Opinion: Education needed for both motorists and cyclists

Opinion: Education needed for both motorists and cyclists

To the editor:

I am writing in response to a letter, “Cyclists fail to respect the rules of the road” (December 13), that appeared in the Alexandria Times. In his rather insulting letter (he refers to cyclists as “pigs”), Steve Froggett repeats a number of myths about bicycling, raises the issue of bicycle-pedestrian conflicts and implies a need for the better education of cyclists. It is my hope that the useful message — that we need to educate all road users about safe bicycling practices — will not be lost amid the anger.

It is important to realize that cyclists are residents, most of whom also are licensed drivers. The near-universality of driver licensing gives drivers and cyclists common ground and an educational opportunity.

Recognizing this, I and the other members of the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee continue to call for universal education on safe bicycling practices in our schools and as an element of driver training and licensing in Virginia. We also call for more bike lanes in Old Town, where bicycle-pedestrian conflicts are most often reported. Bike lanes leading away from Union Street — north and south of King Street — would invite cyclists to avoid the busy intersection at the foot of King Street.

In his letter, Froggett repeats several common myths. Leaving aside that people who are exercising often wear sportswear (Froggett does not approve), let us begin with the myth that cyclists are “dangerous and irresponsible” scofflaws. Studies show that all road users break the rules to a similar degree and for a similar reason.

People travel in a manner that they themselves consider safe and effective. While motorist law-breaking — commonly speeding or rolling through stop signs and right-on-reds — is considered normal, lack of universal bicycle education means that bicycle riding (and lawbreaking) is less consistent and more upsetting to others.

Further, practices that raise Froggett’s ire — such as passing stopped cars, riding outside of bike lanes or shifting from the road to the sidewalk when the road becomes too dangerous — are almost universally legal. Indeed, well-designed bike lanes become striped instead of solid near intersections, where cyclists are expected to move from the bike lane to the center of the correct through lane or turning lane. On roads where traffic speeds make this maneuver dangerous, protected bike lanes are becoming the norm.
Another myth is that bicycling is more dangerous than driving. A recent article in the journal PLOS ONE found that the danger levels were similar, except for men, ages 17 to 20. For them, driving is much more dangerous. The reality is that drivers kill about 5,000 pedestrians per year, while cyclists kill perhaps one or two.

In other words, foolish cyclists mainly are a danger to themselves while dangerous drivers pose a threat to everyone. Our bicycle committee would certainly support an enforcement campaign focused on right-of-way violations by all road users, as that would be an effective way to improve behavior at intersections.

Finally, Froggett calls for universal education, registration and licensing of bicyclists. Bicycle registration schemes have been tried and abandoned in the past because they are not cost-effective. As for education and licensing, I hope Froggett will join with the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee in our call for universal education on safe bicycling practices in our schools and as part of driver training and driver licensing in Virginia.

-Jonathan Krall, Chair, Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee