Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Need For More Bicyclist (and Non-Bicyclist) Education Cannot Be Overstated

In this month's League of American Bicyclists (LAB) magazine, League President Andy Clarke starts off the reading with an impassioned plea for more bicycling education. Spot on, Andy. I could not agree more, and for a variety of reasons:
1. Bicycling education is transportable. If you move from Portlandia to Hostilia, you take your expertise with you, possibly even changing some of those grumpy people in Hostilia into new bicyclists.
2. The LAB is the master of its educational programs. LAB can maintain and administer them independent of external funding, if neccesary, and with or without  (hopefully, with) cooperation with fickle governments and government programs. Although the NMDoT apparently de-funded its relationship with our state League Cycling Instructors (LCIs), the LCIs remain. Just call us.
3.  Cyclists need to be masters of their own fate (i.e., the layers of safety concept) by understanding how to ride in traffic and how to maintain their bicycles. Having that level of expertise, and the knowledge of how crashes happen, the situationally-aware cyclist is empowered to avoid trouble, less likely to break laws, more comfortable in traffic, better able to handle a wide range of facilities, and is a better example to new cyclists.
4. Non-cyclists need to understand cycling, thus the need for cycling education to be disseminated to the general public. As cyclists, one of our biggest burdens (aside from behavior that produces many self-inflicted wounds) is non-cyclists making mistakes that put us at risk and meanwhile, making demands of us that put us at risk.
This diagonal bit of bike lane is continuous, but
crosses a right turn bay. The smart cyclist looks over 
his/her shoulder to check and manage traffic
regardless of who has the right of way, 
 to avoid a conflict leading to a crash.
photo from John Allen
 5. Cyclists who are knowledgeable about how crashes happen and how they should ride on our streets are much better critics of street and roadway design. At a time when more people are getting on bikes and when the government is experimenting with new designs (such as found in NACTO) as well as using old ones (such as found in AASHTO), the educated cyclist needs to be engaged in the planning process. An example of a flawed design can be seen on Streetsblog showing a brand new bike lane in Detroit that has its outboard stripe flush with parallel parked cars, thus creating a door-zone bike lane. So faced with a diversity of both good and bad designs, friendly and ambivalent communities, and coming to the table with different levels of expertise, cyclists gain power and credibility when the cycling community becomes better educated and more streetwise. With programs such as the LAB's Traffic Skills classes taught by several thousand LCIs, and the expanding availability of the CyclingSaavy program, its becoming easier and easier to obtain this expertise. Go get it if you have not done so already.

New Detroit Bike Lane
 A better design might have eliminated some or all
of that center median, or used sharrows
(photo from Streetsblog article)

Central Square, Cambridge fatality (Dana Laird). 
The cyclist , who was doored, might have 
grazed the opened car door with the handlebar 
 and performed an instant turn under the bus
photo from John Allen's site
6. Here in Los Alamos, our principle employer has just rolled out a new set of health care plans that provide financial incentives and rewards for fitness and physical activity leading to better health. What better way to stir some physical activity into your life than to bike or walk to work, or bike or walk around the large LANL campus.

 Are these enough reasons to become a better  cyclist?

In other news, Jonathan Maus, in Bike Portland, reminds us of the need to use language carefully and avoid loaded words and phrases when discussing cycling issues.  Good points, Jonathan.


JerryM said...

We LANL cyclists should ask how many miles we have to ride per week to receive free health care!

Ian Brett Cooper said...

The problem with the idea that "the LCIs remain. Just call us" is that, as currently set up, the LAB's LCIs do not seem to be able to mount a large scale program that can accommodate anywhere near the numbers of cyclists on our roads. What's needed here is a national and universal educational scheme similar to the British 'Bikeability' program, not an ad-hoc solution for the small minority of cyclists who care enough to get educated. And it's important to note that the UK's Bikeability fails to educate most cyclists - it's a purely voluntary scheme. We need more than that.

Another problem is that, among cyclists, there is general contempt for the idea that cyclists need education, and is illustrated by the response of one of the parents of a kid at my daughter's school when I told him I had taken the LAB instructor class: "What do they teach you at instructor class?" he asked, with a barely concealed sneer, as if all there is to be learned about cycling is fulfilled when you have figured out how to ride without falling off. I've seen how this fellow rides, and it's scary. But with his attitude, I don't believe he'd even be willing to learn - he already thinks he knows it all - for him, cycling is simply being able to balance on the bike.

