Communicate safety in the future…

…By building better streets that look and feel safer to people on the fence about getting on a bike every now and then. It’s not rocket science.

Streetsblog commenter, 12/17/2015

I haven’t responded to this comment on my soi-disant authoritative comeback to all safety-based arguments: How are we in the future going to communicate the safety of bicycling in a way that is not true today? It’s been sitting there for more than a year now.

The answer is obvious; those streets are there already but nobody is riding on them, for reasons that have nothing to do with the safety of riding a bicycle. Every weekday afternoon I pedal through the quiet leafy streets of northeastern Queens and only on rare occasions do I see another person riding a bicycle. Again, my observation is confirmed. People will ride bicycles when it makes sense for them to ride bicycles, but not now; at present they just find it easier to drive around and do their errands. Nothing is stopping them from bicycling; there is not a lot of traffic, there are no steep hills. They just feel more comfortable driving.

In order to change this I humbly suggest moving away from safety promotion toward promoting the enjoyment of bicycling and the fun it involves. I am sitting inside on a sunny day and I am itching to go out and ride; why don’t more people feel this way?

Envisioning the New World

Most of my blog posts are prompted by Streetsblog comments. Something written down catches my eye and I start cogitating on it. Once in a while I can extract a new post from the thinking I do; often times it just reduces down to one of the messages I’ve already identified. I see no need to write a new post about the same thing every time it catches my eye.

Several regular commenters this week have been discussing transportation mode share (the proportion of trips made by car, transit, bike, or foot), and how to change New York City’s mode share to increase bike and foot traffic. I support this goal and read posts and comments on the subject eagerly. The advantage of mode share over other frequently discussed goals is that mode share is quantitative; it can be measured. Setting quantitative goals is, I feel, a positive, because I see the drawback of qualitative goals to be in their expansion citywide. Many people, I have indicated, suffer from subjective worldview, where they are chiefly concerned with their own circumstances or their own ride to work. It’s not debilitating, but it does make open discussion difficult as the subjective worldview holder cannot compromise on goals; progress out of sight is not progress to these advocates. So choosing as a goal to increase bike-walk mode share has the benefit of being widely desirable without prescriptively suggesting which interventions go where.

The discussion about mode share (and here) soon starts to drift away from the goal and instead boomerangs back to the qualitative style, where advocates tout their favorite interventions and their likelihood to increase bike-walk mode share.

My takeaway from the discussion is this: our contribution as internet commenters is pretty much limited to a laundry list of interventions that should, one hopes, result in the desired change. But the interventions are more tangible and more desirable than the change itself. We all have one-track minds, racing from the present to a future cycling nirvana along a predetermined course.

But if I have one goal in this series of bicycle-related posts, it’s to herald that there is more than one way to get to nirvana, and concomitantly, to suggest that slavishly copying what works in other places may not be the best way to get to nirvana here. New York today is nothing like Amsterdam 50 years ago, so it’s unlikely that New Yorkers doing what was done in Amsterdam 50 years ago would naturally win for us the Amsterdam of 2016 as our future of 2066. And additionally, who knows tomorrow? Is the Amsterdam cycling boom of today actually durable, or in 2066 will it be the Dutch who are copping ideas on bicycle urbanism from the New York of the teens?

For this reason I appreciate Steven Fleming and his Velotopia, which serves as a convenient outer bound to scoping efforts in service of a better world for bicycling. If we really wanted to make New York a bicycling city, I like to say, we would fill in the East River. I don’t actually anticipate this happening, which is helpful, as conceding that a certain goal is unattainable is the first step to generating actually attainable goals.

So here are some questions: would common-and-garden urbanist interventions improve bike-walk mode share, are these interventions actually attainable, and are there other interventions that might also improve bike-walk mode share?

It’s a truth about statistics that bringing up the lagging indicators makes the biggest change to the overall figure. Conversely, improving the areas where indicators are most positive makes little difference. This fact suggests addressing the least-urban parts of New York City first, before trying to improve the most urban. It also suggests that if the most urban parts of New York (Manhattan, downtown Brooklyn, the Bronx south of Fordham Road) were judged separately from the suburban parts, the bike-walk mode share would be quite impressive. And most importantly of all, it’s the built environment that determines how people get around it.

