This photo exhibits many risks we take because of our current and unchanging designs, a potential dooring scene similar to that which led to the death of Neill Townsend on Friday. Photo by Mike Travis.
I hate car-centric design. I equate it with theft. It takes away space for efficient and free modes of travel and reduces the quality of air and aural serenity, not to mention the danger to those within and without a car. Improving bike infrastructure is secondary in making a bike culture: the most important task is to highlight the irresponsibility, risk, damage, inefficiency, and death that Chicago’s car culture brings to the city.
Mary Schmich, a Chicago Tribune columnist, asks in the headline of her column today, “Is biking less safe, or does it just seem so?” Data is missing so we cannot answer this question empirically; there’s data for reported crashes, but no information on how many people are cycling and for how many miles.
Mary describes her experience biking this year (less than years before but she can’t pinpoint why) and then points out why biking is considered unsafe:
A bicyclist is a lone human being, exposed to the elements, undefended except maybe by a helmet, no match for the metal machines that dominate the road.
The freakishness of that mismatch — the big, hard machine vs. the small, soft body — is part of what draws our attention and turns cycling accidents into bigger news than car accidents.
She didn’t reveal it well but most writers explain the “mismatch” of bicycles and automobiles in a subtle way. I will say it more clearly: the car is the bull in the china shop.
Bicyclists, the “small, soft bod[ies]” should not be sharing the road with automobiles, the “big, hard machine[s]”. The decades-old principles of traffic safety in the countries with the safest roads separate modes by speed and size. (Those countries include Denmark and the Netherlands.) If two modes will be practicing different speeds in the same corridor and direction, then they must be separated. If a road is going to have two modes of different sizes (buses and trucks driving on the same road as bikes), then they must be separated. If there’s a street where no buses or trucks are allowed, and the speed limit is 18 MPH (and enforced) then such separation between cars and bicycles isn’t necessary.
Sustainable safety, as it’s been known in the Netherlands since 1992, says “Road traffic is inherently unsafe. Our traffic system is designed in such a way that it does not (sufficiently) prevent crashes and severe injuries. The most dangerous in traffic are the large differences in speed and mass that the human being has to deal with.” Bicycle Dutch has posted a clear explanation of the concept, along with explanatory videos.
The City of Chicago needs incentives for its adults and school children to walk and bicycle (a campaign that’s in progress) as much as it needs “disincentives” to reduce automobile prevalence.