Encountering Greatness

Some bloggers are better than others. Today I encountered greatness. I’m writing today about an exemplary article exploring the fear of pedaling on streets. It was emailed by a local pedaler to me as a list member. The email contained only a link to the article and the name of an organization with which the sender is affiliated. With such a soft sell, I am afraid few will read it. The article and its author, Dave Horton, deserve louder trumpets. Placing a link on my blog won’t help much, but it will have to do for now. I can also say it is one of the best pieces I have read on the subject. If you care a wit about bicycling, healthy lifestyles, livable cities or the environment, please take the time to read it. You might require as many as 30 minutes. If that’s all the time you have, stop reading my post and  read the article!

Mr. Horton clearly meant to work fresh soil. Straight away the discussion was extended beyond fear of traffic and accidents into other fears discussed too infrequently in this context, if recognized at all, such as the fear of putting ourselves on display, passing through urban areas, embarrassment due to lack of skills or fitness and being identified as an outsider. Issues that experienced pedalers can easily forget but can discourage folks from pedaling on the road nonetheless. He also explored negative effects of improperly executed road safety education, helmet promotion and separate cycling facilities. These concepts are more familiar to me, but are nevertheless important and were very skillfully worked into the mix.

Mr. Horton’s historical references make his work shine. A light-bulb switched on for me as I read about motoring advocacy groups in the first half of the 20th century encouraging programs aimed at teaching children to stay safe by staying off busy streets. Did the motoring groups want to keep kids safe, or was their aim to help motorists travel more rapidly with greater ease and to shift the burden of safety away from their motorized numbers and onto the lowly pedestrians? Interesting questions. Pretty clear today that the bulk of safety education is aimed at molding behavior of vulnerable road users rather than motorists. Mr. Horton can help us see that we might be looking through the wrong end of the telescope. After all, who is undertaking the dangerous behavior? The kid walking or pedaling to school, or the adult piloting the 3,000 pound vehicle at excessive speeds through residential neighborhoods? Instead of placing the responsibility for safety on the kids, it could have been placed on the motorists at the dawn of the motoring age. If not properly placed then, it could be adjusted with some effort today.

Mr. Horton drops an interesting counter example, again taken from the first half of the 20th century. Seems that not everyone was on-board with the tactics advanced by motoring advocay groups. One pedaling club labored mightily throughout the first half of the 20th century to situate the burden of safety on motorists, not other road users. The group fought against mandatory rear lights on bicycles on the theory that it placed the onus for safety on the pedaler instead of on the motorist. May seem strange to some of us today, as our mental roots have grown thick drinking from the well dug long ago by a motorist rights group (and maintained to this day, some assert, by groups such as AAA (and here)), but Mr. Horton will help you put down some new roots. We need all the help we can get. Too many education programs remain in-line with the desire of the early motoring advocacy groups under which pedalers are considered strangers best pushed to the side of the road out of the way of the hastily motoring majority.

The article makes clear our fears’ foundation was laid decades ago and we are doing little to dismantle it. Sadly, some attempts to make pedaling safer place fear front and center and increase our insecurity in the process. Greater insecurity means fewer cyclists and fewer cyclists makes cycling more dangerous for the remaining few. We’ve put ourselves into a dangerous downward spiral. It will take a lot of folks a lot of years to correct the problem. Up to the task? Start by reading the article!

In other news, I am preparing for a night of Scrabble with seven friends. Strategy book has been cracked and tiny green shoots of improvement are breaking through the soil. Even if my scores don’t impress, my cupcakes have a chance of being a hit. I’ll enjoy one, anyway!

Postscript: I won two of two games last night. This strategy book is a hot ticket!

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