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|Bicycle Friendly Roads
By Arthur Ross
Is bicycling dangerous? Bicyclists get asked this all the time. Some people think that by just getting on a bicycle and riding down the street, bicyclists are endangering themselves in some way. But bicycling is not an inherently dangerous activity. In fact, it is one of the healthiest things you can do.
The U.S. surgeon general’s 1996 Report on Physical Activity and Health said: "Regular physical activity that is performed on most days of the week reduces the risk of developing or dying from some of the leading causes of illness and death in the United States."
The same study also reported that more than 60 percent of adults and nearly half of young people ages 12 to 21 do not achieve the recommended amount of regular physical activity.
If I were a doctor, I would write every patient a prescription to ride a bicycle. A five-mile, 30-minute bike ride on most days is all you need to stay healthy. The best way to ensure getting this "vitamin" daily is to incorporate it into your daily routine by bicycling to work, on errands, or to visit friends.
Despite the evidence, a lot of well-meaning bicycle safety efforts focus on the supposed "dangers" or "hazards" of bicycling. What they are really trying to address but rarely admit -- is the danger that car drivers pose to bicyclists, as opposed to any inherent danger in riding a bicycle. These safety efforts focus on the bicyclist behavior, including the wearing of helmets. This is a good starting point, but it does not go far enough. Wearing a helmet only makes it relatively safer to crash; otherwise it does nothing to make bicycling safer.
Educational programs aimed solely at bicyclists overlook the fact that motorist behavior often jeopardizes bicyclist safety. Indeed, road rage is often evident in car-bike interactions. Motorists desperately need training in sharing the road with bicyclists; and all road users need to replace "get out of my way" with safe, courteous responses.
Bicycle safety also has a lot to do with the way we design our communities, neighborhoods and individual streets.
The United States Department of Transportation set two goals in April 1994: to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities to bicyclists by 10 percent; and to double the percentage of trips made by bicycle. An April 1999 progress report compared data on bicycle crashes and bicycle use from 1990 to similar data for 1995. Bicyclist injuries fell 15 percent, though fatalities fell by less than one percent. And while bicycle use as a percentage of all trips increased by 16 percent, still bicycles were ridden less than one percent of all trips.
If we want to further increase the number of bicycling trips while reducing injuries, then we have to look at improving the environment that bicyclists operate within. Some recommendations:
* streets with adequate width, lower car speeds and volumes
* neighborhood destinations such as schools, stores, and jobs close enough to housing so that the bicycle becomes an obvious transit choice
* communities that promote all transportation modes equally a bike plan should not be a garnish on the overall transportation plan.
Anyone who seriously wants to improve bicyclist safety or who cares about improving peoples’ health should be promoting the bicycle. Their goal should be to develop bicycle-friendly communities where they live, work and study.
Arthur Ross has been a year ‘round bicycle commuter for 20 years. He is the Bicycle-Pedestrian Coordinator for the City of Madison; however, the views expressed in this article are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect the official position of his employer or any other organization with which he is affiliated. Article with permission from the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.