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According to a new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association, there has been a 16 percent increase in bikers killed in motor vehicle crashes in recent years. This comes after years of steady decline. But many groups say these numbers are misleading, and a more important takeaway is the rising use of bikes in urban areas, with cities like New York and Washington, D.C. putting millions into bike infrastructure projects. But all parties agree: there is much to be done to safely incorporate cyclists onto our roadways, from adding bike lanes with physical protective barriers to stricter enforcement of traffic laws across the board. We take a look at sharing the road with bikes.
- Emily Badger Covers urban policy for The Washington Post's Wonkblog
- Mary Lauran Hall Communications director, Alliance for Biking & Walking
- Russ Rader Senior vice president of communications, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
- Gabe Klein Former transportation head for the cities of Chicago and Washington, D.C.; chief operating officer of Bridj
- Jason Clark Vice president, Log Cabin Republicans of San Francisco; proponent for Proposition L, Restore Transportation Balance Coalition
Poll Results: Biking And Driving
Poll: Tell us about your biking and driving habits
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Bicycle use in the U.S. is growing, particularly in urban areas so, too, are concerns over safety for cyclists and motorists as cities are looking for ways to accommodate a changing landscape for commuters. Here in the studio with me, Russ Rader of the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety, Emily Badger of The Washington Post, Mary Lauran Hall of the Alliance for Biking and Walking.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us by phone from New York City, Gabe Klein. He's former transportation head for the cities of Chicago and Washington D.C. And throughout the hour, we'll invite your comments. I know many of you are bikers. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.
MS. EMILY BADGERGreat to be here.
MS. MARY LAURAN HALLThank you for having us.
MR. RUSS RADERThank you.
MR. JASON CLARKGood to see you again, Diane.
REHMThank you. Emily Badger, tell us about this new report, what did we learn?
BADGERSo this study has been circulating in the news over the last couple of day and its bottom line finding that a lot of people are really alarmed by is this idea that cycling fatalities are up by about 16 percent in the last couple of years. And, you know, this makes it sound like as more people are cycling, more people are dying in the process of cycling and we should really be concerned about whether or not this activity is dangerous.
BADGEROne of the sort of caveats that I would add about this, though, is that, you know, the study doesn't quite point out that as fatalities are rising, the number of people who are biking is rising as well. So I think there's a lot of other data that suggests that, in fact, as more people are biking, the fatality rate is actually declining. That as more people bike, biking actually becomes safer.
REHMAnd didn't it used to be that the fatalities were more among children and now they're more among adults?
BADGERWell, certainly, one of the things that we're seeing and that this report pointed out was that these fatalities are concentrated among people who are biking in urban areas, which is, you know, also where we're seeing a rise in cycling. You know, we're seeing cycling become more popular in Washington and New York and San Francisco and Seattle and Colorado, you know. A lot of these are cities that are investing in bike share systems, where biking is becoming a lot more prominent.
BADGERIt's the way that a lot of people are getting to work now instead of riding cars or using public transit. You know, so these are the populations that are driving the boom in cycling. You know, they're young urban professionals and so it makes sense that as we're seeing more injuries, more crashes, more fatalities, it would be among that population as well.
REHMIs there any data about helmets?
BADGERSo helmet use varies by city because some cities have helmet laws requiring everyone to wear a helmet and some cities don't. Washington is a city that doesn't. And it's absolutely true that wearing a helmet protects you when you're in a crash. You're much less likely to be injured seriously if you're wearing a helmet. But as for whether or not people are wearing them, you know, a lot of that depends on public policy and whether it's required in the community where you live.
REHMAnd what about alcohol impairment?
BADGERSo one of the things that this study pointed out was that about a quarter of these fatalities involved a cyclist who had been drinking in some way and I think this, too, sounds really sort of alarming to people, but one of the things that I would caution is that I really don't think at the end of the day that sort of the major cycling safety public policy concern is are bikes -- or are people who are biking, are they drinking.
BADGERI mean, I think really at the end of the day, the big public policy concern about safety, if you're a city, it's that a lot of times we're talking about people riding bikes, sharing a very small amount of space with vehicles moving very fast that sometimes weigh 5,000 pounds.
REHMRuss Rader, for you, what's the most important element of this report?
