Vision Zero and Bicycling Promotion

Dear Martha Roskowski,

I read your blog because I’m a bicycle advocate, so I’m bemused by your sudden jump onto the Vision Zero train. Unlike People For Bikes, VZ is not about creating better facilities for bicyclists, or about encouraging people to get on their bicycle, or about using bicycles to help kids get around their neighborhood, or about helping people use their bicycle for more than just recreation

Your Green Lane Project has done a great job of pointing out that people generally don’t like to walk or bike in close proximity to motor vehicles, no matter how safely they are being driven. I don’t think Vision Zero is going to change this preference. I can’t argue with the authorities spending time and money to save lives, but I humbly suggest that VZ-type safety initiatives might not be central to your organization’s mission to get more people bicycling. We have seen in New York City that Vision Zero has put bumper stickers on taxicabs that say, “Your choices matter”; it has not inspired miles of protected bike lanes.

Consider bicycle helmets. It’s clear that safety enhancements to the practice of bicycling are not definitively linked with getting more people on bicycles. I think that now in 2015 it would be a stretch for advocates to argue that the safety benefit from wearing bicycle helmets has encouraged people who don’t ordinarily ride a bicycle to get in the saddle. In fact, I often read arguments that advocates should not call for people on bicycles to wear helmets as this will discourage casual bicycling and make the practice of bicycling appear to require safety equipment.

It’s not hard to imagine that greater attention to traffic deaths could make people more afraid to bicycle, and more afraid to let their children bicycle.