Thursday, February 8, 2007



Students and others won't ride on the footpath because it slows them down. We need a program to teach how to ride as safely as possible on the road. This does not mean always riding where the bike pictures are painted on Newcastle’s main roads. It is not mandatory to ride in these “bike lanes” and when there is not enough room for safety we shouldn’t ride there (e.g. when a parked car door would hit you if it opened, and many other examples).

Australia talks about wide lanes and narrow lanes. Britain talks about primary position and secondary position. The Dutch have 3 categories, not 2. Wide lanes, narrow lanes, and "critical width" lanes. A critical width lane is a lane that looks wide to the motorist trying to overtake, but in reality doesn't have enough width. The answer is to position yourself so that your lane is never critical. Ride far enough out to remove the ambiguity, and make it obviously narrow.

When I started riding away from the gutter and parked cars, my enjoyment of cycling went way up and the number of close passes decreased dramatically, and I am much better able to deal with those drivers who overtake. Primary position riding makes it much easier to deal with cross traffic and road hazards as well.

The problem is that the idea of moving INTO the traffic in order to get it to move AWAY from you is not intuitive. So, without instruction, even experience doesn't teach cyclists anything except "cars pass too close." It doesn't occur to the "experienced" but uneducated cyclist that there might be something they can do about that. This drives a lot of cyclists onto the sidewalks in fear, and that ultimately puts them in even greater danger.

Mind you, you should not ride too far out. You want the motorist behind to think that the reason he cannot share the lane is because the road is too narrow. You do NOT want him to think that he cannot share the lane merely because you are selfishly blocking him from using it. I don't get a lot of it, but I ignore rude beeps and yells (not only ignore as input to any action I will take on the roadway... and but also don't allow it to impact my state of mind.)

All the vehicular bike skills reading material is great, but limited. It will teach you how to ride in traffic, but it won't make you comfortable in traffic. Start riding as much as you can stand on streets that make you a little bit uncomfortable. Eventually you will get used to them, and you will feel comfortable. Move up to slightly busier streets. You will get comfortable with them. Keep up this progression until you can ride anywhere.

The Need for More Cyclists

Remarks of Charles Komanoff Bicycle Education Leadership Conference / League of American Bicyclists New York City • May 3, 2005

There is nothing ailing the world that can’t be helped by more bicycling. Name your favorite, or unfavorite malady, and I’ll tell you how more cycling will help:

Global warming (climate havoc)?, Peak oil / oil depletion?, U.S. collaboration with despotic regimes that spawn terror?, Traffic gridlock?, Urban decay and community disintegration?, Disease and disability?, Exploding medical costs?, Youth alienation?, (Ask for volunteer maladies)

The world needs more bicycling. Bicycling needs more bicycling, as I explain later. My point now is to broaden your mission; to expand it from safe cycling & effective cycling to more cycling. Because more cycling is good for your town & our planet AND it’s the best way to get to safe cycling & effective cycling.

Let’s begin with a few key questions. 1. What is safe cycling? 2. What is safety? Is safety not part of something larger, called health? My pole star for these questions is the noted policy analyst Mayer Hillman. In a landmark study for the British Medical Association, Hillman found that the health benefits of regular cycling, in terms of life years gained, far outweighed the actuarial loss of life from road accidents. Even in Britain’s anti-cycling road environment, Hillman found, each minute of lost life-expectancy from the increased probability of crash injury or death to some cyclists was offset 10-fold by the increased longevity from improved cardiovascular health of other cyclists. Let me put this a different way: Hillman demonstrated the risk of not cycling. This is not just a rhetorical point — though it’s very effective rhetoric, as I find in conversations with non-cyclists here. “How can you ride a bike in New York City?” they ask, and I say, “I couldn’t live here if I didn’t ride a bike.” “Isn’t it dangerous?” they say, and I say, “It’s dangerous not to,” and then I tell them about Hillman.

There’s a further point, just as important — for us — as Hillman’s. It’s the benefit to cyclist safety when more people cycle. Cyclists like having other cyclists around. Not just to lend a wrench or help fix a flat, but for a far bigger reason: our larger presence on the road compels drivers to take notice of us. Researchers in several countries are documenting, and quantifying, this safety-in-numbers effect: they’re observing a “power law” relationship of approximately 0.6 between cyclist numbers and cyclist safety. What does that mean? It means that the probability that an individual cyclist on a particular road or in a city or region will be struck by a motorist declines with the 0.6 power of the number of cyclists on that road or in that region. Maybe I should give an example. Say the number of cyclists triples. Since three raised to the negative 0.6 power is roughly one-half, each tripling in cycling volume brings about a halving of each cyclist’s crash risk. Now say the number of cyclists increases nine-fold, that is, triples twice. Then each cyclist’s crash risk is halved twice, i.e., it falls by three-fourths. Safety-in-numbers means that none of the things we talk about for individual safety — helmets, blinkies, Effective CyclingTR — will improve the safety of the individual cyclist as much as increasing the number of cyclists on our roads. That’s why I say that what bicycling mostly needs is... more bicycling.