RADERWell, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety collaborates with the governor's highway safety association on traffic safety issues and one of our former researchers worked on this report. So I think what's important about it is that bicycle safety is often an overlooked area of traffic safety and each year, 700 people or so are killed on bicycles in crashes with motor vehicles and there are things we know that would work to reduce that toll.
RADERAnd as cities are encouraging more bike use, they have a responsibility to make biking as safe as possible.
REHMSo turning to you, Gabe Klein, are cities where biking is growing as a means of transportation doing enough to insure that you've got not only better safety, but better integration of bike culture in a safe way?
MR. GABE KLEINWell, Diane, I think it depends on the city, but I think overall, cities are doing a tremendous amount. What we have to realize is, that we made some, you know, horrible planning mistakes in the '50s and '60s that we're still trying to undo, where the freeway and the highway culture that was supposed to end at our city limits took over our cities and so, you know, what people like myself have been working on for the last decade is trying to restore balance to our transportation system and basically active transportation, which is walking and biking and walking to transit, walking even to your car, needs to take priority.
MR. GABE KLEINAnd to do that, we really need to give separate infrastructure. I mean, imagine our streets without sidewalks. So cyclists need their own separated infrastructure particularly on major arterial lanes to be safe. And I think there's also education that comes along with that enforcement. And D.C. is really a national model, by the way. They've seen a cycling increase by a factor of 10, 10 times over the last 14 years, from .5 percent, we're approaching 5 percent now.
MR. GABE KLEINAnd we've seen a decrease in all traffic fatalities of about 83 percent. Well, between 73 and 83 percent depending on what 10-year period you're looking at. So you can't argue with the stats. And the cities that have more cyclists are cities that have safer streets for auto users, for pedestrians and cyclists and that's proven over and over again.
REHMAnd to you, Mary Lauran, are cities doing enough?
HALLI think that certainly the nationwide that we're seeing, Diane, is that more and more people are moving to urban areas. Urban populations have increased a lot over the past decade or so and we're in a situation where if all of those people wanted to park their private vehicles on the street and drive everywhere, we simply wouldn't have enough land mass to fit everybody because our cities' populations are growing, but the land mass isn't increasing at the same rate at all.
HALLSo one of the most efficient transportation options that cities can plan for is bicycling. It doesn't take up a lot of space. It's very healthy. It's carbon-friendly and people really have a fun time doing it. And cities need to be doing a lot more. A lot of cities are making wonderful strides towards bike-friendliness. Gabe Klein, in particular, has lead transportation efforts in two cities now that have built enormous amounts of protected bike lanes in Washington D.C. and in Chicago.
HALLAnd cities are taking that strategy forward all across the United States, which is great to see.
REHMGabe, tell me about these protected bike lanes. Are there actual barriers between cars and bikes? I live on a highly trafficked avenue where bike lanes were just painted in. But that doesn't really provide protection for the biker when cars get awfully close.
KLEINExactly. I mean, we're so used to living in our culture and our cities and we're used to sharing the roadway with these 3,000 pound, you know, tanks, basically, that are moving people and if somebody loses control of that or is impaired or distracted, you can be run over. And, you know, I'd like to answer question by actually talking about Northern Europe where in the '60s, you know, like in Copenhagen, for instance, there was a real backlash against a car culture.
KLEINThey'd even paved over their beautiful canals and cities and made them parking lots. So they'd really gone to the extreme, as we did. But the people rose up and demanded change because so many children were getting run over by cars walking and biking. And so they started to undo a lot of the changes. So when you go over to, like, Copenhagen or anywhere in the Netherlands, you see true separated infrastructure for pedestrians, from cyclists, from automobiles, which is extremely logical.
KLEINThat cultural shift is starting to happen in the U.S. It started with painted bike lanes in the '70s. It started with separated bike lanes then about seven years ago in New York and D.C. and Portland. And now, it's becoming the standard on the arterial streets, which are those bigger, faster streets. Now, on the smaller streets, Diane, like your neighborhood street, for instance, what we're working on is traffic calming.
KLEINSo if you can get the speeds down to about 12 to 17 miles per hour, then everybody's safer. And what people are learning in cities, it's not about speed to get where you want to go, whether you're on a bike or in a car or on a bus. It's about operational efficiency and through-put. And you can only go so fast in a city because of all the stop signs and stop signs so it's about moving people effectively and safely.
