November 20, 2008

Bike Safety: Making Resources Accessible to Beginners and Getting Past Fears. [Google Maps Bike There]

A Treehugger article caught my eye today. Entitled “45 Days in Jail for Driver who Rode Around with Cyclist on the Hood of his Car” it detailed an insane incident last summer of road rage in which the thrown cyclist held on to the windshield wipers of the enraged driver’s moving car. This of course is a highly unusual case, but still brought up issues I didn’t even realize I had with getting on a bike.

I have had several impressionable moments of fear within just the last year that have prevented me from riding. I moved into a new apartment in Brooklyn where every day I’d walk pass the first ghost bike in New York City. Ghost bikes are memorials for cyclists who are killed or hit on the street. First appearing in St. Louis in 2003, they have since been spotted in 68 cities throughout the world (check out this NY Magazine spread for photos). Elizabeth Padilla was the same age as me, 28, in 2005 when she was killed a block from my home as she rode her bike to work. She was hit by a delivery truck.

My friend Colin also got hit by a car while riding and spent several days in the hospital recovering. Six foot four or so with a big heart and personality to match, it was indeed shocking at the time that such a person could be hurt. Colin went on to lead the Sustainable Brooklyn Bike tour this past summer after his recovery I am proud to say.

I also spent time with Chris Long, just a week or so before the infamous police assault that was captured on video and got over 1.6 million YouTube hits. Chris and I had been working together at a festival for Sambazon. A few days later, he was taking part in a Critical Mass bike ride, when a police officer shoved him right off of his bike. If you haven’t seen the video, it’s incredible. After this happened Chris was charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, charges that were appropriately dropped.

Then just a few weeks after moving to Boulder, a new friend told me she was riding behind a man that was hit by a car right in front of her and passed away due to his injuries.

And those are all just my stories. My point in sharing them is that while I do appreciate the poignancy of memorials such as ghost bikes, there also seem to be more incidents of reported violence out there than there are resources on safety. This is not helpful to beginners. Google bike safety and what’s the first thing that comes up? A website that details something called “The Red Light of Death.” While I appreciate the thorough explanation of collision types and diagrams, it still comes across as fear-based.

I don’t have money right now to buy a bike. But that’s not entirely the problem; I’m also simply a little scared. I take the bus and while using public transportation is better than driving, I’d like to also bike to get some exercise in addition to lessening my own eco footprint. And I should be the prime candidate as an environmentalist who is generally not fearful and is responsibly-minded. If we want to cut down on our carbon emissions and encourage more people to travel to and from work by bike, we have to make resources more accessible for beginners and help people feel that if they follow certain pre-cautions, they will be safe.

BikeSmart Portland does it right with classes on terminology, equipment, skills and safety for entry-level adult enthusiasts. That would be me! Except that I don’t live in Portland. I’m hoping that other cities follow this model. In Boulder, it’s a positive step that the city has started educating middle school-ers on safety during physical education classes. But just because adults learned how to ride a bike around their drive way and through their sleepy neighborhoods as kids, doesn’t mean they know how to responsibly ride down a city street. We also need education.

And if you haven’t yet, please consider signing the petition for Google Maps to include directions by bike. A friend also recently mentioned to me that a fear she has is choosing the right streets to get her to her destination in not only the fastest but safest way possible. In fact the primary basis for the petition is to increase safety for cyclists. And if you need another reminder of why getting more people on bikes is a big issue, check out the site’s F.A.Q. which includes a comprehensive list of benefits to society including, health, saving money, reduced traffic congestion and carbon emissions, even women’s rights. (Also check out Michael’s great blog on bicycle commuting).

And fun. If I was going to be in New York City this New Year’s Eve, perhaps I’d have to face my fears (after all this responsible preparation) with the Time’s Up! annual ride and party. For now in Boulder, at least I have plenty of friends to help get me there. And an in-house expert on choosing the right commuter bike. I’m thinking orange or pink. Some color may help.

Have some good resources for adults ready to make the leap into bicycle commuting? Please share here.

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Lindsey Wolf  |  Contribution: 7,660