So, if cycling in traffic is not safe…?
So if cycling is safe, but cycling in traffic is less so, where do we go from here?
That cycling is a great thing to do and by doing it you are doing all sorts of other great things, and that you also probably won’t die doing it are all great things to spread around.
That cycling in traffic carries with it some risks to your safety is also worth noting, because being hurt or killed sucks. This problem is why companies from every nook and cranny are coming out with “safety” products for cycling. This absolutely makes sense, because cycling is a rapidly growing activity where there is money to be made. There is a real, undeniable risk associated with cycling, however high or low that actually may be. Whether the risks are high or low doesn’t matter, though, because when cars and trucks and buses are whizzing past you at close range, you have an acute awareness that one of them could be looking at their phone at just the wrong time, for example.
So, real fear, and real products that are a real benefit for those on bicycles. “A real benefit!?”, you cry?
Yes. There are still people getting really upset about some of these products, but they are sadly getting steered off course by their emotions. As I mentioned yesterday,
When cyclists get a whiff of anyone even remotely suggesting that their safety, which already feels like it’s on a knife-edge, is up to them, all the while seeing motorists get away scot-free with killing and maiming cyclists and pedestrians, and having deal with infrastructure that is highly biased towards motor vehicles, they get reactionary and start making wild and unconnected claims like LifePaint is just a big conspiracy created by the motoring industry to push cycling to the periphery and beyond in order to reclaim the roads for their rightful owners!
I understand the core issue here, and in fact I agree with the real point behind the morally indignant outcries from cycling advocates everywhere: helmets and high-viz are not the cause. They are not the solution. The real danger comes from the most dangerous road user – motorists. Nevertheless, the fact is that helmets and high-viz and lights and every other safety device has a benefit. Plain and simple.
As I finished off with yesterday, cycling is safe, but cycling in traffic is less so. It doesn’t take a genius to determine that people are dummies regardless of what mode of transportation they choose, and you don’t let dummies run around holding scissors, do you? Taking emotion out of it, and thinking logically, it’s the dummies in more dangerous vehicles that need to be more tightly regulated and who must take more responsibility for their actions.
That’s not to say that cyclists can act with impunity. Far from it. There are plenty of dummies who ride bikes. We need to remain vigilant for our own safety, too, and this is where cycling advocates who are blaming Volvo et all start to lose their audience (if their audience consists entirely of me).
Instead of focusing on the small part of their argument (by word count) that matters, ie. “we must tell our elected officials that isn’t good enough. After all, the only “modern safety solution cyclists have been begging for” is a protected bike lane. Let’s build them. Everywhere.“, we are told that corporations are pulling the wool over our eyes and taking cycling for a ride. To be fair, the article in the link above is pretty reasonable, but it still includes a little too much blaming of the wrong people for my liking. When did telling cyclists that they can be more visible automatically become victim blaming? Oh, when a car company did it. You want to be invisible? You want to be free to wander the streets as you see fit and leave all the responsibility for your safety to others?
Is Volvo building our roads and setting policy? Are they really?
Furthermore, I don’t buy the argument that telling people to wear helmets or high-viz has any real impact on whether or not they believe cycling to be dangerous – no more than telling someone that they need to wear a seat-belt in a car is the thing that convinces people that driving is dangerous. Yes, some people overestimate the risks of cycling, but that’s not because someone encourages them to wear a helmet.
With that said, we are left with the notion that cycling is indeed a good thing, but that it needs to be made more safe for those doing it. With this as our baseline, how then do we discuss or describe cycling as a whole, rather than polarizing it in one way or the other?
Well, I don’t think we can actually discuss cycling in traffic without addressing the perception that it is dangerous, and more than that, that it does actually come with a certain amount of risk. More so in places where there isn’t segregated cycling infrastructure, ie, almost everywhere. And, this risk is not offset with crumple zones and airbags and seat-belts.
Now that you mention it, what are crumple zones, airbags, seatbelts, glass that doesn’t shatter into tiny razors, and almost all of the other safety devices in cars for? The occupants of those cars. Driving is dangerous, and everyone knows it. Car companies know it, and so does the government. That’s why so much effort is spent on off-setting that danger. That danger often comes from other drivers, so what you have is a situation where the driver of a vehicle on public roads is legally bound to take at least some measures to protect themselves at the hands of others.
I know this is standing on awfully contentious ground, but doesn’t this sound a lot like cycling the efforts of some to encourage helmets, high-viz, and lights? Sure, cars and bikes are a different situation, but it’s less apples-and-oranges, and more rock-melon-and-watermelon.
Just to remind those of you who are getting angry (or already are), I definitely think we need more segregated cycling infrastructure (and shared spaces), and stronger laws to protect vulnerable road users.
Embrace the danger?
I think there might actually be some benefit in embracing the fact that cycling in traffic is dangerous. The benefits of cycling across a multitude of categories are becoming clearer every day. It’s not going away. People know this. Businesses know this. Governments even know this, but refuse to do anything except buy votes by puckering up to motorists ringholes. If we stop pretending that cycling in traffic isn’t dangerous, then maybe we can focus on ways to make it less so. Maybe it will be on people’s minds more. We already know how to make it less dangerous, and some places in the world have succeeded in doing just that long ago.
It’s not that dangerous in the grand scheme of things, but as modes of transportation go, only motorcyclists face greater risks on the roads. We’re beneficial, and vulnerable. If, as a society, we want to enjoy the many benefits of cycling, we need to stand proud and shout, “cycling in traffic is dangerous, and we’re not going to take it anymore!”. That’s how The Netherlands did it. Don’t waste your breath and my time by vilifying a company from selling a product that in reality is technically pretty helpful. We need to turn our blaming and whingeing and fear into something productive.
Separated cycle-infrastructure, and lots of it. Lower speeds. Strict liability. Fewer incentives to use a car. Shared streets. Real consequences for causing “accidents”. Secure bike parking. These are all among well established ways to promote cycling and improve communities for people, rather than cars.
Spend your energy and resources on these things, in your community, rather than getting caught up in a brand selling a product.
Header image: source