Getting motorists to co-exist with growing number of cyclists on roads

Background Reading

Summary

By Thomas Frisbie
November 19, 2013 2:19 pm

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

Ron Burke, executive director of Active Transportation Alliance and Beth Mosher, director of public affairs for AAA Chicago, talk with the Sun-Times Editorial Board. Max Muller, director of government relations and advocacy for Active Transportation, is at right. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Ron Burke, executive director of Active Transportation Alliance and Beth Mosher, director of public affairs for AAA Chicago, talk with the Sun-Times Editorial Board. Max Muller, director of government relations and advocacy for Active Transportation, is at right. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Of the 60 car crashes every day in Chicago, 13 involve a bicyclist or pedestrian.

Or, to put it another way, 47 don’t.

That’s a point Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, wants people to keep in mind as they reflect on the growing competition between cars and bikes for transportation right of way in Chicago.

“There’s far too much conflict on our streets, crashes and injuries on our streets, and that’s the case whether you are talking about people in cars, people on bikes,” Burke told the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board on Tuesday.

Although more people are riding bikes on Chicago streets, the number of car crashes involving bikes and pedestrians has been up and down over 18 years, with a slight decrease since 2008, which indicates the overall rate has actually gone down, he said.

But more needs to be done to bring down the number of fatalities and injuries, he said.

“We have a bit of a culture of impatience, I would argue, on how we travel in Chicago,” he said. “Not everybody, but a significant percent of the population, is driving too fast, biking through intersections or walking against the light when they shouldn’t be. … There’s no silver bullet for eliminating those behaviors. But there are certain things we can do to improve safety on our streets and also let people get where they are going more consistently.”

Beth Mosher, director of public affairs for AAA Chicago, said, “We’ve seen a lot of the discourse that’s out there about people who prefer or only use one mode of transportaation over the other and saying to the other modes of transportation, ‘Get off my road,’ and that type of thing. And that is not realistic anymore.”

Among the things that can be done, Burke said, are:

  • Better infrastructure — designing streets to encourage more predictable behavior.
  • Better enforcement. The city has limited ability to step up enforcement of traffic laws, but it needs to do so.
  • Education. Education is not as important as enforcement because most people already know when they are breaking traffic rules, and they do it anyway. But it can help, Burke said.

Meanwhile, officials need to stand up to any backlash against changes in the way we use our streets, he said.

For example, some aldermen, saying they have heard many complaints, have asked to hold off on building additional bike lines until 2015 after the next election, he said.

But even those who see bicycles as encroaching on the roads don’t want everyone in cars, he said.

One old joke, he said, says a study found that 99 percent of drivers want everyone else to take public transit or bikes.

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TakeAways

A couple of reactions to this article. First I am a bit appalled that the number of accidents (i.e. collisions) involving bicyclists is as high as it is given the less than 2% of the transportation landscape that we occupy (assuming my figures are correct). We should never be occupying anything approaching a hefty 21.67% of the actual collisions. There just are not enough of us there to warrant that sort of figure. In other words we would have to either be over-counted or something about our presence and behavior is out of sync with what should be expected.

That makes me think that education is sadly needed. I know that Vehicular Cycling is not popular among the  Bluer-than-Blue Leftists that occupy the mainstream in the Chicago Cycling Movement, but I can guarantee that these numbers have to reflect one of two realities:

  • There are gangs of motorists playing their version of Grand Theft Auto with cyclists as their highest point getters (when struck)
  • Or more realistically, the Chicago Cycling Community has slipped into some very bad habits that literally require them to be unlearned.

I gladly note that the SF Bicycle Coalition is taking steps to fix that problem in their midst. We need to do the same. The only realistic means of upping enforcement is to use electronic means (speed cameras, intersection red light cameras, etc.) and that would most certainly require that cyclists be required to wear or otherwise adorn their bikes with identifying tags (i.e. license plates). I can just hear the groans from the peanut gallery on that idea.

But if you want to up enforcement you are going to have to do it across all three segments of the transpiration landscape, so be careful what you ask for. Motorists are not stupid enough to single out their own behavior while giving scofflaw cyclists a “free pass“.

Oh and One Other Thing

Reply by h’ $550 4 hours ago
“Not everybody, but a significant percent of the population, is driving too fast, biking through intersections or walking against the light when they shouldn’t be.

Don’t forget all the other transit modes, Ron. It’s important to mention that CTA trains are geting sent out with no conductors, rollerbladers are making illegal turns, and power wheelchair users are jay-rolling all over the place as we speak.
Otherwise people might get the impression that reckless motorists are a disporportionally large part of the problem.

Were you searching for this word “disproportionately“? Never let it be said that we do not offer aid and succor to those in need of a good dictionary.