My direct experience with suburban New York City is in northeastern Queens (Whitestone and Bayside), a suburban landscape with single family homes on small lots. Business districts are low-rise and stretch only a block or two. Downtown Flushing, however, is more built up, with newly erected 10+ story towers dominating the landscape. In Whitestone and Bayside, I see parents driving their kids to the bus stop and multiple cars parked in front of the houses. If families are looking for good schools, easy commutes to Long Island, Westchester and Connecticut, and yard space, Bayside and Whitestone seem like good options. The urbanist plan would be to develop more densely around the train stations, with multifamily apartment buildings, but this concept is not keyed into increasing bike-walk mode share, as that part of Queens is more than 10 miles away from midtown Manhattan, a little far to bike. It’s a good concept, but it is not going to increase bike-walk mode share.

Note also that traditional dei-ex-machina solutions to increasing bike-walk mode share, e.g. sudden rise in oil prices, end of subsidies for motoring, have the effect of lowering house prices in suburban neighborhoods, which then makes them more desirable for people who can’t bike, walk, or subway to work and need places to store motor vehicles.

Six Points on Hedonic Bicycling

I posted the following on Streetsblog, in the depths of a comment tree. The original post postulated the existence of a reserve army of bicyclists, waiting for safety interventions. I generally do not agree with this notion.

I like the points I made below; I think they are good and are worth having in a more accessible place.

I disagree with the fad for using the safety frame to discuss getting people in the saddle.

First, bicycling is super safe as it is, so there’s nothing to apologize for. And safety in numbers actually works, so the more people engaging in the safe activity of bicycling, the safer it is for the marginal person in the saddle.

Second, bicycling has health and life-extension benefits that people can take advantage of immediately, so not pushing back on people who complain that bicycling is dangerous is actually harmful to health, because it’s depriving people of the opportunity to live healthier lives.

Third, most people have access to some kind of bicycle, especially with bike share, so they can really start bicycling this afternoon or tomorrow.

Fourth, New York has many destinations that are convenient to bicycle to, so the opportunity to get in the saddle and replace auto or subway trips with bicycle trips is evident.

Fifth, bicycle facilities are unevenly distributed around the city, with more of them in rich areas like Manhattan and Brownstone Brooklyn, so counting on the authorities to build ‘better streets that look and feel safer’ as a bicycling promotion program will just perpetuate the idea that bicycling is for rich people who have plenty of other transportation options.

Sixth, bicycling is a joyful, creative, problem-solving activity that deserves to be actively promoted to everyone, not reserved for some “fearless” subset of the population. I personally don’t understand why so many people consider passively accepting people’s excuses for not getting in the saddle as bicycle advocacy.

Parking compassionately

This is from my local parent list serve

Hi everyone, this may not apply to you if you don’t park on the street. BUT, if you do, please read on.

As you are all aware, parking is VERY difficult in our neighborhood. I think we can make some small changes that may help. These changes will not cure the problem because many people who park here don’t live here or don’t have children so they are not on this list. So though the “cure” may not happen, this could help…..

1. PLEASE don’t be afraid to pull up or back to the nearest car. 2ft is enough space for people to get in and out. If you leave 4 or 5 ft that is half a spot and imagine all of the 1/2 spots that are out there, added together we could be putting our cars in!
2. Pull ALL the way up to the end of the curb/pedestrian walk/marked parking/etc… Again, left space is wasted space. As a NYer, you know this!
3. If you find a spot that’s HUGE pull either up or back all the way since you could leave enough space for a scooter or motorcycle to fit in.
4. When alternate side parking is happening, please leave your phone number on the dash so that crazy people who need to leave and forgot to get out there in time can leave without having to wait. I leave my number and have been called about 3 or 4 times.

These are simple considerations. If everyone on this list who drives follows this, we will have created many more spaces. Encourage your fellow parkers not on this list to do the same. Ask nicely, explain why it’s nice to not leave space and that way when it’s your turn at 6:00pm to look for a spot, you just may find one!

Thank you!
K.
A compassionate parker

—–

On the other hand, the LESS compassionately you park, the more likely your neighbor will sell her car in frustration. If there was only one parking spot per block, a lot fewer people would have cars, and fewer children and elderly would suffer respiratory illnesses or be killed or maimed by inattentive motor vehicle operators. That sounds like something we could all hope for as a holiday present.

