The bread and butter of bikability

The City of Boise is reeling following two fatal accidents between bicycles and automobiles. One happened in daylight and the other at night. Both have left the community and city officials pushing for more bike lanes in the city.

Bike Lanes in Montreal. Photo via Flickr, 2013.

Bike Lanes in Montreal. Photo via Flickr, 2013.

While bike lanes are a necessity for bikability, they are not the bread and butter of bikability. What is the bread and butter? Education, and not just for the cyclists themselves.

According to the Idaho Statesman, this year’s deaths mark the first since three fatalities in 2009. One of those accidents happened when a driver swerved into a bike lane. This is a concrete example of how bike lanes alone are not enough.

Another example comes from New York City. Casey Neistat was ticketed in New York City for riding outside the bike lane. There was a car parked in his way and he had no choice but to venture outside his designated area. Neistat responded to the ticket by filming a video of him riding into all the obstructions that were located in the bike lanes throughout the city. He did so to show that bike lanes are not always the safest place for bikers.

While Boise is no New York, and some of that will never be an issue here, bike lanes in Boise will have unique obstructions of their own. Sections of lanes will have to be closed for road construction. Since bike lanes are to be located on the fringes of the roads they are also subject to the pileup of debris, backed up rain water, and ice and snow in the winter. From time to time, it will be necessary for bikes to be on the “regular” lanes of traffic.

What the City of Boise, or any city for that matter, needs is not just bike lanes, but better education for the drivers of automobiles.

Many cycling awareness groups and campaigns focus on what bikers should do to be safe. Boise’s Look! Save a Life program, started following one of the fatalities in 2009, includes links like “How to not get hit by cars” and a page designated to their rider’s pledge which is a pledge to follow traffic laws, wear a helmet and wear reflective clothing. The Boise Bicycle Project offers free classes on commuting to cyclists, and Boise Street Smart Cycling offers classes not only on commuting, but one on winter commuting, and also classes for children. But none have designated time or web pages to driving safe in a city filled with bikers.

Even in an article by the Idaho Statesman that covers the recent fatalities of pedestrians and bicyclists, the only topic of discussion is what bikers can do to be safer. It doesn’t even touch upon what drivers should be doing.

These San Francisco bike lanes are supposed to be next to the curb, with parallel parking lanes acting as a buffer between traffic and cyclists, but drivers continue to park their automobiles right up to the curb, taking over some of the bike lane. Photo courtesy of Flickr, 2013

These San Francisco bike lanes are supposed to be next to the curb, with parallel parking lanes acting as a buffer between traffic and cyclists. But drivers continue to park their automobiles right up to the curb, taking over some of the bike lane and leaving bikers exposed.
Photo courtesy of Flickr, 2013

As far back as 2007, a local biker sought to educate the public on Idaho Laws regarding bike’s on the road. On his blog, The Bike Nazi, he compiled a list of common complaints and concerns about bicyclists. Comments were taken from the news and public newspaper forums. He then referred these issues back to state law to try and close the knowledge gap.

Awareness campaigns will help to educate the community.  Every May, for motorcycle awareness month, education campaigns, ads, and rallies are ran throughout the state to raise awareness of motorcycles on the road. The Idaho Transportation Department is a partner in the campaign and they encourage everyone to “look twice for motorcycles.” Why are we not encouraging everyone to “look twice for bicycles?”

Other cities in the nation are doing what they can to raise awareness of bikes on the road; Texas A & M University, Washington DC, Juneau, AK, University of Pennsylvania, Pittsburg, and New York City have all sought to raise awareness of cyclists.

Bike lanes are great. They are comforting to cyclists and help draw awareness of the possibility of bikers.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia, 2013

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia, 2013

But a bike lane or not, if a driver takes a left through an intersection without looking for bikers there is going to be an accident. Bike lanes didn’t keep the accident from happening in 2009 and they aren’t enough to stop accidents from happening in the future.

What will keep accidents at bay is better awareness, education, and respect for all the users of the road not just those in automobiles.

4 thoughts on “The bread and butter of bikability

  1. Great article. As someone who biked for the main source of transportation for years I can say Boise (and other cities) have too many drivers who do not consider bicyclists at all while driving. They have the attitude that since they’re bigger, bicyclists should get out of their way. I think education for drivers could go a long way to prevent tragedies like the recent wrecks from happening again.

    • It really struck me as interesting that even bicycle awareness organizations are more focused on what cyclists have to do to be safe than what automobile drivers can do! It’s as if society thinks this is a short term fad and people will return to their cars before much longer.

  2. Agreed. If you visit cities when drivers are more aware and possibly polite towards cyclists and pedestrians, it is usually because the city is build for active transportation and everyone has the chance to “walk a mile in their shoes”. Being a driver makes me a better cyclist, and being a cyclist makes me a far better driver. Being a pedestrian makes me realize that most everyone is inconsiderate and incompetent when it comes to transport 🙂

  3. Thanks for the article, Malori. Great post.

    Recently a group of locals talked about this issue on Facebook, but the conversation reached a stalemate when one contributor alleged that if a cyclist is killed or injured while riding on the road, the blame lies with the cyclist. Naturally, the bike-riding contributors to the conversation took issue with this characterization.

    On the big bike debate, some might say there’s a culture war a-brewin’. The Atlantic has a new post previewing filmmaker Fredrik Gertten’s forthcoming, aptly-titled documentary, “Bikes vs. Cars,” and while he claims he’s not trying to “take on the auto industry,” the subject matter invariably turns to an “us vs. them” rift that’s developed between motorists and cyclists.

    It’s worth checking out. Here’s the link:

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