One way to achieve the “numbers” part of safety-in-numbers quickly, is by promoting and participating in the worldwide monthly cycling event known as Critical Mass. What makes Critical Mass feel so good, even magical, is the chance it offers to ride a bike without being swamped by a sea of cars… the chance to enjoy the astonishing fact of navigating a city under your own power… the chance to transform the motorized craziness of the street into something gentler. And it’s all because of safety in numbers. But safety in numbers works both ways: Critical Mass is generating new energy for cycling. Bringing in new riders. Providing training wheels, if you will, for cycling wannabes who find solo bike-riding too daunting. Creating a buzz for cycling. Providing a venue to dress up one’s bike — a “pimp my ride” for cycling. Getting cycling out of its geek ghetto into someplace more appealing to the 99% of people who don’t consider themselves “cyclists.”

In this context, it’s quite an irony that in the city where we are meeting today, the Mayor and the Police Department have recently undertaken the most brutal, expensive, and extravagant repression of Critical Mass ever, anywhere in this broad, and ever-broadening, land of ours. Don’t think for a minute that this is some crazy New York aberration. Today New York — tomorrow Austin, or Ann Arbor, or San Francisco. The hysterical persecution of Critical Mass that we’re seeing here is not about cyclists running red lights or “blocking traffic” or inconveniencing motorists. It is nothing but a moral panic about cycling — the same demonization that occurs and recurs across America, whenever drivers feel entitled to imperil cyclists for taking up “their” space; when radio shock-jocks urge listeners to run cyclists off the road; when municipalities ban cycling in their central districts, as many towns in this state and elsewhere have done. Why cyclists? A more harmless group would be hard to find. I suspect it’s because of our harmlessness — we’re the scapegoats for the bad conscience of a culture that knows, on some level, that it can’t continue on its present path. We demonstrate the alternative — so we can’t be tolerated. A society in denial simply can’t stand to see us. The real problem we face is not poor visibility or bad signage or insufficient skills or inadequate equipment. The problem we face is... hatred. We need to recognize that initiatives for individual safety can only go so far … and must be complemented, every step of the way, by the political and cultural struggle for social recognition of cycling as a legitimate, valid and valorized way to get around. (Ed’s note: For Australian Wheels of Justice bike group, striving for similar goals:

So I’m happy to report the Bicycle Federation of America is incubating a new project aimed at transforming the prevailing paradigms of American traffic law and culture: at moving from individual safety to social safety, and from traffic safety to traffic justice. For now, I urge you to go back to your communities with the knowledge that teaching people to be better cyclists, while helpful, isn’t enough. All of us need to work as well on getting more cyclists on the road, and simultaneously widening the discourse of cycling advocacy and safety to include justice. The contemporary historian Benjamin DeMott tells us, “Great causes nourish themselves on firm, sharp awareness of the substance of injustice. The country’s very foundations, indeed, lie in clearly defined understanding of injustices.”

MEDIA RELEASE Feb 9th 2007 100 Free bikes for students “With University, Tafe, and school students going back to study, they have the opportunity to get one of 100 pre-loved bicycles for free from the Newcastle Bike Ecology Centre. Many students and young people set a great example by using more healthier transport than the working populace, but the opportunity for more walking and bicycle use still exists”, Daniel says.
“This is an initiative to focus on people that have yet to be hooked on fossil fuels and those dangerous fast cars. With Catastrophic Climate Change a real threat, we need an even healthier transport alternative to the gas guzzling small cars and expensive Aluminium framed push-bikes. Aluminium production is highly energy intensive, and so using a pre-loved bicycle means saving lots of green house gases that are emitted from producing any new bike. “,Daniel continued.

“To register for this offer leave your contact details at the Newcastle Bike Ecology Centre. People willing to learn and help fix a pre-loved bicycle will get first choice. Learning to fix your own bike gives you the confidence of safely maintaining it and being able to fix minor breakdowns.“, Daniel said.

“Why get stressed by both studying and ALSO getting stressed on the way to your study place? Get fit, and have some bikefun at the same time to cycle away your worries.“ Daniel concluded.