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Bicycle Blunders and Smarter Solutions

by Fred Oswald, LCI #947


1.  Fallacies that Underlie the Bicycle Blunders


There are several commonly-believed fallacies that underlie the Bicycle Blunders.  These fallacies make cycling less safe, less useful and less enjoyable than it should be.  The fallacies include:

  1. Same-direction motor traffic is the greatest danger to cyclists.
  2. Cyclists' most important duty is staying out of the way.
  3. Obeying the rules of the road is unnecessary and too difficult to learn.
  4. There is some method, other than obeying the rules of the road, by which roadways can be used safely.
  5. Separate bikeways make cycling safe for people who do not know how to ride safely.
  6. Once you've learned to steer and balance a bicycle, there is nothing further to learn.
Segregated bikeways make people feel safer.  They actually introduce new and unexpected hazards.  They also reinforce the fallacy that cyclists must stay out of the way.

The public impression of bicycles is they are that they are toys to be used carelessly by children.  Those adults who use bicycles are regarded as "playing in the road" and getting in the way of more important people who drive cars.  The principle safety hazard to cyclists is thought to be traffic passing from behind (the "fear from the rear").

Actual studies of cyclists' crashes show that almost all collisions occur at intersections -- the same as for motor traffic.  Hit from behind crashes are extremely rare, except at night when unlit cyclists and intoxicated drivers make these crashes more likely.

Bikeways are often promoted to encourage non-cyclists to use bicycles in the belief that separate facilities make cycling safe for people who ride dangerously.  They are also promoted because they make people feel safer, even though the bikeways actually introduce new and unexpected hazards.

The photos at right illustrate this "toy bike" attitude.  At top is a bike lane ends sign.  This is at the West end of the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge in Cleveland.  Are cyclists expected to turn around and go back?

The middle photo shows a bike lane that ends at a small tree.  Are cyclists expected to get off the road here -- perhaps by running into the tree?

The lower photo shows a "walk bike" sign for a path crossing a driveway to a picnic area in the Cleveland Metroparks.  In some ways, this is appropriate because those riding on the path violate the expectations of motorists using the driveway.  (Note half of the path traffic will be going wrong-way with respect to traffic on the roadway; which means they will appear "out of nowhere" to motorists, who do not expect wrong-way traffic.)

The problem is that the path is a dangerous facility.  To mitigate the hazards and instead blame the victims, the park restricts cyclists' rights.

In subsequent sections of this article, we will examine blunders in teaching, use, promotion and accommodation of bicycles and the hazards these blunders create.  Then we show Smarter Solutions to avoid the blunders.  The Smarter Solutions require understanding the principles of bicycle operation.

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© Copyright 2004-2011 Fred Oswald.  May be copied with attribution.
Some materials have been reproduced under fair use guidelines or with permission of the original author.
The author is a Professional Engineer in Ohio and a certified bicycling safety instructor.
Last Revised 10/ 2/11