Jonathan

—-

Jonathan,

It’s true, that less cars is [sic] a better solution.  BUT I have a home in CT that I travel to.  I ski, kayak, snowboard, bike and hike all outside the City.  SO I use my car, which I paid more for so that I would get better fuel economy.  I would LOVE to have an electric car but where will I plug it in? Anyway, my post was about being considerate to others when you do have to park. Thank you so much for your thoughts too.:)

K.

—-

K,

Perhaps your enjoyment of arcane and inconvenient hobbies justifies your motor vehicle ownership. Suggest taking up handball instead. That way, you can show true compassion to the majority of your neighbors by not putting their lives at risk as you circle the block looking for a parking space for your kayak. There are handball courts in Hood Wright Park.

Jonathan

I didn’t actually send this last one, but I sure enjoyed writing it.

Transport Equity Bun Fight

Alon Levy in his Pedestrian Observations blog has responded to Adonia Lugo’s complaint about Vision Zero on her own blog, Urban Adonia. Dr. Lugo sees Vision Zero as another in a series of well-meaning interventions helmed by rich, white, athletic men, meant to address the social ill of traffic violence and mayhem. She has pointed out helpfully that one’s perception of the relative importance of fixing traffic violence depends on one’s social and economic position.

Dr. Levy drops the Hammer of Technocracy on her. His point is that there is a Best Practice in road building, in transit, and in bicycling promotion, and that in most of these domains America is not executing the Best Practice. So why should bicycling advocates care about what Dr. Lugo’s pen pals in East Crumbhalt, America, do to make bicycling safer, when it is simpler and more straightforward just to do exactly what is done in Copenhagen?

Dr. Lugo has previously pointed out that the prevailing culture among bicycle advocates is the culture of rich white male people with money to burn, yet there are many people who are bicycling who do not fit this category. She has argued that bicycling advocacy needs to be responsive to different cultural practices in order to meet the needs of the different people who are bicycling. I interpret this as the primacy of bicycling technique over bicycling context; it’s important that people are actually spinning the pedals and going somewhere, less important that they are accomplishing goals such as “errands” or “shopping” or “dropping off kids” or “going out to get sloshed” that have specific cultural values.

I have previously argued that the technocratic approach to bicycling promotion treats bicycle culture as “vacuum cleaner culture.” In Denmark, apparently, everyone has a vacuum cleaner, but nobody identifies with their choice of vacuum cleaner; it’s just a tool. Same thing with bicycles. We advocates are just too wound up in our own special mode of transport to actually accept the technocratic approach. The first step in the accepted best way to create a city in which everyone is bicycling, where bicycling is normative, turns out to be to drive away all the bicycle advocates. Shades of Enrique Penalosa!

I think Dr. Lugo’s most powerful argument is her no. 4: “It’s strange to me that a movement so focused on rejecting car-dominated engineering would think that the solution is more large-scale, top-down planning.” This counters Dr. Levy’s argument for technocracy by asserting that no matter the form of the technocratic approach, problems will bubble up from underneath, that will require the special insight of someone who loves bicycling to resolve.  As this Washington Post blogpost points out, inequality extends to traffic violence as well as other, more recognizably determined forms of violence, such as crime and drugs. The grand technocratic approach to building roads for motor traffic has clearly seen better days, so why commission a new Grand Design for building roads for bicycles and expect any better?

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.

No Reserve Army of Bicyclists

I doubt that there is a reserve army of bicyclists ready to hit the streets, awaiting some particular intervention. By “reserve army,” I refer to a mass of potential bicyclists whose role in society is to keep bicycle-focused interventions coming. We advocates are constantly being told that one thing is standing in the way of mass cycling. Whether that one thing be the rolling Idaho stop, or a protected bike lane, or a strict liability law, or peak oil, or bikes in buildings, or showers at work, or a bike valet, or that self-driving wheel, I don’t think any single intervention is going to make that much difference in getting people into the saddle. I believe however that interventions like those I mentioned do have value in communicating the value of the bicycle to the culture at large.

I arrive at this conclusion following my two posts (1, 2) on “Who is the Marginal Person on a Bike.” If I cannot easily identify a single kind of person who is the marginal person on a bike, how can I blithely assume that there is, in hiding, an entire battalion of them?

As usual, I am merely extending the insights of Dr. Adonia Lugo. In this post she elaborates on the gap between normal and normative when it comes to bicycle riding. She points out that each of us approach culture and transportation differently, and my extension of her statement is that it each of us will require different prerequisites in order to feel comfortable with getting into the bicycle saddle.

