The following is a guest post by Matthew González, a pedestrian, cyclist, and in-denial vegetarian who blogs his adventures at mgregueiro.com. He formerly worked in Miami with Teach For America and now lives in Spain doing research as a Fulbright Fellow. He launched mgregueiro.com as a place to discuss great ideas with the many great minds hiding throughout the wrinkles and corners of the interwebs. Check out his blog, or follow him at @mgregueiro to join the conversation.
In 2010, 4,280 pedestrians and 618 cyclists were killed by motor vehicles in the United States. The most dangerous state? Florida, with 4.40 pedalcyclist fatalities per million population. Though some states have worked to lower this number by painting bike lanes and posting “Share The Road” signs, it is time American cities move from this temporary solution to a more permanent one: designing streets that serve motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists.
The problem with “Share The Road” signs is that they pin cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians against each other by making them responsible for outcomes, i.e., when a cyclist gets hit by a car it must be the cyclist’s or motorist’s fault. This thinking, however, doesn’t go deep enough and will not bring the much needed solutions.
These fatalities are caused by a systemic failure of our city infrastructure to provide safe spaces for pedestrians and cyclists. Legislators must understand that “Share The Road” signs are no more than construction signs: they represent the need for work to be done on our city’s roads, not the outcome. Cycling and jogging/running are the two most popular outdoor activities among Americans and it is time our city infrastructure reflect it.
Living in cities designed for and around the car, it is easy to forget that walking and cycling predate the automobile as primary modes of transportation. In fact, crosswalks and bike lanes were a consequence of automobile companies lobbying for changes in street design to make traveling by automobile more practical and lessen the hatred of motorists. (For a brief history on this shift in city design, check out this great TEDx talk by Mikael Colville-Andersen: Bicycle Culture by Design)
By the early 1960s, cyclists had lost the battle for America’s streets: roads were for motorists. But in 1967, cyclists won a major victory with the creation of the first modern bike lane in Davis, California. And twenty years later, the now iconic “Share The Road” sign was adopted by the North Carolina Board of Transportation - now the Department of Transportation Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation (A tip of the helmet to the Tar Heel state).
Unfortunately, more than twenty years later, cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians are still fighting to share the road. And looking at the number of pedestrian and cycling deaths caused by motorist each year, pedestrians and cyclists are losing.
Looking Past “Share The Road”
The solution to these unnecessary deaths is no secret. Denmark and The Netherlands boast the highest number of cyclists per capita. According to a 2011 study published in Injury Prevention, “27% of Dutch trips are by bicycle, 55% are women, and the bicyclist injury rate is 0.14 injured/million km. In the USA, 0.5% of commuters bicycle to work, only 24% of adult cyclists are women, and the injury rate of bicyclists is at least 26 times greater than in the Netherlands.”(Risk of injury for bicycling on cycle tracks versus in the street)
What is the difference between the US and these countries? Our streets.
The Netherlands has more than 1,800 miles of cycle tracks: bicycle paths that are separated from the street by a physical barrier. Meanwhile American cyclists are still fighting for bike lanes, that are easily ignored by motorist.
To bring an end to these unnecessary deaths, America’s cities need complete streets: roads designed to serve the needs of motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists. This approach to city infrastructure is not imaginary, it has proven itself to be successful in The Netherlands, Denmark, and many other nations. Moreover, looking at the drastic paradigm shift that swept the nation after the car, it is clear that the US can again change the way our cities approach road design.
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