Protected Bike Lanes and the Demand for Cyclist Education

Protected Bike Lanes and the Demand for Cyclist Education
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Yesterday’s post, Who Is Against Protected Bike Lanes, garnered a record amount of page views and kicked off the usual comments string.  Yes, there are a lot of annoying city cyclists out there…

I won’t even attempt to defend their actions.  I drive about 15 times as many miles per year as I ride my bike and if I were called on to defend the actions of my fellow motorists I’d scarcely have enough time left to sleep at night.

When a commenter concedes that bikes should be allowed to share the road then continues to use anecdotal information to rationalize his or her disdain for an individual cyclist’s exhibited behavior, I have a hard time posting a measured reply.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but the number of pedestrians killed or injured by bicycles is but a miniscule percentage of the total caused by motor vehicles.  While every injury is one too many, we need to keep things in perspective.

The greatest threat to the safety of a pedestrian is a motor vehicle.  The greatest threat to the safety of a cyclist is a motor vehicle.  The greatest threat to the safety of a motorist is a motor vehicle.  When driven improperly, a motor vehicle is a lethal weapon.  Let’s not lose sight of the fact that driving is by far the most dangerous activity that any of us partakes in on a daily basis.

I understand the calls for better cyclist education regarding the rules of the road.

Where better for a cyclist to get that education than the Secretary of State’s office?  Aren’t all the rules printed in the Rules of the Road manual that every individual must read prior to being tested for a driver’s license?

FYI, the complete Rules of the Road pdf is 100 pages.  There is a separate Bicycle Rules of the Road that is only twelve pages.

On my last birthday I was finally required to take a test for the renewal of my driver’s license.  I can only remember having to do this one other time in the 30 years since it was first issued.  How many rules do you think have been added in that time period?

Judging by the test I took, I would estimate that the only significant change I needed to be aware of was the penalty for driving under the influence of alcohol.  I bet there were three separate questions regarding the consequences for getting caught while driving drunk on the two-page, multiple-choice test.

How many questions were there relating to sharing the road with bicycles?  Precisely zero.  Nothing about the three foot passing law that was enacted in 2007.  Nada about the (then pending) stop light law.  Not even a yes or no as to whether bicycles were authorized users on roads where it was not posted otherwise.

To be fair to the SOS, there was also nothing about the three second following rule (formerly it was two seconds) or the five offenses that will automatically revoke your driver’s license.  There may not have been anything relating to the child safety restraint law (I can’t remember).  I believe there was something about texting, but from what I recall (I didn’t get to bring the test home) it dealt more with the consequences for getting caught.

Whether you’re a pedestrian, bicyclist, motorcyclist, or motorist, if you’re not obeying the rules of the road or acting in a predictable manner, you’re increasing your own risk for getting injured.  Your bad behavior is also increasing the risk for others.

I think it would be safe to say that a lack of understanding of both rights and responsibilities – for all road users – is at the heart of this ongoing controversy.

Would there be an objection to every licensed driver reading a one-page, share the road summary and completing an “open book” test on its content?

If nothing else, a simple quiz would force every motorist to acknowledge both the rights of other road users and his or her own legal obligation for respecting those rights.  In just four years the entire motoring public would be on record for familiarity with share the road laws.

What about cyclists who are not drivers?  What about non-motoring pedestrians?  Since neither of these two groups is required to be licensed to walk or ride a bike, how do we educate them?

We educate them the same way we always have – in school when they’re children.

We can certainly add a 12-page safe bicycling pdf to public education.  It can be incorporated specifically into the driver’s education curriculum.

We already teach students all sorts of useful information designed to keep them safe and prevent them from harming others.  We warn against the consequences of smoking cigarettes, taking drugs, drinking alcohol, and engaging in unprotected sex.  But as the saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water…”

Should the behavior of bicyclists emboldened by protected bike lanes lead to a measured increase in injuries to pedestrians, stepped up enforcement and licensing should be discussed.  In the meantime, let’s focus on educating those that pose the greatest danger to pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and themselves – motorists.

If motorists could be counted on to consistently obey the rules of the road and respect the rights of other users, we wouldn’t need protected bike lanes in heavy traffic areas.

Like so many other issues we face, our failure to acknowledge the true cause of a problem only stirs debate about the solution and prevents us from moving forward…

UPDATE:  More commentary in third part of series “What Can Cyclists Do About Our “Rogue” Element?

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Keep riding and be safe!




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  • Bike lanes and big metropolitan cities don't mix.

  • "If motorists could be counted on to consistently obey the rules of the road and respect the rights of other users, we wouldn't need protected bike lanes in heavy traffic areas."
    Very well put!
    The Active Transportation Alliance also responded to this topic in the Sun-Times:

  • "If motorists could be counted on to consistently obey the rules of the road and respect the rights of other users, we wouldn't need protected bike lanes in heavy traffic areas."

    Sorry to disagree with Lee Crandell up there, but we most certainly still would need protected bike lanes in those areas. For one, people are imperfect. Mistakes are made. Young kids newer to the road might be less familiar with the physical process of operating a vehicle. That said, there's the bicyclist factor - the "I'm invincible" mentality that too many often have. A lot of cyclists are injured or even killed on the road - but that doesn't mean it was the motorists fault. I'm all for protected bike lanes. It will (hopefully) keep bikers in a predictible space and teach them to respect the rights of other users on the road. As for education in schools, I think that's a wonderful idea. When I was a kid in San Antonio we had "Bike Rodeos" every year in elementary school where we brought our bikes to school, had an officer speak about the rules when riding our bikes, and had competitions in maneuverability. We were also awarded points for correctly equipping ourselves and our bikes with the proper protective gear. I don't know if Chicago does stuff like that for kids, but it sure was effective for me. Now when I ride a bike, that 15-year-old knowledge comes right back!

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