I have believed for a long time that people will get in the bicycle saddle when it makes sense for them to do so. This also contributes to my notion that there is no reserve army of bicyclists, as each person’s sense of when it is a good idea to get in the bicycle saddle is different. As advocates for bicycling and generally empathetic people, we have to engage with individuals as individuals, and avoid assuming that they are all equally ready to get on the bicycle.

Another way to think about the reserve-army concept is that it ignores the role of culture in promoting bicycling. Perhaps as Dr. Lugo suggests, people who have been to Copenhagen and Holland return with the idea that bicycling can (and ought) be normative. I’ve previously identified this as the vacuum-cleaner approach, the point being that the bicycle can be just another household appliance like the vacuum cleaner, which is used regularly but doesn’t inspire a lot of devotion or the wearing of special uniforms.

My own experience at the Secret City suggests that the bicycle is not exactly normative for Americans and that young, healthy people, in an environment with bicycles and without privately owned motor vehicles, do not jump into the bicycle saddle in large numbers.

What does this matter? What are the consequences? If there is no reserve army of potential bicyclists, why should you care?

One, advocates can move toward a multifocal approach that empowers individual people on bicycles and away from the single-intervention model of advocacy; two, advocates can engage with bicyclists who are actually bicycling instead of the shadowy reserve army of potential bicyclists; and three, advocates can begin to celebrate bicycling for the joyful activity it can be, instead of regarding it as a transportation chore that needs to be made routine.

Safety Promotion vs. Bicycle Promotion

No doubt you have read about Vision Zero. Canonical Vision Zero thinking means, as I understand it, that authorities create a system that limits the death-dealing aspects of motor vehicles to allow for ordinary humans to safely take part in street life. This Sarah Goodyear interview with Matts-Åke Belin is a pretty good introduction to the original version of the concept.

The execution of the idea here in New York seems rather stale from the perspective of the livable-streets advocate. People are still getting run down by automobile drivers, and authorities still don’t seem to care. Going back to the Belin interview, he shies away from a punitive approach toward a more mechanistic one that sees the street as a system, and both the driver and the pedestrian as points of failure. We Americans are more familiar with a highway-centric view that regards only the pedestrian as the point of failure and takes for granted the astonishing car-on-car violence that we see every day.

As advocates of bicycling, let us bear in mind that Sweden, though a safe place to use the street, is not therefore a priori a bicycling Nirvana. Nobody describes Stockholm as a city whose lifeblood flows on two wheels. The Swedish culture that Belin describes is one where people mix on the street with cars that are traveling slow enough not to kill or maim. This is different from how blogger David Hembrow describes Holland, as a place where cities are designed to keep automobiles away from people on foot and bike.

A look at the descriptively named Vision Zero View website, you will see that New York’s idea of Vision Zero matches up pretty well with the Swedish emphasis on infrastructure design as the key to allowing humans and motor vehicles to coexist. I can envision a New York that does get the speed limit down to 15 mph in residential areas, but that still allows cars to drive through and to park freely on the street.

Bicycle advocates naturally advocate for safer streets. People on bicycles are extremely vulnerable to motor vehicle violence. So we advocates are inclined toward supporting any kind of safety initiative, in the hope that it will result in fewer bicyclists being killed and maimed. Certainly, a Vision Zero New York would have that effect.

I doubt, however, whether it would drive up the rate of people bicycling.

Assume there is a “safety deficit,” that people feel that bicycling is not safe enough for them to take part. Then, assume that vigorous attention has remedied this safety deficit and it’s not there any more. Bicycling is just as safe as people want it to be. Now, let’s ride! In order to encourage our fellow citizens to mount their bicycles, we need a marketing campaign that touts the safety of bicycling as well as its other benefits.

The same marketing campaign to get people into the saddle post-remedy could however also be used pre-remedy. How are we in the future going to communicate the safety of bicycling in a way that is not true today?

People will get in the bicycle saddle when it makes sense for them to get in the bicycle saddle. Spending time trying to make bicycling safer is a worthwhile way to spend time, but I don’t see how it gets more people into the saddle.

I agree with Hembrow. I believe that sharing the streets with motor vehicles, even slow-moving Volvos, diminishes the enjoyment of bicycling significantly. The goal of Vision Zero is not to remove motor vehicles from the streets, but to create an environment where motor vehicles can interact safely with people on foot or bike. This kind of environment is always going to be more favorable to motor vehicles because their spatial requirements are so much greater; cars are much larger and take up much more street area than bicycles or people on foot. Committing to Vision Zero goals means accepting an environment that is not particularly favorable to people on bicycles, an environment that does not necessarily devote more space to bicycles, but asks people on bicycles to share the space they need with newly tamed motor vehicles.