REHMSo when you talk about what's been done in Europe, has that meant widening streets that are already in existence and perhaps taking up sidewalk space?
KLEINActually, for the most part, no. They take the, you know, because these are old cities, right, with a built environment that's very historic, just as we have in Washington D.C. or you have here in New York. And so, you know, what they're doing is taking space that -- let's say when you lost the street cars here in D.C., although they didn't lose them over there, taking that space and reallocating it instead of for cars, for active use.
KLEINAnd what's great about what's happening now is you have such a rise in people walking and biking to work because, you know, you can bike to work now in D.C., you know, it's flat, faster than you can drive in a car, for the most part. So you're seeing a real shift and people are voting with their feet and they're saying we want this. And the big shift in America is the cultural shift. Cycling is the number two spend in the United States for recreational activity, and that includes biking trips and so on.
KLEINNow, we're moving towards cycling as basic transportation.
REHMGabe Klein, former transportation head for the cities of Chicago and D.C and chief operating officer of Bird -- sorry, and that's -- I'm not sure what that is. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. I want to tell you about a new poll we have on our website at drshow.org about biking and driving habits and sharing the road. About 42 percent of you bike three to five times a week. More than half the bikers and drivers that took our survey said that most of the time they feel safe on the roads, but 35 percent of you have been involved in a collision between a bike and a car. And in those cases 54 percent of you say the driver was found at fault.
REHMAnd of course we'll be talking more about that during the hour. And we are looking for your input on your texting and driving habits in a poll on our website drshow.org. And we'll be discussing your feedback and results during the hour. So Mary Lauran, tell me about what's going on in Idaho.
HALLSure. So first, on the note that the Alliance for Biking & Walking is a coalition of state and local bike and pedestrian advocacy organizations, we do have some members in Idaho. The reason Idaho is interesting is they have a law that folks like to call the Idaho Stop Law which permits cyclists to treat a red light as a stop sign and a stop sign as a yield sign. And so what that means is if a cyclist comes to a red light, they can stop. If there's no one around, no pedestrians and no cars that would have the right-of-way, they can go through as if it were a stop sign. If they come to a stop sign and it's a similar situation, no one else has the right-of-way, they can treat it as a yield sign.
HALLNow that's not to say that this policy is right for other jurisdictions. I mean, all of -- we support and all of our members support the full, you know, compliance with existing traffic laws and local jurisdictions. One other policy that's interesting here in Washington, D.C. that was just recently passed is called the Leading Pedestrian Interval rule.
HALLSo a bicyclist at a light can begin to cross when the pedestrian signal turns, which at some intersections is before the red light actually turns green. And the reason that's advantageous for bicyclists is because it sometimes gives a little bit of lead time under the idea that it's safer for a person on a bike to be visible and out in front of a car so that folks know that they're there.
REHMBut what about the pedestrian in that case, Emily?
BADGERSure. I mean, part of what happens when we're talking about sharing the road is not just cars sharing the road with cyclists but cyclists sharing the road with pedestrians. And, you know, I see this in my own experience in Washington. There are a couple streets in Washington that have these very popular bike lanes that have a lot of bike traffic.
BADGERAnd oftentimes you see these points of tension between pedestrians and cyclists in part because, you know, I think that we're all sort of the custom, and this is basic human nature, to be thinking only about what it is that we're doing, to be within our own bubble when you're doing this extremely complicated task of navigating your way through a busy city, through a crowded city. When you're in a car you're not really thinking about other people. When you're on a bike perhaps you're not thinking about cars and pedestrians. The same is true of pedestrians too.
BADGERI have seen pedestrians walk in front of a bike lane when bikes should be passing by because they're not thinking about them too. And so, you know, I don't want to suggest that it's only the case that cars are not thinking about bikes. I think that this is true of almost all of us regardless of how we commute.
REHMAnd Gabe Klein, what do you see as the improvements that need to be made there, perhaps moving towards some kind of consistency in those urban areas?
KLEINYes, Diane. And, you know, one of the things that you do see again over in Europe is you see people separated and segregated appropriately based on speed and the type of environment. So there's very little overlap when people are operating at higher speeds. And at lower speeds you see more sharing of the roads. And that's what cities are trying to do now but, you know, we're basically retrofitting our infrastructure that we sort of messed up, for lack of a better term, in the '50s and '60s. And so it's going to take awhile.
