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Bicycle Friendly Fiendish Communities

— NOT so Friendly to Cyclists —
by Fred Oswald, PE, LCI #947

2– Mis-education — Perpetuates Cycle of Misinformation

Teaching people how to operate bicycles as vehicles — must be the primary ingredient in any Bicycle Friendly Cities Program.

Widespread teaching of Vehicular Cycling has not been tried and found difficult.  It has been thought difficult and not tried.

P.M. Summer, paraphrasing G.K. Chesterton

A very bad example [1] Another bad example [2]

Symptomatic of the problem is that education, which should be the centerpiece of the program, is mentioned only after engineering.  It is certainly not given the primary emphasis.  Indeed, many of the facilities encourage dangerous practices incompatible with the League’s education program and contrary to the Leagues own position papers.  In many cases, the paint on the road teaches riding in the wrong place.

The cover photo from the Chicago Bike Lane Design Guide (shown at right) is a comedy or really a tragedy of errors.  These errors include: (1) the cyclist has obviously been riding in the door zone of parked cars; (2) The helmet is too far back on his head (also indicates the strap is too loose); (3) The seat is too low (hard on the knees); (4) His feet are too far forward on the pedals (ball of feet should be on pedals); (5) No gloves (skin hands in a fall); (6) The bike is an old coaster brake model with no front brake.  Such a bike does not allow a quick emergency stop and thus should be restricted to low speed.

Chicago’s response to the door zone hazard is the following irresponsible advice“Look inside each parked car before you pass it” and “Keep track of traffic behind you so you’ll know whether you have enough room if you must swerve suddenly out of the ‘Door Zone'”.  What they should have said is “Don’t ride in the door zone.  If a bike lane is in the door zone (as many are), the bike lane is too dangerous to use.”

The second photo at right shows an old lady riding on the wrong side of the road.  This is from the slideshow for the Bicycle Friendly Communities Workshop.  The wrong-way lady and the Chicago novice above with his many mistakes are apparently thought to be “ideal” bicycle users.  BFC shows distain for safety and good technique.

Traditional “bike safety” is often taught by unqualified authority figures.  Bicycle Friendly Communities should work to stop this cycle of misinformation but management shows no interest.  Those who teach cycling and those who plan facilities for cycling simply must know how to ride in traffic.  The BFC program asks few questions about education and it fails to ask whether the people doing the teaching are qualified to teach.

Engineers & planners must be encouraged to learn bicycle driving

BFC fails to require, encourage or even suggest that communities train their transportation planners, engineers and members of bicycle advisory committees about bicycle driving.  They are encouraged instead to build facilities without understanding what they are doing.  The result can be tragic.

Education — Emphasize Best Practices

Cycling Instructor Training [3]

City officials must learn to understand the best and safest practices of cycling so they support these best practices.  Without this knowledge, they will continue to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Everyone involved in planning for bicycle transportation must understand how to operate a bicycle as a vehicle, following the standard rules of the road.  Every user of bicycles and all other users of the roads must be taught that bicycles are vehicles that belong on the roadway, should be driven according to the same traffic rules and with the same rights.

Cycling education must reach all levels of society, not just the most enthusiastic cyclists.  There is a very promising education program that has had excellent results with “ordinary” people, not just bicycling enthusiasts.  We heartily recommend the Cycling Savvy program and the excellent training materials at Commute Orlando.

Here are a few ideas.

  1. Appropriate public service messages
  2. Posters & fliers
  3. Newspaper articles
  4. Short educational messages in city communications (newsletter, youth activities announcements, etc.)
  5. Public officials setting good example
  6. Web pages
  7. Bicycle driving classes
  8. School & youth group programs with knowledgeable instructors
  9. Appropriate questions on driver license exam
  10. Police training


[1] Photo is from cover of the Chicago Bike Lane Design Guide. [2] Photo is from the Bicycle Friendly Communities Workshop slideshow (originally from a Washington Post article) [3] Photo is from a cycling instructor training session in Cleveland, OH

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© Copyright 2003-2017 Fred Oswald and LAB Reform.  May be copied with attribution.
Some materials may 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.
Minor update Apr. 2017