 

Nine fallacies or blurred areas of bicycle advocacy

1. Fundamental attribution error, assuming fallaciously that poor people are not as informed about bicycle transportation as rich people, especially rich people who ride bikes. It is not the case that poor people are unaware that bicycles exist or can be used to go from place to place more cheaply than the bus. It is also not the case that motorists stuck in traffic are unaware that bicycles exist. The flip side of this is the aggressive hunt for people who are absolutely unaware that bicycles exist, who are used as straw men to be set ablaze by the writer’s fiery rhetoric and incendiary logic. See ‘Poor People and Bicycling,’ ‘Despairing Season for Riding a Bicycle.’

2. Subjective worldview, assuming perhaps incorrectly that the advocate’s daily ride is representative of all locals’ daily rides, and therefore that fixing problems along the advocate’s route will make a big difference in ride quality across the city. The other way to conceive of this is to consider the impossibility of ranking poor bicycling conditions across a vast city like New York, especially since truly poor-quality bicycling repels bicyclists, including well-meaning bicycle advocates. See ‘Your Ride is Your Perspective,’ ‘Poor Infrastructure Is Everywhere.’

3. Masochism, or ‘Overcoming Obstacles for Fun.’ Sure, everyone wants to be more virtuous, but bicycling, like most activities, doesn’t make sense for people if it involves too much hassle, discomfort, and frustration. Getting on a bicycle in the wintertime is frustrating and uncomfortable. See ‘Despairing Season for Riding a Bicycle.’ It’s best to recognize this overtly and work on constructive ways to alleviate it, rather than celebrating the suck and hoping that other people are just as masochistic as the advocate. Conversely, masochists fail to celebrate actual joy in the performance of bicycling technique in favor of second-order benefits, like cardiovascular exercise and the ability to perceive the streetscape at pedestrian time-scales. This is tangentially related to Early Adopter Syndrome, in which people who get in on something at the start are consigned to using kludgy, inconvenient equipment to accomplish their goals, while people who start later on benefit from improvements in design. Just think of how much effort and specialized equipment were required in the early 2000s to get one’s bicycle to one’s Manhattan workplace and secure it there; now we have bike share and bikes in buildings!

4. Fighting for inadequate provisions, like these good people complaining that the bike lane on a relatively quiet street hasn’t been repainted, though the street has been marked with a double yellow center line, or this guy suggesting bike paths in highway medians. Oh, the noise! and smell! Let me give you a suggestion. If it would look weird to see a bicycle there, as in “Dad, look! There’s a guy on a bicycle! In the median!” perhaps that’s not the place for a bike lane. Nobody wants to look weird and out of place. Addressing the first issue, is there someone who decided not to bike on Seaman Avenue because the public-works department took away the bicycle lane? Maybe that marginal person on a bike just put the bike back on the balcony and took the bus instead.

5. Focusing on safety promotion instead of bicycle promotion. Assume there is a “safety deficit,” that people feel that bicycling is not safe enough for them to take part. Then, assume that vigorous attention has remedied this safety deficit and it’s not there any more. Bicycling is just as safe as people want it to be. Now, let’s ride! The same marketing campaign to get people into the saddle post-remedy could have been used pre-remedy. How are we in the future going to communicate the safety of bicycling in a way that is not true today? People will get in the bicycle saddle when it makes sense for them to get in the bicycle saddle. Spending time trying to make bicycling safer is a worthwhile way to spend time, but I don’t see how it gets more people into the saddle. See Safety Promotion vs. Bicycle Promotion.

6. Overreliance on imported models. Instead of doing the onerous anthropological work of figuring out who is actually riding a bicycle and how, work that is a natural but perhaps not obvious prerequisite to encouraging more people to ride bicycles, lazy advocates prefer to import models wholesale from the Netherlands and assign them to local populations.  This overlaps somewhat with fundamental attribution bias, especially when zealous Omafiets riders attempt to explain how less doctrinaire bicyclists are doing it wrong by using the bike they had in the garage to commute. Americans are constantly being informed by these kinds of advocates that we are not riding correctly, that all we need is the right kind of neighborhood, the right kind of intersection, the right kind of bike lane, and the right kind of bike and we will be on our bicycles just like the Dutch. Well, yes: if Dutch bicycling is correct then we would do well to build new Hollands everywhere. But if bicycling is so fantastic, why does it have to be done with exactly one kind of bike, and one kind of street? I would prefer to support multiple variations of bicycling technique as I cannot authoritatively pronounce one way better than another.

