would have been much more effective. They would also have put the cyclist speed higher. What 170 lb cyclist is moving at 10mph on the flats? Are you kidding me? Does LADOT really think the average athletic cyclist is moving at 10mph?

Lots of things to dislike about this ad. I am sure the auto drivers liked it though. It gives them a complete pass.

Kathy said...

There have been 3 bicycle rider deaths in Boise within one month. Kristin Armstrong (Olympic gold medalist from Idaho) is helping with a PSA. I wonder what Idaho's PSA will look like?

I think the reminders are valuable to keep in mind although they can be scary. It hasn't made me quit riding but more careful.

Christopher said...

This reminds me of the jaywalkers code,"Whoever weighs more, wins", and in any Bike v. Car, that car is winning, sorry.

But hey, look at it this way. If you were driving a car the wrong way down a one way street, whose fault would the crash be? That's right, yours. Why should it be any different if you were riding a bike?

This isn't directed at responsible riders, (I AM assuming you are a responsible rider) but at idiots who apparently think that all dangers should magically disappear whenever they leave the house.

If you don't want to be responsible for your own life, then you won't have one to worry about.

mike r said...

The splatter psa is pretty useless.

The Look campaign one is very reminiscent of motorcycle safety psa's from the 70s & 80s, although it leaves out the driver from the visuals. The driver is only mentioned in the 2nd person, admonishing them to look.

As for biking on I-25, most interstates in the west allow bikes, or at least they did when I lived in Colorado 15 years ago. There are plenty of times I have seen bikes on the shoulder of I-70 in Nebraska. Sometimes the interstate is the only main road to take, & in less congested states, bikes have been allowed.

Rantwick said...

The first PSA doesn't bother me, but only because it is specifically directed at cyclists riding against traffic. That is just plain stupid, and I don't particularly care how the message gets sent.

The second PSA is better in that it calls for everyone to pay attention, but unfortunately we should do so becuase cyclists are so very vulnerable. Sadly that does nothing but perpetuate the misconceived notion that cycling is inherently dangerous.

I think cyclists as a group are pretty hard to please, partly because many of those designing the messages don't ride or believe that cyclists have an inferior/ secondary claim to the road. Since many cyclists believe the same thing, it's got to be a tough thing to find a way of conveying the message that doesn't tick somebody off...

mike r said...

To Christopher, some states, such as PA, allow biking the wrong way down 1 way streets. In PA you can bike the wrong way on the left side of a 1 way street. I have always been confused if that means the bike's left or the car's left. Nevertheless, putting the blame on the bike in this case is not always right.

Other than that, I generally agree with your assessment.

Yokota Fritz said...

Regarding I-25 -- the cyclist was seen around the I-225 Interchange in south Denver near the Denver Tech Center. No cycling is permitted on the Interstates through Denver, and the Tech Center area is well connected with bike facilities (I used to bike from downtown Denver to meetings at the DTC).

Alan said...

I think the ads do more harm than good. Most people who aren't already cyclists perceive cycling to be much more dangerous that it actually is; they don't need PSAs to reinforce their ungrounded fears. On the other hand, cycling enthusiasts already know not to ride against traffic or run head-on into a car traveling at 50 mph (ridiculous). If anything, the ads encourage people to do the most dangerous thing they can possibly do: stay at home in front of the TV and develop heart disease, the number one killer in the U.S.


HockeyRocker said...

It's evident these ads simply show risks and results of a motor vehicle/bicycle crash.

I'm preaching to choir here. Right?

As a bicyclist, you are repsonsible for your own safety.

Consider these basic statistics by League of American Bicyclists:

50% of bicycle crashes are falls, often caused by road surface hazards.

33% of bicycle crashes involve something other than motor vehicles.

Only 17% of bicycle crashes involve motor vehicles.

Bicycle crashes can be prevented or avoided by:

1)Control your bike: don't fall or collide with others.

2) Obey the Rules: don't cause traffic crashes.

3) Choose the Right position in the lane: Discourage other driver's mistakes.

