Florida Weekly, Feb. 5, 2014
In the past few weeks, I’ve been asked by two different media outlets to comment on just how dangerous it is to ride a bike in our communities, a request I receive on a regular basis. Having worked in public health and injury prevention for several decades, I’m careful not to throw around the term “dangerous.” I take this approach because I learned early on how easy it is to scare people out of participating in exactly the activities I’d like to promote.
The best example of this was a public health initiative that came from everyone from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hospitals and local health departments but had the unfortunate effect of negatively impacting bicycle ridership. The problem with the initiative is that it focused almost solely on helmets as the only way one would not meet an ugly demise if one dared ride without one. That single message was hammered upon to the point that there was a clear downward trend of bicycle sales and ridership. The bicycle industry and advocate community shunned us until the message was adjusted to reflect reality.
As an instructor of folks seeking to improve their cycling skills and as someone who works with court-ordered high-risk drivers, I firmly believe that part of being of traffic in any way, shape or form is only as safe or as dangerous as we individually make it.
My comments aren’t meant to imply there aren’t dangerous situations out there, whether they be from roadway design and engineering that create unsafe environments, bad laws or human misbehavior. Rather, we must be constantly vigilant when mixing it up in traffic, including on sidepaths, in parking lots and even our own driveways. That advice goes for vulnerable road users and motorists alike.
Unfortunately, Florida’s state-level leadership (i.e., our elected officials) are all too often part of the problem when it comes to legislation they enact (or fail to enact) and funding priorities they decide upon. One prime example is the agency that deals with driver licensing, which does little to ensure that those behind the wheel are up to the task. The agency uses the excuse that it doesn’t have the resources to provide proper driver education and oversight, funds that must be allocated by elected officials.
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles should be our first line of defense in terms of roadway safety, but it’s a very dysfunctional agency, in my opinion, and it will only get worse if our legislators go along with our governor’s latest plan to roll back vehicle registration fees. Those fees could be used to help DHSMV do the job it should be doing to protect the state’s citizens and visitors.
To make matters worse, there’s a bill that’s already moving through the capitol to increase maximum speed limits, something that will likely happen, probably due to pressure from the trucking/freight industry, even as public safety experts provide credible information that makes clear that it’s a very bad idea. Finally, how about that toothless, useless anti-texting bill that was passed last session? Enough said about our state’s elected officials.
But back to what you and I can do to stay safe, even when it seems like we’re being set up for failure by those we elect and pay to do just the opposite. The bottom line is to take personal responsibility and practice common courtesy, whether behind the wheel, in the saddle or on foot. The more damage we can do while using the public space, the more responsibility we have, even if others are not being responsible in their own actions. Respect the fact that every one of us has rights to the public right of way, regardless of what mode of transportation we choose. If we all took that approach, being on the road wouldn’t be so stressful or something to be avoided, which it all too often is, especially for vulnerable users.
Those in this field of work and advocacy will continue efforts to fix what’s broken, but attempting to design and build to the lowest common denominator or worst case scenario isn’t feasible or even effective, nor is trying to do the same through an over-emphasis on enforcement, especially if it focuses on the wrong targets. Yes, if done correctly, both can be part of the solution, but our own actions are what matters most.
Until next time, I’ll look for you on the roads and trails.
— Dan Moser is C yclingSavvy instructor/ trainer and program director for Florida Bicycle Association who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 334- 6417.