by Rick Price, Ph.D.
First published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan March 7, 2011
City Council adopted the new Bicycle Safety Education Plan on Tuesday, paving the way for a bicycle program where before we had just a plan.
That plan for the past 15 years was to build bicycle infrastructure. We’ve done a great job at that and continue to do so. The plan included encouragement initiatives like Bike to Work Day, Winter Bike to Work, Light up the Night, Commuter Incentives, Bike Library and others. There was very little education in the plan, though, besides pamphlets, a website and marketing initiatives tied to our encouragement efforts. And there was even less enforcement in the plan, as our police really didn’t know where to begin to reign in the scofflaws.
I am hopeful that we are on the edge of a big change.
What happened in the process of writing the Bicycle Safety Education Plan is that we saw transportation planners talking with traffic engineers, educators and law enforcement officers about how to make this a safer bicycle community. They began asking questions about where and why bike/car crashes happen and how we can prevent them through engineering solutions, serious educational outreach and enforcement with an eye to educating all road users. This important change lays the groundwork for the development of a city bicycle program.
In its 2005 report, “Blueprint for Better Bicycling: 40 Ways to Get There,” Portland’s Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) identified several categories of cyclists. That report has been getting a lot of traction. We should make use of it as we roll out our new bicycle program.
BTA noted that 33 percent of people won’t pedal, period. Either they are too young and their mother won’t let them, or they are too old, too busy or just not interested. Another 1 percent are wild-eyed cyclists who will ride any time and 7 percent are “enthused and confident” (that’s me and many of you, I presume). The important number here, though, is the remaining 59 percent of the population described as “interested” but “concerned.” Call them a huge pool of potential bicycle riders.
If you talk with this group in Fort Collins, you will find people who express concerns such as “I don’t know what to do when the bike lane finishes,” or “I’m uncomfortable with the traffic in Fort Collins,” or even, “it is simply not safe to bicycle in this town.”
Portland addressed similar concerns by developing bicycle boulevards – think of them as bicycle thoroughfares – on neighborhood streets. They also hold frequent special bicycle events during which they close streets to automobiles to let residents experience riding without fear of cars and to help them create new mental maps of how to get around the community. And they adopted innovative techniques to slow traffic, educate motorists and bicyclists and promote bicycling.
Education is a big part of this new direction. Let me know if you or your business would like to help.