Bicycling: A Paradigm Shift
by David Smith, www.bicycledriver.com
Bicycling in traffic can be more fun than driving a car when you learn simple social skills for the traffic environment. The bicycle is a narrow vehicle allowing sharing lanes of suitable width. The cyclist can take different positions within a lane while the cyclist's body is visible to other drivers. The visual effects of looking, positioning, signaling and pedaling can be enhanced with simple training, so intentions become far more transparent. With sharing and communication, cyclists have a superior ability to cooperate with other traffic. These simple social skills for the traffic environment allow cyclists to take the position "drivers" following the rules of the road use for their destination, and where "drivers" focus their attention, so cyclists are more reliably seen and understood when they are seen.
Cyclists can learn to access just about all our streets and traffic while feeling as confident about bicycle driving as we feel about car driving. With good training, beginning traffic cyclists can learn these skills in a few hours.
Unfortunately, only a very few cyclists have the training and quality of experience to "drive" a bicycle so competently and confidently. The common, even universal attitude is that motorized traffic makes cycling unpleasant and even dangerous. The pace and discipline of motorized traffic makes untrained cyclists feel unwelcome on our streets and doubt that cyclists can follow traffic rules as motorists do. This leaves almost all cyclists looking not for training, but for space away from traffic, even when riding on streets with cars. Looking for their own space, cyclists miss simple, easily learned methods of communication and cooperation with traffic.
In our modern society, doctors go to medical school. Lawyers go to law school. Airplane pilots go to flight school. Motorists take drivers training and get a driver's license before driving in traffic on their own. In our culture, it is only bicyclists who are denied training and are expected to learn on their own if they are to learn at all. In so many areas of our life we recognize the necessity of education and training and we demand it as a necessity for civil life.
Peoples we once discriminated against were denied education. In response, the right to good education has been one of their key demands. If we can imagine the consequences of a society that denied training to doctors, lawyers, pilots and motorists, so that they trained themselves as bicyclists train themselves today, then we might begin to understand the implications for bicyclists.
Bicyclists once dominated our streets only to loose to the competition from motorized vehicles. Some motorists competed with cyclists by promoting a negative view of cycling on our streets, claiming that motorized vehicles make bicycling unpleasant and even dangerous for cyclists. This view took root after decades when only children rode bicycles, and therefore the cycle of knowledge was broken between adults accomplished in traffic cycling and children who needed to learn.
Today, this motoring culture with its sour, negative attitude about cycling in traffic dominates our society's perceptions of bicycling. The consequences for bicycling are devastating, discouraging cyclists from learning traffic skills while we focus instead on finding our own space away from traffic, and unfortunately, away from many popular roads with important and useful destinations.
Recently, I discussed this opportunity, and my work on it with Chuck Ayers, director of Cascade. We agreed that cycling skills have great potential for improving bicycling and its safety. The difficult part is persuading cyclists to make the commitment to sign up for "bicycle driving classes". Classes for bike maintenance, and riding faster and farther fill, but Chuck noted that bicycle driving classes fail for lack of students. The problem, Chuck agreed, is marketing and selling training for bicycle driving skills.
I have videotaped typical cyclists, and then had my example taped for comparison. I also developed a positive view of cycling in traffic that I feel is consistent with the good cycling skills I have learned. When I present a positive view of cycling along with video to show the skills, the response has been far more favorable than I had imagined. A positive view of cycling encourages cyclists to learn, improves the ability of motorists to understand and accept cycling while improving the willingness of many to consider bicycling for transportation.