KLEINBut with all the new streets that we designed, for instance in Washington, they're designed as complete streets. And we need to be more aggressive, I think, in separating our infrastructure for those different modes and making it more consistent. I think people are getting more used to the idea of separated by facilities now, wider sidewalks, fewer car lanes, dedicated bus lanes.
KLEINAt the end of the day we need all these different options but government, you know, definitely has an important role in setting an example by actually placing this infrastructure in the right-of-way and saying, we sanction biking as a basic form of transportation. I think we're starting to finally move the needle over the last five years there.
REHMHowever, Russ Rader, the percentage of bikers versus the percentage of automobile drivers still way out of proportion. So how are the auto insurance people reacting?
RADERWell, you know, we look at this from a public health perspective because we're researchers looking at traffic safety, what works and what doesn't to make our roads safer. And like with any public health problem, there are interventions that can be made to reduce the risk. And that's really what's we're talking about here.
RADERI think we need to also bring in the role of law enforcement here because if every bicyclist and every car driver obeyed traffic laws, it would not only make the streets safer but it would reduce some of these conflicts that we see between bicyclists, car drivers and pedestrians. One of the things that Gabe alluded to earlier is slowing car traffic down. And in Washington, D.C. for example there's an aggressive effort to use speed cameras to ticket drivers who are going ten miles an hour over the speed limit to lower speeds. New York City is actually lowering the speed limit on their streets to 25 miles per hour.
RADERA lot of the crashes in which bicyclists are killed occur at intersections. And that's where red light cameras can be effective in creating an environment where car drivers know that if they violate the law, there's 100 percent chance of a ticket. And that changes driver behavior.
REHMAt the same time, if it were up to the biking community, would there be physical barriers on every street and avenue between the automobile lane and the bike lane where biking is heavily traveled?
HALLSo we are seeing campaigns in a number of different cities around the country to create not just specific corridors of protected bike lanes but entire networks of low-stress, connected comfortable bike lanes. In some cases that could mean physical protection. In other cases on the types of low traffic, relatively slow winding streets that Gabe mentioned that could just mean different design that makes it easier to actually share the road.
HALLSo Atlanta, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, New York City, here in Washington, D.C. even, the advocacy organizations are working to create a city-wide vision for fully connected bike networks. And that doesn't necessarily mean treatment on every single street, but it means using data-driven approaches, especially in a city like San Francisco where it's so hilly. In that case it means finding the streets that have -- that are less steep that bicyclists already use because they're the most convenient to get around, and making sure that those have the types of treatments that Gabe is talking about.
REHMSo Gabe, how helpful could physical barriers actually be?
KLEINOh, it's night and day. You know, again, in northern Europe you see actual grade separation. So you'll have the sidewalk at the highest level, a couple inches lower, the bike facility and a couple inches lower than that, the street. And it makes an absolutely huge difference. And what you see overtime, Diane, is you see just a cultural shift in the way people behave. For instance, they have more traffic circles and fewer signals. And so the cars always yield to cyclists and pedestrians.
KLEINAnd I'll tell you, I've seen in Chicago where Mayor Emanuel said, look, we're going to build 100 miles of protected bike facilities. And I've seen in D.C. where we have, you know, fewer bike facilities but we have a huge bike share system which we then launched also in Chicago.
KLEINThe driver behavior changes when you get a critical mass of people biking on the streets. And that's a wonderful thing. So in D.C., you know, we just hit 200 bike share stations. And at rush hour on my street, I live on 11th Street, there are more cyclists at peak sometimes than cars. And so the cars are operating more slowly. And that balance -- restoring that balance to our transportation system is really key and in some ways can be as important as the actual bike facilities themselves. But I think all new streets, we should build grade separated if we could.
REHMI do understand, Gabe, that you have to leave us in just a moment. But before you go, I wanted to ask you about aggressive drivers who are really annoyed to see these bikers in the way and how you feel that behavior might be changed.
