Note: The following OpEd appeared in both the print and on-line versions of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Tuesday, May 17th, 2016. Other similar OpEds I’ve written that I can recall appeared in the Post-Dispatch in May 2000 and May 20, 2010. The 2010 OpEd was titled Help the planet: Ride a bike. I posted it on this thinkbicyclingblog with this great Earth Day cartoon by then Post-Dispatch editorial cartoonist, R J Matson.
Bike Month is every month
Safe riding: Educate motorists and cyclists about the best methods to share the road.
by Martin Pion
May is National Bike Month, a time to celebrate the most efficient mode of personal transportation ever devised and promote its beneficial societal use year-round.
Recently there has been a resurgence in bicycling, prompting recreational trails development and bicycle lane striping, in which Great Rivers Greenway plays a major role locally. Yet, despite these efforts, less than 1% of Americans choose bicycling for transportation, compared to a European country like Holland (26% of all trips). Part of the problem is that America is car-centric, but in urban and suburban areas, a bicycle is still often an option for shorter trips.
Dr. Andrew Cline and I examined this in a peer-reviewed paper titled “Promoting Equality through Bicycling Education in the United States,” published in the January 2016 Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) journal. Of note is that the Dutch stress bicycle education from an early age, and not just constructing bike facilities.
Mighk Wilson, American Bicycling Education Association (ABEA) executive director, has said that cyclists need to know how to ride safely on-road no matter what transportation engineers design. A unique opportunity to learn more will be ABEA’s Bicycling Education Conference in St. Louis, October 14-16, 2016 (information at abea.bike/programs/iat2).
Maximizing bicyclist safety in the U.S. means, among other things, eliminating laws that discriminate against cyclists, something which my own City of Ferguson was first in Missouri to address. In 2012, Ferguson repealed its ordinance, based on Missouri state law, referred to as the “Far To the Right” law (section 307.190 Riding to the right, required for bicycles and motorized bicycles), which generally required cyclists to ride as far right “as safe.”
The new Ferguson ordinance now permits a cyclist to control the curb lane on four-lane Florissant Rd., for example, to maximize safety. BIKES MAY USE FULL LANE (BMUFL) signs, and on-road “sharrows” (officially called Shared Lane Markings) alert motorists to this new regulation. (Ferguson Public Works Director, Matt Unrein, approved a larger sign, newly installed in this March 21st, 2016, photo in which I’m pointing to it.)
It may be counter intuitive, but riding far to the right actually increases crash risk, one cause being right turning overtaking motorists. Signage like Ferguson’s encourages lane control and cooperative behavior.
As noted above, bicycle safety education is important, and the nation’s best program is called CyclingSavvy, which Wilson helped to launch.
In 2011, St. Louis resident Karen Karabell established a local affiliate called CyclingSavvy St. Louis which offers a comprehensive three session course aimed at teaching the skills and knowledge needed for confident and safe on-road bicycling. GRG provides generous support for classes in St. Louis City and Ferguson (details on-line at tinyurl.com/gpgcutt).
Some groups advocate primarily for bike facilities while others stress bike education. In early 2015, I was introduced by Karen Karabell to Shawn Leight, a leading local transportation engineer (since elected ITE Vice-President), who expressed a desire to reconcile these two groups by accommodating both. The following examples show how to help achieve this goal:
* How to improve W. Florissant Ave. “Great Streets” Plan. This video, showing the destruction following the shooting death of Michael Brown, recommends adding on-road BMUFL signage and sharrows to a St. Louis County proposal for a separated mixed-use path along this four-lane road in Ferguson and Dellwood.
* New Parking-Separated Bikeway, St. Louis City, 2015. This features a bike ride along downtown Chestnut Street’s new bikeway with a return along four-lane Market Street. The bikeway should be balanced by adding BMUFL signage and sharrows to Market Street. In the video Karabell commented that other drivers may turn in front of you when you are in a bike lane and cyclists should be aware of this.
* Safe Cycling 4 Kids: 10-year-old Theresa shows how. A 10-1/4 year old demonstrates competent traffic cycling in Ferguson after proper instruction in this detailed blog featuring a video.
We should encourage soundly based bike education while alerting motorists and cyclists to the risks inherent in most bike facilities.