4) Learn Hazard Avoidance Skills: Avoid other driver's mistakes.

5) Wear a Helmet: Protection to survive a crash.

Have fun out there!

Hockey Rocker
Santa Cruz, CA

Duncan Watson said...

My wife is currently overweight and rides a cruiser style bike and doesn't like to shift ever. She travels at 10mph.

The LADOT ad is bad because of what it says LADOT believes about cyclists. The poor message of the ad is only a distraction from the real issue.

What I get from LADOT's PSA is:
1- They believe that cyclists average 10mph on the flats.
2- They think that the largest issue is cyclists not observing traffic rules and laws.
3- cyclists are to blame for their own deaths in traffic accidents.

Ron said...


The LADOT ad won't work. Many of those who ride against traffic are convinced that's the correct thing to do, because they really believe they're safer if they can see death coming. They are terribly simple-minded.

They just can't get past the idea that if they have their backs to traffic, they have no control. They can't understand that they become virtually invisible to drivers who are going to cross their paths when they're traveling the wrong way.

In fact, that point seems lost on LADOT as well. The wrong-way rider isn't in so much danger of a head-on collision, rather, he's going to get cut off in any number of ways--right hook, left hook, or a driver entering the roadway.

He's also endangering drivers, as even the most conscientious driver can't slow down and wait for an opportune moment to pass, since the distance between them is closing. The driver is forced to move around the wrong-way rider whenever they happen to meet, not when it's necessarily appropriate.

If LADOT would put this much money into early education--and I mean just as soon as kids get on two wheels--they could raise a generation that understands the subtleties of traffic. Instead, we still feel that teaching driver's ed at age 15, with little or no mention of cyclists' rights and responsibilities, is enough.

At least it’s better than when I was a kid. I remember Officer Friendly waddling up on stage to explain bicycle and pedestrian safety to us. Always use the sidewalk, he told us. Where there is no sidewalk, he said, referring to most of our suburban ‘hoods, we should ride or walk against traffic.

Fortunately, my father was an early adopter of vehicular cycling consciousness, and he told me just how wrong the officer was. While Dad may not have done much for my attitude towards authority figures, he could do more for bike safety than LADOT.
Happy Trails,
Ron Georg

SiouxGeonz said...

The second one, Ithought, was aimed at drivers - and there should be other ones with the same theme but other vulnerable people - other drivers, pedestrians... squirrels... naw, forget the squirrels ;)
After due consideration, I think the LADOT ad is horrible. An *awful* lot of drivers think that this exact logic is why cyclists should just GO AWAY. They also think that we all break the law... they want to say "Yo! Stupid cyclist@ Ride Right! No wonder you get killed all the time! It's all your fault! The message under the message is much louder than "ride with traffic."

SiouxGeonz said...

Now, had the psa talked about a bicycle-bicycle collisoin -- ya know, with a law-abiding cyclist ... as if cycling were actually normal...
... and the physics of head on being worse than goin' the same drexn ...
*that* would be a PSA for CYCLING.

Ron said...

What do you think? Are ads like this counterproductive to cycling advocacy? Do they work for their intended audience of people who already bike? Do they scare you from the road, or do they perform their intended function of exhorting you to ride a little more safely?"

I looked at it and did not feel that it will in anyway endanger my cycling. I respect motorists and don't think such inept pieces of propaganda have to come in between mutual understanding on the road. I don't think cyclists should spent time worrying and complaining about "bug splatter". You don't have to be riding a bike to be bug splatter. You can be in a car and be one or be walking on the street and be one as well in minutes. Long ago, they had a shock website called 'Ogrish' which showed the most stomach-churning pictures of dead accident victims after an incident. Ofcourse, its no longer in service, but perhaps saying bug splatter is many times more sane than..say.. broadcasting pictures of dead people. Perhaps a child watching and hearing 'bug splatter' will immediately come to grips with what they really mean instead of having to watch some nonsense and have nightmares while sleeping? Hey just a thought.