7. Great expectations from aggregate data. The more people are counted, the more we are supposed to know. But what would we do any differently, knowing 10 times as many people as we thought were using the bike lane? It’s my considered opinion that bicycle infrastructure installation is not particularly dependent on descriptive statistics. The reserve army of bicyclists is not training on rollers, waiting for Mayor De Blasio to build it a bike lane.

8. Measurement bias. Rides that can be measured become the yardstick, and the data that can be conveniently gathered from open data repositories somehow becomes the entire story. I would like to know what the spread and success of local bike shops says for the technique, as local bike shops actually turn bicyclists per se into consumers and job creators, but that data is a lot harder to find. Easier to see how many people are using the local bike share kiosk. This goes along with subjective worldview, as the people who are doing the measuring are the ones providing the worldview.

9. Historical bias, e.g. “Bicycling: Now Safer Than Ever.” Bias toward the past, and what happened in the past, and away from the future, and what we plan to happen. We overvalue the incidents that happened in the past, and neglect to take into account recent interventions to address those incidents, and undervalue what will happen in the future. It took me a while to see this one as its own fallacy. It can be viewed, however, in the inability of safety interventions to change people’s attitudes about the safety of bicycling. Folks will always remember how unsafe it felt the last time they got on a bicycle… in 1999.

Composite Risk Management and Bicycling

Reading through the endless arguments for high-visibility clothing at BikePortland today recalled to me how the Army taught me to use Composite Risk Management. You can follow along with ATP 5-19, the current guidance on the subject. Remember, your tax dollars paid for the development of this tool!

The five steps of Risk Management are:

  1. Identify hazards,
  2. Assess the hazards,
  3. Develop controls and make risk decisions,
  4. Implement controls,
  5. Supervise and evaluate

The Army’s goal is mission accomplishment. Same thing for civilians on a bicycle: we just want to get where we’re going, safely.

So, assuming mission is nighttime bicycling trip, some of the hazards are:

  • Collision with motor vehicles,
  • Poor road conditions (including ice, snowbanks, potholes),
  • Collisions with pedestrians,
  • Mechanical failure of bicycle.

 

The Army has a risk assessment matrix (see page 1-7 in ATP 5-19), with frequency along the x-axis and severity along the y-axis. We evaluate hazards along both axes to determine the risk level for each hazard, and then the highest risk of all hazards is the overall risk level.

Assess hazards:

  • MV collision is occasional and critical, high risk;
  • Poor road conditions are occasional and moderate, medium risk;
  • Collisions with pedestrians are seldom and critical, medium risk;
  • Mechanical failure is seldom and moderate, low risk.

Develop controls:

  • Use off-road paths to avoid MV traffic;
  • Be predictable to MV traffic;
  • Increase visibility to MV traffic by wearing bright clothes and using lights and reflectors (check batteries before trip!);
  • Allow extra travel time (to keep from stressing out and making bad decisions);
  • Avoid arterial roads with speeding MVs.

Maybe that pushes the risk level of an MV collision down to unlikely and critical, or low-risk. The advantage of the matrix is that it helps to clarify the nature of the risk. Collisions with a speeding motor vehicle are of critical severity. Collisions with a slow motor vehicle may only be of moderate severity. Either way, reducing the frequency of the incidence of collisions will reduce the risk level as well.

As for road conditions and collisions with pedestrians, I leave listing the hazards as an exercise for you, the reader. For mechanical failure, ensure that your bicycle is in good working order, with good brakes, batteries in lights, and trued wheels.

So implement your controls, and complete the mission. When you get home, evaluate the controls you used and consider adding other controls. Maybe avoiding left turns in traffic and using Copenhagen (two-step) left turns. Maybe getting a louder bell to warn pedestrians you’re coming. Maybe switching to the bike with disc brakes on really wet days.

From the risk-management perspective, wearing more high-visibility clothes is just one possible control against motor vehicle collisions. There are others. You get to choose which ones you want to employ, because it’s your safety at stake.