Let's guarantee safe transportation for all
Recently Washington Area Bicycling Association (WABA) created a "pledge for cyclists" which includes the following:
…I resolve to be a more responsible bicyclist.
…I resolve to better respect the rights of other road users.
…I resolve to make a good faith effort to better follow the law.
…I resolve to yield to pedestrians.
…I resolve to help make bicycling safer and easier for all of us.
Aside from painting cyclists as irresponsible, disrespectful scofflaws, a pledge has no real power to prevent conflict on our roads. It will do little in reality if a) not all cyclists take the pledge (likely) or b) if all other road users (especially motor vehicle users) are not included. The WABA pledge fails to address the real issue, which is the need for a safe active transportation infrastructure which reduces and minimizes conflicts and encourages greater participation.
Active transportation is described as walking, cycling, blading, skating, mobility scooters, or any other personally propelled transportation device.
The WABA proposal has merit in principle; the pledge, however, would be more effective if adopted by ALL road users, especially motor vehicle drivers, because they carry the greatest potential for harm. In Western Europe, all but four countries have a law called "strict liability," upholding the concept that the greatest potential for harm equals the greatest liability. Under strict liability, generally, a motorist is automatically at fault if a cyclist or pedestrian is hit, and similarly, a cyclist hitting a pedestrian is automatically deemed at fault. This results in the road users who can inflict more harm (motorists and cyclists) acting more cautiously and safely. See the video at the top of this article.
By making the responsibility pledge apply to only one road user, WABA singles out cyclists, already vulnerable road users. However well intentioned, this is a divisive tactic that further isolates cyclists as a perceived "problem," and could take responsibility from motor vehicle users. This resolution could be used to further marginalize cyclists and solidify the misconception that cyclists are disproportionately miscreant road users.
For any resolutions to be fully workable, ALL parties must be involved. Therefore, I propose that all road users take the pledge, with motor vehicles bearing the greatest responsibility, as they have the greatest potential for harm. Looking deeper, however, one sees that pledges will not solve the real source of conflict, which is the lack and need of safe facilities for all road users. Pledges cannot guarantee safety and the minimization of conflict in the way that infrastructure can do by design.
Studies have shown that where the most people are cycling, as in Copenhagen and the Netherlands where cycle mode share approaches 50%, safety is highest, and the conflicts, minimal.
So, although we all can and should take the pledge and do the best we can to be courteous to other users, especially those more vulnerable, safe facilities such as the separated lane connection through downtown Vancouver will be even better than pledges in reducing conflicts, especially between motor vehicles and cyclists, as well as encouraging more vulnerable users to use sustainable travel.
When these safe active transportation facilities are implemented, as with Vancouver's separated bike lanes through downtown, they tend to be met with extreme controversy and contempt by a certain portion of the public, hence the "bike lane battle" in which Vancouver has been embroiled over the last year.