Designing and Educating for Bicycling

Every effort to promote bicycling hinges on a clear understanding of how bicycling works in the context of the overall transportation ecosystem.  The guiding principle for bicycling is commonly referred to as vehicular cycling.  A more modern term is bicycle driving.  It is the basis for safe coexistence with traffic and conforming to the rules of the road.   If you’ve ever operated your bicycle on an ordinary residential street, going with traffic, then you’re already doing it.  Bicycle driving is what is taught in the Safe Routes To Schools curriculum, and every other bicycling education program.   Complete Streets is the design aspect for bringing bicycling into the mainstream by designing streets for bikes.  The educational component is bicycle driving, and it instills confidence for people to be fully empowered to use bicycles to travel anywhere.

The Bike League’s curriculum and all bicycling education programs are designed “to create a mindset that bikes are treated as a vehicle” (from becoming an instructor).  This mindset instills a sense of proportional responsibility and is the basis of appropriate relationships for bicyclists to all kinds of traffic and traffic control devices.  This mindset shared by all sets the tone for great streets and trails.  On the multiuse trail this principle guides bicycles to yield to pedestrians and equestrians, gauging travel speeds accordingly.  On the road the bicycle driving principle means the most predicable, safe, and visible way to move is with the vehicular traffic flow.  Even when there is physical separation between motorized traffic and bicycle traffic, such as with a protected bike lane, the motions of the two traffic streams must always be coordinated and mutually aware.  This is especially true at intersections, driveways, and parking zones when traffic mixes and the cooperative environment depends on predictable movements, communication, awareness, negotiation, and common rules to which all traffic adheres.  Complete Streets policies support design environments that welcome bicycle traffic and lower traffic stress so that people have a better chance to positively orient to the road with whichever mode they choose.  A Complete Street is as an inclusive place and built on the underlying structure of relationships between varying types of traffic.  Traffic skills education is a complimentary factor that facilitates pleasant travel by fostering order and raising awareness.  Design and education work in tandem to promote good bicycling.

Most people have some reservations about bicycling because they are not clear how bikes fit in.  Forward looking solutions include education for drivers to respect all kinds of traffic, and treating bicycles as an equal vehicle, welcoming diversity.  Most bicycle traffic occurs on roads without a designated bicycle facility such as a bicycle lane.  A regular travel lane needs to be at least 14 feet wide for it to be safely shared side by side by a car and a bicycle.  Seeing bicycle traffic using a general travel lane may look different than what we are used to.  I trust we are acclimating to bicycles as a normal component of traffic and civic life in the mainstream, just like we are welcoming diverse religions, cultures, and lifestyles.  Change takes a new attitude, an open mind, and in the case of roads, traffic calming and the conception of an inclusive space.

Bicycles are good for the transportation ecosystem.  As we design and educate better for bicycles, include bicycle traffic in our engineering metrics and traffic flow analysis, and we learn more about what bicycling can do for us and we do it more, things are going to get a lot easier, safer and more attractive.  The quicker we can make these changes, the sooner we can move ahead.  In the Southwest, Utah and Colorado are already in the bike friendly top ten.

For understanding bicycling, I’ve benefited from the generosity of the creator of azbikelaw.org.  For the last two years, Ed has suggested reading related to bicycle law, roadway design, engineering, and traffic behavior.  He has a “do it yourself” entrepreneurial attitude and continues his education, applying critical thinking and analytical skills to practical experience to spur progress.  Ed responds cordially to questions, and links people to resources.  Always there to foster more informed dialogue.  Some of the lessons were tough, like the lessons from a cyclist who was killed by a hit from behind on a charity ride in Cornville.  Ed’s analysis and documentation is brave and courageous, like the novelist Cormac McCarthy’s willingness to tell the story of violence in Western culture and its continuum past to present.  AZ Bike Law is my August 2015 Bike Org of the Month.  Thanks for your diligence and enthusiasm Ed.

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Please be kind to persons bicycling, walking, rolling, driving autos and commercial vehicles.  Drive with care and caution.  Forgiveness and understanding.  We are all learning.  Gracias!

long Crest road

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