The following is a guest post by Matthew González, a pedestrian, cyclist, and in-denial vegetarian who blogs his adventures at mgregueiro.com. He formerly worked in Miami with Teach For America and now lives in Spain doing research as a Fulbright Fellow. He launched mgregueiro.com as a place to discuss great ideas with the many great minds hiding throughout the wrinkles and corners of the interwebs. Check out his blog, or follow him at @mgregueiro to join the conversation.
In 2010, 4,280 pedestrians and 618 cyclists were killed by motor vehicles in the United States. The most dangerous state? Florida, with 4.40 pedalcyclist fatalities per million population. Though some states have worked to lower this number by painting bike lanes and posting “Share The Road” signs, it is time American cities move from this temporary solution to a more permanent one: designing streets that serve motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists.
The problem with “Share The Road” signs is that they pin cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians against each other by making them responsible for outcomes, i.e., when a cyclist gets hit by a car it must be the cyclist’s or motorist’s fault. This thinking, however, doesn’t go deep enough and will not bring the much needed solutions.
These fatalities are caused by a systemic failure of our city infrastructure to provide safe spaces for pedestrians and cyclists. Legislators must understand that “Share The Road” signs are no more than construction signs: they represent the need for work to be done on our city’s roads, not the outcome. Cycling and jogging/running are the two most popular outdoor activities among Americans and it is time our city infrastructure reflect it.
Living in cities designed for and around the car, it is easy to forget that walking and cycling predate the automobile as primary modes of transportation. In fact, crosswalks and bike lanes were a consequence of automobile companies lobbying for changes in street design to make traveling by automobile more practical and lessen the hatred of motorists. (For a brief history on this shift in city design, check out this great TEDx talk by Mikael Colville-Andersen: Bicycle Culture by Design)
By the early 1960s, cyclists had lost the battle for America’s streets: roads were for motorists. But in 1967, cyclists won a major victory with the creation of the first modern bike lane in Davis, California. And twenty years later, the now iconic “Share The Road” sign was adopted by the North Carolina Board of Transportation – now the Department of Transportation Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation (A tip of the helmet to the Tar Heel state).
Unfortunately, more than twenty years later, cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians are still fighting to share the road. And looking at the number of pedestrian and cycling deaths caused by motorist each year, pedestrians and cyclists are losing.
Looking Past “Share The Road”
The solution to these unnecessary deaths is no secret. Denmark and The Netherlands boast the highest number of cyclists per capita. According to a 2011 study published in Injury Prevention, “27% of Dutch trips are by bicycle, 55% are women, and the bicyclist injury rate is 0.14 injured/million km. In the USA, 0.5% of commuters bicycle to work, only 24% of adult cyclists are women, and the injury rate of bicyclists is at least 26 times greater than in the Netherlands.”(Risk of injury for bicycling on cycle tracks versus in the street)
What is the difference between the US and these countries? Our streets.
The Netherlands has more than 1,800 miles of cycle tracks: bicycle paths that are separated from the street by a physical barrier. Meanwhile American cyclists are still fighting for bike lanes, that are easily ignored by motorist.
To bring an end to these unnecessary deaths, America’s cities need complete streets: roads designed to serve the needs of motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists. This approach to city infrastructure is not imaginary, it has proven itself to be successful in The Netherlands, Denmark, and many other nations. Moreover, looking at the drastic paradigm shift that swept the nation after the car, it is clear that the US can again change the way our cities approach road design.
Earlier this evening, around 6:15pm, my fiancé and I decided to ride our bicycles to Miami Beach from Brickell. While riding on north on NE 1st Ave we were nearly sided swiped by two cars within a 30 second period. The first car got away. The second driver wasn’t so lucky. I caught up with him and we exchanged a few words. I told him he almost ran me off the road. He literally came within a foot of hitting me. He proceeded to tell me that I had no idea about what I was talking about because he was a lawyer. My fiancé informed him about the three foot law, and his response was to say that we should be riding on the sidewalk. When my fiancé countered that statement with the fact that riding a bicycle on the sidewalk was in fact illegal he decided to roll up his window and speed off. All the while I proceeded to take a photograph of his SUV and write down his tag number down.
He was driving a white BMW X6. I believe the tag number is D59ZE on a Miami Dolphins license plate. My fiancé and I would make two good witnesses.
Boy, it sure would be nice if us bicyclists could do something about this.
This morning I went out on my regular Sunday morning bicycle ride to Key Biscayne. I usually head out by myself, but end up riding with other bicyclists. Normally I choose not to ride with the large groups (100-150 bicyclists) because I consider their riding style dangerous and lawless. Today this was confirmed to me.
I wiped out pretty hard due to the gross negligence of two other bicyclists at the front of the peloton. For some reason, two bicyclists got into a pissing contest, got off their bicycles, and started to scrap on the side of the road. Yes, you read it correctly. At 8:30 a.m., two bicyclists in spandex were throwing punches at each other on the side of the road! The fight spilled out into the bicycle lane and roadway, causing several bicyclists to stop short and fall to the ground. Luckily neither I, nor the other 4 bicyclists who crashed was seriously injured. I have a little road rash and a major bruise on my ass cheek. I’m not going to lie, it hurts.
Please comport yourself like a respectable bicyclist. Incidents like this give bicyclists a bad name.
This morning I witnessed a driver cut off two bicyclists, stop short, and in true team spirit of the sport, the passenger of the vehicle opened the car door, while the car was in motion, in an attempt to door the bicyclists. Upon witnessing this, a sense of righteous indignation filled me; I had no choice but to pursue the vehicle. About a mile later, completely exhausted, I miraculously caught up to the car at a red light. Please be on the look out for:
Tag #: S89 9GD
Rusty (clunker for cash candidate), late 80’s-early 90’s, dark-bluish American car, possibly an Oldsmobile.
This is the type of unfortunate, unprovoked aggressive behavior that bicyclists have to confront on a regular basis. Fortunately, we do have rights, as Commander Socorro from the Miami Police Department informed me today in an email exchange:
…if they (the victims) would have wanted to get involved, we could have sought the offenders out and arrested them for a felony”.
For their own reasons, which I can respect, the bicyclists who were directly involved in the incident did not want to escalate it to authorities. Regardless, this should be a lesson to both bicyclists and motorists that aggressive vehicular behavior should and will not be tolerated.
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