Finally, the LAB seems to have dropped its motorist education program (or at least the last time I looked on the LAB site, it wasn't there). At a guess, they probably dropped it due to a lack of interest. Universal motorist education is, if anything, more important than cyclist education. If we could educate motorists, it would reduce or eliminate one of the main barriers that cyclists face when learning to ride in a vehicular manner - motorist bullying.

The LCI scheme, as it currently exists, cannot possibly address any of these concerns. What is needed is a much more serious strategy for teaching ALL road users, not just the ones who go out of their way to learn.

Ian Brett Cooper said...

Another illustration of the problem is shown by another interaction I had with the LAB a couple of years ago. I wanted to know what programs they have for educating schoolkids at schools. I emailed the League on a number of occasions. I never even got a response.

I'm afraid that, as far as the LAB goes, complete incompetence is the level of professionalism we are faced with.

Khal said...

We had a public-private partnership in Honolulu. The Hawaii Bicycling League went along with a bicycle registration system but all the money in fees went by law into bicycle programs. The City and County funded BikeEd, which provided a week of training for all public school 4th graders,and HBL was the contractor providing the services. I think that was a decent model.

So I do think it is wise to build partnerships and get people enticed both with the carrot and the stick, but the bottom line is we need to maintain the capability of educating the cyclist who wants to be educated, even if that is a small minority.

The MSF gets far more clients--their classes fill up and they charge big bucks,but they have a legal advantage: pass the Basic Skills class and you get your MC endorsement. So even the macho types who think they know it all may sign up, as they get their endorsement rather than a ticket.

Khal said...

And yes, there is a strong segment of the bicycle advocacy community that equates the education of cyclists to an elitist, VC attitude. Bicycling should, in their opinion, be made safe for anyone, without any effort from the individual.

I don't buy into that philosophy. If I had a 4th grader, and even if we had all the bike infrastructure in the world, I'd want my son or daughter to take BikeEd. Perhaps we need to make that mandatory in our schools, and also lobby for more traffic court diversion programs for lousy cyclists.

John said...

My big problem with LAB is that the advocacy arm of the organization is completely misaligned with the education arm. This is obvious by their repeated use of photos and videos showing facilities and behavior that graduates of their education program know to be dangerous and ill-advised, like door zone bike lanes and cyclists failing to control narrow lanes. These materials in the service of infrastructure advocacy completely undermine their own education program.

The latest example, framing Far to Right laws as "where to ride" laws, was the last straw for me, and I have let my LAB membership lapse. It's not as though I haven't tried to make a difference. But, I haven't.

Cyclist education is kind of like riding a bike at all for most Americans, in that everyone agrees it's a good idea, but who actually does it? Where's the support for cyclist education? Where's the funding? Where's the MARKETING ASSISTANCE?

Hey, PeopleForBikes, are you going to support cyclist education too, or just infrastructure, with those "million people for bikes" whosee signatures you're gathering?

I guess I'm a little grumpy this morning.

Khal said...

The motorcycle industry took a different tack than the bike industry. One cannot argue credibly for separate motorcycle facilities (but one can argue for a strategic choice of what streets to use), so the MC industry fully supports (with dollars as well as jaw motions) the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Why? Because its hard to sell MCs if they are seen as "too dangerous" and frankly, they ARE roughly 10x more dangerous per exposure hour than bicycles and cars, which are about equal. So the MC industry stresses education. The results are mixed. If riders keep up their MSF card with annual or biannual practice and use that situational awareness the program teaches us, they are better riders. One shot deal folks, who get the card to get the endorsement and then ride away, backslide into bad practice. Nothing surprising there.

The bicycle industry takes the opposite approach and begs for government to provide separate infrastructure while spurning education, leaving the "its too dangerous" on the table as an active argument for more government money. Not surprisingly, the public hears the "its too dangerous" part and spurns two-wheelers. I see little industry support for a MSF style program.

Its not all the bike industry's fault. As others have said above, most adults think they are bicycle-educated if they can avoid falling over, and since there is no licensing requirement and scant enforcement, there is not a stick nor a carrot. Furthermore, the Streetsblog crowd tells the average rider that any time there is a foul-up, its someone else's fault, either the infrastructure or the motorist (which is true often enough, but not universally. Quite a few bike-car crashes can be blamed on the cyclist). Plus, we are reminded of the European model. Well, at least part of it. The facilities part.

Lacking a pool of students breaking down my door at LANL, I've taken to using my LCI credential as a (paid, actually) advisor to the Laboratory's Traffic Safety Program and to the Traffic Engineer, and by holding small group informal or semi-formal mini-classes. I think that helps. You can bring a horse to water....

For those who have decided on a divorce from LAB, there is the CyclingSaavy program. Furthermore, Mighk, Keri, et al are good people.