The Online Voice of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Teaching Safe Choices

I started to write a long post about bicycling safety. It included lots of statistics, facts, and figures. Ultimately, though, I found it very difficult to write about staying safe on a bike. When it comes to defining "safe," you'll get as many different definitions as people you ask.

Remember when your mom or dad taught you to ride a bike and told you "Only ride on the sidewalk"? Many adult bicyclists still adhere to that advice in the mistaken belief that it's safer on sidewalks.

Remember how your running coach always told you to run against traffic so you could see cars coming? Adult cyclists want to see what's coming, too, and ride the wrong way against traffic in a mistaken belief that's safer than having cars approach from behind.

Remember how as a pedestrian you could, at opportune moments, ignore the signal and dash across the street real quick with no negative repercussions? Even more than pedestrians, bicyclists hate having to slow or stop, and many blatantly run stop lights (not to mention stop signs!).

People firmly believe that these activities really are safer.

My question (questions, really) for you, then, is this: How should we as informed bicyclists respond in these situations? A very few bicyclists engaging in dangerous and rude behavior makes bicycling less safe for all of us. Do we have a responsibility to educate misinformed bicyclists as we see them putting themselves in danger? Is there a way to do this effectively, without sounding like an obnoxious know-it-all? Is it possible to improve safety and enjoyment for bicyclists and motorists alike through on-the-spot education?

Or must we simply fall back on the truth that the only person you can control is yourself?


  1. You are using inflammatory language. It's not blatantly running stop signs when you slow down, look both ways & proceed without stopping to conserve momentum. Second, I'm not willing to ride across the Ballard or Aurora bridges on the street. If you are going to publish a blog get actual bicyclist to write for it.

  2. I don't think you should try to confront strangers, but do be a good example to others. If you ride safely, then others will emulate you, hopefully. And as for stop lights and signs, we're expected to fully stop not for safety but to appease motorists, arguably. Not sure if it's worth arguing about this point.

    If you have friends or family that ride, ride with them. Or, if they aren't comfortable, then suggest a class or group they could join.

  3. Hey Mr. "You are using inflammatory language," funny how your parting shot could be called not only flammable, but disrespectful.

    What was the point of your comment? Do you think you might have any real contribution to make to this shift in transportation culture?

    Your fear of riding on the Ballard and Aurora bridges is reason enough to jump in and work for positive change....

    As for being blatant about stop signs, my guess is that you are frustrated at not being able to perfect a track stand stop.

    I have talked with hundreds of bike/ped/car roadway and trail users, and for all of the resentment that each has about the others, EVERYONE of them has answered yes to my question of whether education on sharing the road could make a positive difference.

    Do you have any ideas on how to deliver the share the road message? How much of your behavior would you be willing to reconsider and change for the common good?

    I am not anonymous, call me @ 206-224-9252 x 304

  4. My driver friends seem to only notice cyclists who are breaking the law. (When we are law-abiding, we blend into the traffic more, go figure!) Your last comment has some truth to it--we can only control our own actions and reactions. I try to obey the traffic laws and hope others follow suit. When there are more of us out there obeying the laws, my driver friends will start to take notice.