Tuesday, June 14, 2016

How Do We Address Poor Cycling Habits?

There are a dizzying number of bicyclists here in Springfield who ride illegally and dangerously. Biking on the sidewalk is the norm, and riding against traffic - in the left lane or the wrong way on a one-way street - is not a rarity. Bicyclists who ride on the streets in the correct lane often don't yield at stop signs and almost never obey stop lights. Though it should be noted that in Missouri bicyclists are legally allowed to run a red light when the light fails to change for a bicycle and it is safe to cross.

But are these sidewalk bicyclists and cycling salmon even aware of what is safe, appropriate, and legal? In many cases, I'd say no. Many of these people likely haven't been on a bicycle since they were children, when they were urged to stay out of traffic and to ride on the sidewalk by concerned parents. Then they become adults and decide to try out cycling again. They swing a leg over a cheap bike, get out on the sidewalk to ride, and largely see other bicyclists not obeying traffic laws. This only affirms continued incorrect and unsafe behavior.

So how do we address this type of behavior? Certainly formal classes are an option. Ginger and I signed up for a Safe City Cycling class in Columbia, MO years ago, but didn't come back after the first night because of how boring the class was and how much time it took up (if I remember correctly, the class included three sessions that were three hours each). Does a 19 year old college student who is taking classes full-time and working 30 hours a week really have time to take a class like this? Doubtful. What about a working parent who is putting in 16-hour days at work and caring for kids? I don't think so. Or a teen whose parents are practically absent (or actually absent), and who is struggling to stay enrolled in school and is sometimes sleeping on the streets? Definitely not. This is a great option for fledgling bike commuters who are sufficiently motivated and have the time, but for everyone else, it's not a feasible option.

An alternative that would cast a wider net would be marketing campaigns, media, and/or public service announcements. I was lucky enough to be involved with one such campaign several years ago, when Ginger and I were working closely with the Healthy Living Alliance. We made a video that covered the key rules for the road for bicyclists, which was then circulated broadly on social media and television. These methods are limited, as it's hard to convey much information in these types of short sound bites, but it's a good way to get a quick message or two out to a broad audience.

Boots on the ground campaigns are probably the most impactful. When we lived in Columbia, MO, the police launched a program in which they would stop bicyclists who were riding after dark without lights, explain the city ordinance on bicycle light and reflector requirements, then give the bicyclist free front and rear bike lights. Not a bad idea. I've also often considered making a "No Bicycles on Sidewalk" stencil and painting it on sidewalks throughout downtown as a constant reminder for sidewalk cyclists. After all, if I'm rolling over that sign with onlookers glancing from the stencil to me openly ignoring it, I'm going to feel pretty sheepish.

In reality, educating cyclists on appropriate, safe, and lawful bicycle use likely requires a combination of all of the above, plus other methods I haven't thought of. Unfortunately, the police in Springfield don't seem to have much of an interest in bicyclists who are riding incorrectly and illegally. What's more, the Healthy Living Alliance no longer operates as the functional entity that it was when we first moved to Springfield, and most of the other bicycling and transportation organizations in the area largely ignore downtown and Springfield's central core, which is where inexperienced bicyclists seem to be most highly concentrated. As of right now, the best I can do is keep riding legally and appropriately and act as an example to others. So that's what I'll do.

No comments:

Post a Comment