KLEINWell, I think one of the earlier speakers from the insurance industry made some points about the importance of enforcement. You know, we need reengineering of our streets, we need education of all of our users of the right-of-way and we need enforcement. But I think that this cultural shift is important too, in the realization that you can't get there any faster really, no matter how fast you drive. And you see people -- I'm here in New York -- you see people speeding up when the light turns green and slamming on the brakes at the next red light.
KLEINSo I think also educating people to the fact that they're just putting themselves and others at risk and they're not going to move any faster is key. And I think the other things that drivers need to remember is for every cyclist you see on the road, that's potentially one less car and makes your commute easier. And we understand that some people need to drive. So by creating more walkers, bikers and transit users, we give more space and less challenge to our auto users as well.
REHMGabe Klein, former transportation head for the cities of Chicago and Washington, D.C. He's chief operating officer of Bridj. Thanks so much for joining us, Gabe.
KLEINOh, thank you, Diane. It was a real pleasure.
REHMAll right. And joining us now is Jason Clark. He's vice-president of the Log Cabin Republicans of San Francisco and a proponent for Proposition L which is on the ballot in San Francisco next week. Welcome, Jason. Tell us about Proposition L and this transportation initiative that's on the ballot.
CLARKGood morning, Diane. Thank you for having me on the show this morning.
CLARKAnd so Proposition L is -- we call it the Restore Transportation Balancing Initiative. And it really grew out of sort of a backlash against our -- we have an unelected transportation agency here in San Francisco that makes decisions about transit, including buses, taxis and car travel. And they started making people very angry by installing parking meters in front of their homes.
CLARKAnd so a group of us got together to sort of counteract this. And it grew into sort of a list of policy changes that we wanted to see in San Francisco. And they were policy changes that are made, again, by an unelected board that is enacting top down transportation policy change without respect to who is using the road and why they're using the road.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Jason, tell me where biking fits in here.
CLARKWell, part of restoring transportation balance means making the roads safe for everyone to use. And in San Francisco we're a multi-modal city. There are people who use their cars. There are people who take the bus. I take the bus and the train to work every day. There are people who walk and there are people who bike. Right now 3.6 percent of San Franciscans use their bike to go to work. And it's important that we incorporate them into the infrastructure. But it's also important that we do that with the needs in mind of the 79 percent of households in San Francisco who use a car to transact their daily business.
REHMSo you are saying that cars are clearly more representative of the transportation population and therefore they should have the greater say in what happens on San Francisco streets.
CLARKWell, when you look at a number like 79 percent of households, that's a huge super majority of people. Zero percent of those households are represented on the SSNTA board. And yet the SSNTA board is enacting draconian anti-car measures. And they're creating gridlock in the city and unsafe conditions that affect everyone who uses the streets, including bicyclists and pedestrians.
REHMTell me how they're creating unsafe conditions.
CLARKWell, there are a couple of things. One of the first things that they've done is that they have redesigned the streets so that they're a lot more narrow. They're so narrow now that fire trucks are having problems navigating the streets. And it's increased response times for first responders by up to five minutes. And if you're having a stroke, you know, that's the difference between life and death.
CLARKFor bicyclists, there was a discussion earlier about how San Francisco has hills and about, you know, using appropriate measures to create bike infrastructure. Well, they've been putting bike lanes on major arterial routes and highways. And there's even a proposal to put a bike lane on an interstate freeway, which to me is just not very safe at all. And also when they redesign our streets they have been -- it's like they gave a five-year-old a paint can. The lines are confusing. The new lines that they use don't make sense to drivers. And the more you confuse drivers, the more opportunity you have to create a situation where you can have fatal accidents.
REHMSo from your point of view, these bike lanes and the barriers create an even more unsafe situation?
CLARKIn some situations, yes. It depends on the street but again, if you're building a bike lane on a major highway, it's probably not going to be the safest place because the purpose of a highway is to get people quickly from one end to another. There are plenty of other roads, I mean, San Francisco is in a grid pattern, that -- where you have streets that are more residential in character that are much more appropriate for large, you know, traffic patterns for bicyclists. And that, we think, is more appropriate.
REHMSo how do you think Proposition L is going to do on the ballot next week?
CLARKWe have very high hopes. When we went to qualify for the ballot, we had to collect signatures in order to qualify. And people lined up at our tables when we went out to neighborhood events and street fairs. They lined up to sign our petition. We had 17,500 people line up to qualify us for the ballot, which is more than any other propositions that are on the ballot. I think there are 11 others here in San Francisco alone. And a lot of the people we've been talking to have said, yes, you know, it's time for a change. We're tired of being nickel and dimed or drawn and quartered, if you will, just because we drive a car.
