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Thinking Out Loud

Many moons ago, before The Wiggles and Yo Gabba Gabba became the mainstays of my family’s playlist, Public Radio was our go-to station for diverse, thought provoking and often humorous programming. Oregon Public Radio show Think Out Loud ran a show last month about biking in non-urban areas. City cyclists receive much attention in terms of safety, infrastructure and funding but developing safe roads for cyclists in non-urban areas is a relatively novel concept. TOL asked me a few questions about our experience competing for road space in rural washington. You can check out the entire broadcast here. My segment only lasted a couple of minutes but it was a fun to touch on these issues from a family perspective.

Recording the broadcast itself was exciting. My twelve year old son had babysitting duty while I ran to the garage for quiet. Live radio doesn’t yield much forgiveness for a wailing “Momeeeeeeee”. Worrying about the children interrupting or burning down the house did wonders for my nerves, in general, as I didn’t really have much time to worry about what I was going to say. As short as my segment was it got me thinking about family biking, the concept of the weakest link and grassroots advocacy.

For us, as a car-free family biking is much more than recreation or a hobby. It’s about function and practicality. Getting groceries, getting to school and meeting our transportation needs without turning a key. As a result we are exposed, to the elements, the public and most critically to a constant stream of 2,000 plus pound vehicles zooming by next to our children. Our town has a lovely multi-use trail for recreation however there is no infrastructure to connect us to stores and services. As a result we are forced on sidewalks, across grassy/ muddy areas where there is no shoulder and in some places into the streets.

The idea of building streets and communities to service pedestrians and cyclists seems like a no-brainer. A hundred years ago the auto was viewed as a dangerous intruder to streets in which pedestrians, bikes, women, men, children were the dominant force. In our “modern” culture cyclists and pedestrians are fighting for safe ways to commute.

While I believe cycling to be one of the safest and most affordable means of transportation; we bike defensively. With my twelve year old on two wheels and five year old and one year sheltered only by a fabric and aluminum frame trailer it’s not enough to assume a motorist will stop or check the bike lane before turning. I take full responsibility for the failure of motorists to stop, yield or give enough room. I have to assume that every car is playing a deadly game of Russian roulette and keep the barrel aimed away from my family.

Buffered bike lanes and infrastructure certainly offer some measure of protection but they must be built with the smallest, or most vulnerable user in mind. The wheelchair, the stroller, the child are the weakest links. If our streets fail them. They have failed entirely. One casualty is too many.

I believe the path to change is going to be cut by a change in consciousness. It was not until my family got on bikes that my scope of vision widened. Now I notice cyclists and pedestrians. I pay attention to legislation and bicycle advocacy. I seek opportunities to encourage and educate everyone and anyone about the freedom and possibilities that using a bike as transportation offers.

There is no overestimating the strength of families, mothers and fathers for providing and protecting their children. As more families and individuals experience the myriad of wonderful benefits of biking, their consciousness will expand too. Collectively we can raise awareness, be a force for change and build a better future.

What do you think? How can cyclists and family cyclists protect themselves? What are the solutions to keeping families and individuals safe while commuting? Are cities inherently more safe because of biking infrastructure ie: bike lanes, sharrows etc?

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Living the mind-full life. Less is the new more.

3 responses to “Thinking Out Loud

  1. The most important thing that people for the U.S. who want subjective and objectively safe cycling is to not be happy with everything that the partly self-appointed “Everything is Good” committee is cheerleading.

    For this I like to use the cancer treatment metaphor. Would you settle for something inferior because it was better than it used to be, or because better cancer treatment was simply a cultural thing?

    Sure, money does not appear from nowhere and many levels of government in the U.S. have screwed-up priorities, but we have to honest with ourselves and with politicians and their appointees. Why are some called “rock stars” in relation to cycling (cancer treatment) development when they are saying that 20-year old cancer treatment (cycling infra. design) technology is “state of the art”? And are people protecting their jobs by not being frank with us?

  2. Recently being hit by a car myself, while biking, I’ve given some extra thought about BETTER BICYCLING TRAFFIC SAFETY. Hearing of the safety concerns of others: men, mothers, children, added to a recent decision to take this more seriously, as well as the unfortunately regular reports of bicycle injuries and fatalities, one callous hit and run of a doctor in Phoenix (10/14/12) adding to the realization we need to make real changes. — If this post makes sense to you, I’d suggest passing it on — or incorporate what you like into your own ideas. So, here are some factual suggestions which I think can be impliment. IMO: To make traveling by bicycle safer we need to consider how to better use, if possible, the sidewalks (a city by city decision in some states) or improve bicycle lanes. So the question is: Can we use sidewalks, where can we use sidewalks, how can we use sidewalks and not interfer with any pedesterian sidewalks? Note: Situations are different. In the center of a busy city is different than some small rural towns where you never even ever see anybody walking on sidewalks. But one thing for sure even as we work this out if there are some pedesterian- bicycle crashes — which nobody wants and we want to design to avoid — such accidents would not be as bad as car-bicycle accidents. Getting some access to some sideways in some way is one good idea and in my small town we can do so. Re: road bicycle lanes. In some countries paint their bicycle lanes blue, tis may help but I don’t think it’s enough. Other countries plan for bike lanes when they build roads and have a single file row of bricks to separate the bike lane from traffic lane (and even special bike traffic lights, etc.); this is probably too much to hope for—- What I think might be ‘doable’ and needed is not the ideal but probably USA unrealistic idea of lining bike lanes bricks — but lining bicycle lanes with some sort of ‘rumble strips,’ — or ‘reflector bumps,’ or reflective *Bott *dots (I’ve read are common in California). I think car drivers need this because they need sensory feedback and something like reflective Bott dots would give them Audio and Visual feedback when they stray over into the bike lanes. — Most driver don’t want to hit bicyclist; it’s just most often they literaly don’t see us or don’t think of bikes as part of ‘traffic.’ — Of course it may be more expensive than many cities would like; it would be a big lobbying effort to make real. But something needs to be done. We need to establish the fact that Bikes are part of traffic…(I’m into the usual tokens of Visibility and also wear a reflector vest, and have a Whizzzz Windmill Bicycle Reflector (designed by the Finnish Red Cross and whichI like, it makes the visibility of the bike wider and I think that helps). Lobbying our city and/or state officials for such changes is a real and concrete step: We need to make everyone realize that BICYCLING IS PART OF TRAFFIC! And conisderations for it need to be made. Some times, btw, there may be stiff opposition but (surprise) sometimes we may find allies; in 2010 my City Manager were quite responsive and helpful in making one such traffic safety change.
By way of ‘accident credentials,’ I’ll add that about once every ten years I’ve had a crash. 1. Broadsided by a car making an illegal left turn; broken collar bone; 2. Squeezed by extremely fast & heavy traffic onto a badly designed sewer grate; broken front tooth 3. Crashed into a driver’s car door suddenly swinging open and finally, 4. thought I was going to die when spinning like an air hockey puck across a tram track intersection in Europe; don’t ride like a foreign idiot on wet tram tracks was my lesson learned: i.e. an extra level of alertness good to have in foreign environs. — So, uh, stay safe and happy riding to us all.

  3. Lindsay

    I know you wrote this a while ago, but its a topic I’ve been considering a lot lately, especially now my son can fly on his “loopfiets”. I just wrote a blog post about some of the stuff I’ve seen since moving to the Netherlands, its eye opening for sure.

    http://youaintgotjack.blogspot.nl/2013/03/take-lane-or-make-lane.html

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