From the Christian Science Monitor, 08.25.08:
New bike commuters hit the classroom, then the roadIt will be some time before we have quantitative information on the growth of bicycle commuting. Among the anecdotal evidence for the recent increase in bike commuters is this article on the growing demand for bicycle safety education in many cities. I'm certified by the League of American Bicyclists as a League Cycling Instructor (LCI #1237). I certainly believe in the value of bicyclist education, and encourage new bike commuters to enroll in courses such as the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's Urban Bike Training and the League's Bike Education programs.
The rush of new cyclists, created by high gas prices, is driving up demand for bike safety classes.
San Francisco - Like many Americans, Tara Collins hadn't bicycled much since middle school. That changed this year when she started paying $50 to fill up her gas tank. Since early July Ms. Collins has been biking to her job in San Francisco. Now she's sitting in Bert Hill's bicycle safety course--along with 31 others--after a close shave with a van.
"When that happened I thought, 'Wow, there probably are things I could learn about safety,'" says Ms. Collins. "I haven't been on a bike in years, and even when I did, it wasn't in traffic."
The high price of gas is creating a surge in bicycle commuting across the country, not just in West Coast cities but in places like Louisville, Ky., and Charlotte, N.C. The rush of newbies has triggered tensions with drivers unaccustomed to sharing the road, and driven cyclists to seek out traffic training.
"I'm getting hammered by mayors asking, 'What are you doing about all these new bikers on the street and nobody knows the rules of the road?'" says Robert Raburn, executive director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition in Oakland. When the organization started classes in 2003, it offered maybe two a year. Now, it has six slated for September with two more to be announced. In the Bay State, MassBike reports offering two dozen classes this year, compared with three the year before...
A key precept in bike safety courses is the phrase: "Same roads, same rights, same rules." Hill's four-hour presentation highlighted common causes for collisions with cars and how to avoid them. It's partly a matter of proper bike positioning in a traffic lane to minimize driver error and partly cyclists following road rules and acting predictably..."If we look at car-bike crashes and who's at fault, in a sense it doesn't matter," Hill said. The cyclist suffers either way. (Read more.)
However, Bike Ed classes in themselves will never be adequate to transform the U.S. into a North American Denmark. Bicyclists in most communities confront a hostile street environment, produced by traffic engineers who have prioritized car speed over every other consideration for more than 60 years. Bicycling advocacy remains the key. It was the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's advocacy that won funding from San Francisco's Municipal Transporation Agency for the coalition's Urban Bike Training program. It was advocacy that won closure of a block of Waller Street in Golden Gate Park to create the dedicated bicycle training facility pictured above.
I firmly believe Bike Ed should not be offered by volunteer organizations, it should be government funded, supported, and encouraged. Street safety is a public responsibility; the burden shouldn't be shifted to well-intentioned enthusiasts. Bike organizations may contract with public agencies to deliver the training, but shouldn't use their own precious volunteer energies and resources substituting for public agencies. I would urge my friend Robert Raburn of the EBBC to fire back a funding request at the mayors demanding bike safety training.
Beyond class or street instruction, I take a broad view of bicycle safety education. Bike lanes are educational, indicating to motorists the legitimacy of bicyclists on the streets. "Sharrows" are educational, showing cyclists the riding position to avoid the door zone and the direction with traffic, while simultaneously informing motorists of the presence of bike riders. Bike route signs, media outreach campaigns, public service announcements, public art projects, bike racks, bus signs, newsletters, blogs, and websites are all educational, informing both bicyclists and motorists about the rightful place of bicycling in our culture.
Education is important, but infrastructure is critical. Advocacy is the key for bicycling friendly infrastructure.
Image: Dave Campbell.
Visit: Safety tips for new bicycle commuters, KABC-TV (Los Angeles)
Visit: Ridership rise spurs bike classes, Lancaster New Era (PA)
Visit: Bicycling Safety, Bike Commuting Tips
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site
(Yes, there's an esoteric base-superstructure argument here--"do bicyclists create bike lanes, or do bike lanes create bicyclists?" Firmly grounded in Marxist theory, I believe in a dialectical relationship, that base and superstructure influence each other. But the base is dominant.)