REHMAll right. Jason Clark, vice-president of Log Cabin Republicans of San Francisco. Thanks so much for joining us. Short break, right back.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones. You can give us a call at 800-433-8850 or weigh in on our poll about your biking habits at drshow.org. We'll be talking about your feedback, posting the full results on our website tomorrow. So far this is what we've response to our website. In response to this question, should cyclists and drivers follow the same laws, 59 percent of listeners who took the survey said they think cyclists and drivers should follow the same rules.
REHM26 percent said there should be different laws. 15 percent thought we should take a different route, many saying common sense adjustments to the laws should be made to accommodate cyclists, like use of a stoplight as a stop sign. Russ Rader, what do you think?
RADERI think they, you know, they need to abide by the same laws. As we talked about earlier, this is some of the source of the conflict in -- between bicyclists and car drivers, is this perception. And I see it on my street -- bicyclists using red lights as mere suggestions and blowing through them, while other traffic stops. So I think that's important. I think it's part of bicyclists taking some of the responsibility for their own safety.
RADERAnd that involves abiding by the law, not drinking and biking, making yourself conspicuous to drivers, whether it's in the day or the night. Those kinds of things can make bicycling safer and encourage more people to bike when they feel safer on the road.
REHMYou know, it was interesting, yesterday as I was coming out of my parking garage, I saw a young man on a bike, one hand on the handlebar, other hand holding a cell phone to his ear and talking on the cell phone. Now, talk about distracted driving, how about distracted riding? Let's go to East Hampton, Mass. Hi, Eli, you're on the air.
ELIHi, Diane. Thank you for this opportunity.
REHMCertainly. Go right ahead, sir.
ELIOkay. I use a bike as my main mode of transportation. I don't drive a car. And I also teach defensive skills for defensive bicycle driving through a program called Cycling Savvy. And I think an important thing for me to point out is that most bike crashes, regardless of who is at fault, can be prevented by the cyclist, by using defensive driving techniques.
REHMDo you agree with that, Mary Lauren?
HALLWell, there are a number of different bike education methods that do exist. Cycling Savvy is one of them. The League of American Bicyclists also has a curriculum that many community groups around the country use to educate people on how to bike safely. The big picture here is that any type of reckless behavior on our roads that endangers others is absolutely deplorable and should not be tolerated. And that applies whether you're riding a bike, or driving a car, or driving a bus or what have you.
HALLAnd the great thing about bicycle education is that it teaches people how to be out in the streets and following the laws in order to keep themselves safe and to keep others safe.
REHMAnd here's a tweet from Nell, who says, "Let's talk about innovative education. How are we teaching local residents how to interact with new road infrastructure?" Emily Badger?
BADGERWell, I think this comes back to what Gabe Klein was talking about earlier with the experience that we've seen in Europe, where we have several decades of history there where drivers have learned to share the road with pedestrians, with bikes. And, you know, part of what needs to happen in American cities is just this process of habituation over time. I mean, certainly, you know, putting up signs that make very clear, you know, this is the bike lane. The bikes will follow this stoplight sign instead of the stoplight sign that cars are following.
BADGERYou know, there are certain public education and public campaign and ways that we can sort of try to explain to everybody exactly how space is shared, but at the end of the day I think what really needs to happen is that people just need to spend time. I mean, years will need to pass as more people bike, as bike infrastructure becomes more common, to the point where, you know, this becomes the normal, this is no longer sort of a weird activity that a minority of people do that's getting the way of everyone else.
HALLI think it's a great point. And another thing to point out is that we're multi-modal human beings. I mean, I own a car, I drive a car, I ride my bike every day to work. I took the Metro here today and then I walked from the Metro. We're all using a mix of transportation options all the time. When it comes to education, I think it's especially powerful when people who drive are also people who bike. After I started biking in the city my perspective on driving absolutely changed in the way that I behave around bicycles absolutely changed.
