No crash helmets or elbow pads here.
Helmets have become a magical talisman for bikers and non-bikers alike: As long as you are wearing one, you can’t be hurt. Bikers, continue to believe this, despite the fact that even doing everything right—wearing a helmet, staying in the marked lanes, using hand signals—can still get killed. In the United States, we cocoon ourselves in ever more complicated and expensive armor – even though most cyclists in famous biking cities like Amsterdam blithely pedal with their hair flying free in the breeze.
According to many members of the biking community, the real solution to making urban cycling a much less hazardous activity is not to exchange our flip-flops for closed-toed shoes and encase ourselves in full-body airbags. The solution is much simpler, and at the same time much more difficult: We need to make it as safe, easy and comfortable to ride a bike as it is to get to get in your car.
Recently, the Green Lane Project, hosted by Bikes Belong, officially kicked off in six selected focus cities: Austin, Chicago, Memphis, Portland (Oregon), San Francisco and Washington D.C. Each city will work towards becoming a national leader in installing a world-class network of marked (green) bike lanes.
Most of these cities are already recognized as being a great place to be a cyclist. But even in a town like Portland, Oregon, the bike lanes, signs and signals are usually only in the most high-traffic areas downtown. That leaves a lot of riders weaving in and out of 18-wheelers on small daily rides to the grocery store or the library. Hopefully a national initiative will help connect the small, patchwork pieces of the biking network into a large and fully usable one—a model that can then be emulated around the country.
Of course, many towns are instituting their own bike safety measures far under the national radar. Many are doing so with the help of the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide, which compiles and evaluates the practices of successful cycling cities into a series of recommendations for integrating safe solutions into less bike-friendly cities.
If you’re interested in helping making your community a safer, easier place to bike—or if you’re getting a little tired of attaching little blinking lights to every appendage every time you wheel your bike out the door—you should check out the League of American Bicyclists, Bikes Belong and other organizations in your area. The day can’t be too far away when we can all happily chuck our helmets into the garage, safe in the knowledge that everyone else on the road knows they’re sharing it with us.