by Mia Birk
“I’d like to bike, but…” says the woman in front of me, a Toronto Councilwoman, at a recent forum.
This is a phrase I hear all the time in my work creating bicycle-friendly communities. “But I’m afraid to…”
She’s in good company! More than 60% of the population is interested in cycling but afraid. (See Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030 and Calgary Cycling Strategy.)
“My friend’s 25-year old kid got killed last year,” she explains, adding that it was his fault because he didn’t stop at a signal.
What can I say in response? I hear you, but don’t be afraid?….Telling her to not be afraid is like telling her not to breathe.
What if I told her that cities like Copenhagen, Vancouver, Portland, Montreal, New York, San Francisco, and Chicago have all found that as bicycling and walking trips rise, crash rates fall dramatically? Or that bicycle transportation is actually quite safe relative to other activities? A recent Oregon study found that if we commute by bike to work six miles (approx. 10 km) a day, we’ll experience a minor mishap once every four years. Not bad, especially when compared to other injury inducing activities, like sports, cooking (burns, sliced fingers), and encountering dangerous dogs. In other words, people living physically active lives suffer injuries, with bicycle commuting no worse an activity than anything else. And, of course, the health benefits far outweigh the risks.
“But the roads are unsafe,” says the Councilwoman.
Sure, if your main method of transportation is the car, then naturally you envision that bicycling means sharing space on the roads on which you currently drive. Doubtful that these have bike lanes. Even if they do, those bike lanes might look pretty scary if you haven’t regularly used them. This is why we are working to create networks of low-stress bikeways, either by separating cyclists from motorists on major roads, developing off-road paths, or reducing the speed differential between motorists and cyclists on shared spaces. Watch this 7-minute Streetsfilm video about Portland’s new neighborhood greenways, and feel your safety concerns dissipate like the sun beaming on the school-bound bike “train.”
Read the rest of Mia’s post on bicycling fear HERE.
Mia Birk is the former bicycle coordinator in Portland.