HALLI used to be terrified of being on the same road as bicyclists because I didn't know what they were going to do. I didn't know if I was passing them too closely. I was scared to pass. But now that I have a lot of experience under my belt bicycling in the city, it's a much more comfortable thing. Maybe in the future driver education could actually include bicycling components so that people who are behind the wheel understand what it's like to operate a bike.
REHMAnd here's an email from Rudy. This is commenting on Jason Clark's comment that some emergency vehicles can't get through the narrow streets. Rudy says, "If you want to make EMS better able to navigate narrow streets, get more narrow ambulances, as they have in Europe." So there's another thought. Let's go to Rachel, in Grand Rapids, Mich. Hi, you're on the air.
RACHELHi. Thanks so much. We're working -- and I work for the East Holmes neighborhood. We like to say that we're a people-first neighborhood. And so we're really trying to foster a culture of being walkable, bicycle friendly. We're responding to a large number of growth that we've had in our neighborhood, with more people walking and using their bicycle. So we're actively working with the city of Grand Rapids on trying to be more bicycle friendly, pedestrian friendly, because we really think that the street is a public space.
RACHELAnd so I was just -- my question is, is this a trend that we're seeing in smaller urban neighborhoods, where the more people that are walking and bicycling that the infrastructure just isn't there, and that, you know, with the addition of bike share rules as well as bicycle safety education, that's now going to help change the culture from being more vehicle oriented to more people oriented?
BADGERSo where this is going to work, where bike infrastructure is going to work is not going to be the same everywhere. In part because, you know, if you take a community that has primarily really high-speed roads where everyone lives very far apart, where there aren't a lot of sidewalks, you know, it's going to be hard to put a bunch of bike lanes in that area. In part because, you know, maybe your destination, your job is so far away from your home, in these really car-dependent places that it doesn't even make sense for you to bike there.
HALLSo it definitely depends on what type of community that you're in. And there are certain types of communities, perhaps like the one that the caller is describing, where, you know, the infrastructure is already sort of conducive to adding this. And, you know, those are the places where you think you're also gonna see a little bit less of the cultural backlash of this idea of the war on cars.
REHMAll right. To Pittsburgh, Pa. Hi there, Thomas.
THOMASGood morning. Thanks for the opportunity.
THOMASI live in -- I live about a mile from four different universities, lots and lots of students. None of the universities give any information to students about riding on the sidewalk with pedestrians. We have bike lanes the students choose not to use. They tend to ride right on the sidewalks with the people. It's just so annoying to have eight people standing at a bus stop while a student comes screaming by on a bicycle, yelling that we all should excuse her and please get out of her way.
THOMASI just think it's silly. The other problem we have is we have a lot of on-street parking. We could easily take one of the lanes of parking and convert that to a secure bike lane. The problem is that people believe when they buy a house they own the space on the public streets so they can park their vehicles.
REHMAll right. Two points there. Go ahead, Mary Lauren.
HALLIt sounds like the areas that the caller is talking about are some of the streets that would be great candidates for protected bike lanes, especially if there's parking that could be removed to add that infrastructure or if the road could be narrowed to add in a protected bike lane. Because we see that when protected bike lanes go in, sidewalk riding reduces dramatically. Part of the reason that people bike on sidewalks is because they don't feel safe in the streets, even though, really, a bicyclist is safer when they're in the roadway. And riding on the sidewalk introduces all sorts of dangers to pedestrians.
REHMWhat about the insurances industry's reaction to bikers on the sidewalks, Russ?
RADERWell, I think, again, we look at this from a research perspective. And I think those points that were just made are good. One of the problems you have if you don't have protected bike lanes and you've got bikers on the right-hand side of the street, plus parked vehicles between them and the curb, you've got the danger of motorists who aren't paying attention opening their doors and creating that kind of hazard there. So I think we need to talk about the basics in all of this. We touched on helmet laws. No state has mandatory bicycle helmet law.2
RADERBut we know that most of the bicyclists who die in crashes, the head injury -- a head injury is the most serious injury. So there are a lot of interventions that we can do here to make bicycling safer, including requiring bicyclists to wear helmets.
REHMYou know, a number of our listeners want to know if there's really any evidence that -- as Jason Clark said -- emergency vehicles cannot get through particular streets. Do you know of that having happened, Russ?
