Last Friday we were visited by a group of students from the Rotterdam Business School who’ve travelled half way around the world in the name of bike advocacy. They spent a week riding around LA, meeting with city officials, transit planners, local advocates, and everyday riders to get a sense of the current state of our bike culture and better understand why there’s such a large gap between ridership and safety in the US vs back home in the Netherlands. They even visited us here at HQ to present their progress and give us some insight on what we can do to help make biking better in the States.
What They Learned
Some of their findings won’t surprise you. Cars are lame, bikes are awesome, and mixing the two is a dangerous recipe when drivers aren’t aware. In the Netherlands, they responded to the mid-century rise in road deaths by embracing two-wheeled transport. They built the infrastructure and the incentives to make riding more appealing and they’ve enjoyed reduced injuries and a healthier and happier population ever since.
High-ridership also means that the people driving over there understand what it’s like to be on a bike and so are more likely to behave courteously and safely around them. Whereas here in the US, even those who aren’t distracted by phones, just don’t realize what it’s like to be piloting 20-pounds of steel inches from 3500-pound vehicles.
The solution? Get more people riding. The more bikes on the road, the more likely drivers are to be looking out for them, and the safer the roads get for everyone. Plus, new riders tend to also be drivers and that means when they’re back behind the wheel they benefit from their new perspective as well. They recommend everyone try commuting to work on two wheels. You replace one of the worst parts of your day with some fresh air, exercise, and the whole community benefits. And there’s no better time to give it a try then National Bike Month!
What We Learned
Interestingly, helmets and road safety have a more contentious relationship than you’d expect. There are studies showing that riders wearing helmets are more likely to exhibit risky behavior, that drivers are less careful around riders wearing helmets, and that helmets really don’t provide protection in bike/car collisions. Worse, mandatory helmet laws reduce ridership, and in turn make the roads less safe for those still willing to don the plastic.
The fact is, helmets are designed for low-speed falls (think a kid tipping over when she learns to ride), but they’re not some magic talisman that will ward off injuries when you meet two tons of texter at 45mph. That’s not to say you shouldn’t wear a helmet, it’s a personal call and I wear one on my commute, but you should be aware of their effect on the broader bike community and overall road safety. We should also actively discourage the sanctimonious victim-blaming of publications reporting on the helmet-status of a rider in an accident, especially when the helmet wouldn’t have provided any protection (for example, when a truck runs over a rider's legs… a helmet wouldn’t have made a difference).
Another interesting development they shared is the rise in e-bikes and their ability to open up biking to everyone. As pedal-assist becomes more popular, biking becomes an option for those that would be otherwise unable to power themselves around. The fact is a lot of people drive just because they lack the physical ability to travel any other way, but e-bikes will mean everyone from your neice to your grandma will be able to pop out to the store, load up on groceries, and pedal home – all without the pollution, parking, road wear, gas, etc… And we can’t wait to get there.
What you can do to help?
So what can you do to make biking better where you live (and all over the world)? Start by following their progress to stay up to date on the latest and greatest in the world of bikes. Support national and local advocacy organizations (like People for Bikes and the LACBC) to keep people fighting for your safety on the road. And most importantly, ride.
Every time you hit the streets, it’s a statement in favor happier, healthier transportation. The simple act of riding, helps encourage others to take the plunge, raises driver awareness, and makes the road safer for everyone. All the health benefits, fresh air, and smiles are just a bonus.
We’ll see you out there!