That said, Cycle Dog's comment about a post collision speed of 50mph must have some assumptions. In real scenarios, a collision between a cyclist and a car isn't one between two billiard balls. There is appreciable energy losses due to nonconservative forces (friction, heat, denting of car and bike, breaking of bones). I don't think a cyclist will fly the other way at 50mph post-collision due to the complex energy interactions happening at the moment of impact.

Thanks for the link love the other day!

Cozy Beehive

Anonymous said...

Hockey Rocket listed 5 ways to "prevent or avoid" crashes on a bike, but only 4 of them are appropraite. Wearing a helmet does absolutely NOTHING to prevent or avoid a crash. That's why I've never worn one in my 40 years of cycling, which includes riding transcontinental in '76, continual commuting in California since '81, and many, many miles of other road riding.

Bicycling is a very safe thing to do. Helmets are totally unnecessary for the vast majority of cyclists. Safe riding techniques are what save your life, not helmets.

I'm new here, will sign in soon and certainly be on my first bike party in July. I'll be riding, lidless, on a green '69 Raleigh Superbe if anyone would like to try and convince me otherwise.

Yokota Fritz said...

Thanks for all of your comments -- I _really_ appreciate your participation here!

@Kathy: I was completely unaware of the Boise deaths -- so sorry to learn about so many fatalities in such a short time.

My wife averages about 8 mph on her Breezer bike for longer trips. She likes taking her time and has no inclination to go fast.

I'm personally in favor of safety education for cyclists, but I also know of several people who are absolutely convinced that wrong way riding is the safer way. I like the suggestion to begin this education in childhood.

@Anon 9:47 - I'd love to meet you sometime with you Raleigh Superbe! Are you in San Jose?

Rapid Robert said...

Yes, Yokota, I'm in San Jose. I found my way to your blog from the San Jose Bike Party site and posted here thinking I was still there.

I'm a regular at SFO Critical Mass and am looking forward to the SJBP, as they are apparently the only groups that will tolerate a lidless rider. It's really unfortunate the bike enthusiast world is so incredibly intolerant and single-minded about helmets. I've never met a more xenophobic, meme infected group in all my life. I have high hopes for the SJBP, as I really do like riding with other cyclists.

HockeyRocker said...

Rapid sounds like you live by the code "what doesn't kill me makes me stronger". Not everyone has the biking know how or skills you do. Yes, obviously, wearing a helmet doesn't prevent or avoid a crash. But if a crash is imminent, a helmet can reduce the risk of serious head trauma by 85%. When people die in bicycle crashes, their families usually comment first if they were wearing a helmet they would have a better chance of surviving... Believe me, I understand about personal choices to not do something whatever it is. I probably didn't wear a helmet when i rode Critical Mass SF in 90's. Also, when I rode in Amsterdam for a week, I didn't wear a helmet. In Amsterdam, bike/motorist culture seems to be a century ahead. Now that I'm an LCI, I've chosen to follow LAB's code to educate on proper bike safety. Have a good weekend Robert, and everyone.

Hockey Rocker
Santa Cruz

Rapid Robert said...

Safe riding technique education saves lives, not helmets. Half of all reported crashes are from hitting something in the road, not related to cars. That number is way low because of all the unreported crashes. Those can ALL be avoided by cyclist education and attention. Take the distractions out of your ear and off your handlebars and you'll be waaaay safer.

The statements by those in accidents (or their families) are simplistic at best. Why is the helmet the "hand of God"? It's just as valid to cite many other things that, if true, would've resulted in a different outcome. The helmet is just the most visible and politically correct thing to blame it on. For example, who wants to point to the rider's foolish move?

mike r said...

I'm not one to insist on helmets. However, 2 people in my riding club in Williamsburg were saved from significantly great injury due to their helmets. I forget the situation of one of the riders. The other was an experienced rider getting knocked down by a dog on a lightly traveled side street. The rider fell, hitting his helmet, as well as hurting his arm & other body parts that weren't his head.

I'm just sayin'...