RADERI don't know of that having happened, but that is one of the things that's often brought up. For example, when cities want to put in roundabouts in place of intersections. We know roundabouts can make things safer for all road users, but the issue of emergency vehicles comes up there. And a lot of communities are dealing with that by putting in aprons around the roundabout to allow the bigger vehicles to get around it.
RADERAnd that can be accommodated with these narrower streets, too.
REHMAll right. To Frisco, Texas. Hi there, Hunter.
HUNTERHi. I had a couple of comments. I am a recreational cyclist. And Frisco is a suburb of Dallas. It's an urban area. It's growing. And I grew up in Washington, D.C. So I love the changes that I'm seeing. I grew up on Capitol Hill. Went to school in the other side of the city. Loved public transportation. It would be great to be able to (technical) the 10 miles to work twice a day, but it's not safe to do it.
HUNTERAnd part of that, in my opinion, is due to cyclists not obeying the roads. They tend to clump (technical) and I have seen a lot of people that I imagine they're aggressive cyclists, they're probably aggressive behind the wheel of a car. I was taught you stop, you get off your bike, you wait.
REHMAll right. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Russ, can you determine the percentage of accidents between bikers and auto drivers, where the biker is at fault and not the car?
RADERThat is difficult to do. I don't know of any research on that in particular. But it does…
REHMDon't you think there ought to be some?
RADERWell, I think it gets back to -- yes. And I think it gets back to the issue of bicyclists and motorists obeying the law to reduce those conflicts. But that's something we ought to look at.
REHMAll right. To Portsmouth, N.H. Hi, Fred. You're on the air.
FREDThanks so much. I enjoy your show very much.
FREDI was in Amsterdam this June, walking the streets. And the number of cyclist is so great that it's a little bit frightening. I mean it's, to me, it's the equivalent of trying to cross a New York street that doesn't have a traffic light to try to cross the area that's set aside for bikers. They do not acknowledge that you exist. It's not case that any cyclist -- routine -- I'm not talking about racers.
FREDPeople coming and going from shopping, they just -- they don't see you anymore. It's up to you to get out of the way. It's a little scary. I think if we really succeed here, it's going to be a difficult situation, you know.
REHMI tend to agree with our caller. I, too, was in Amsterdam a few years ago. And noted the same kind of heavy bike traffic that seemed to pay very little heed to pedestrians.
HALLIt's a different transportation language over there. I went to Amsterdam for the first time a couple of years ago, and I walked and I rode a bike and I took the train. And it took me awhile to understand what the different markings meant and what the different -- the language was that told you where you are supposed to get around.
HALLSo you could imagine that someone who comes from a country where only 10 percent of trips are taken by car, coming to Washington, D.C., being absolutely terrified by the proliferation of automobiles. But if you get to use to the transportation language that's laid out on the street, it becomes very clear what certain markings means and what certain different pavement demarcations mean and the different grade separations and markings that Gabe Klein was describing earlier soon become absolutely normal.
REHMSo, Emily, do you see a steady increase in the use of bikes, not only here in Washington, but around the country?
BADGERYeah, I mean, they're increasing, but the numbers are still very small. But that doesn't mean that they're insignificant. And part of -- I want to come back to a comment that Jason made earlier in San Francisco about how, you know, fewer than 4 percent of people are getting around by bikes, but about 75 percent of people are getting around by cars. And this gets to the fact that there's always sort of a chicken and egg issue involved in cycling infrastructure.
BADGERBecause cities build cycling infrastructure when people are cycling. And so it seems like we should protect them. But it's also true that when cities build cycling infrastructure it encourages people who haven't been cycling to start doing it. So there's almost a feedback loop to the point where cities are starting to build this infrastructure because more people are biking, but I also think that as cities are adding that infrastructure, we are -- directly as a result of that -- going to see more people biking. And that this is trend that's going to continue even though it's relatively small right now.
REHMAnd, Russ, from the insurance point of view, what do you see as the one thing that could be done to make everybody safer?
RADERWell, I think that, you know, it's holistic approach. We need to approach it from the bicycle safety perspective. We need to look at slowing drivers down in urban environments. There are a lot of things that we could do, but going back to what we mentioned earlier, the basics are really important. Wearing a bicycle helmet is the single biggest thing you can do to protect yourself.
REHMRuss Rader, Emily Badge, Mary Lauren Hall, thank you all so much.
HALLThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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