Sunday, June 2, 2013

Editorial: Share the Road (Part 1)

As someone who spreads his transportation time between a car, a motorcycle, a bicycle, and his own two feet, I have become increasingly sensitive to the idea of sharing the road. Our current society places the greatest value on motor vehicle transportation, cars in particular, but that does not mean we that drivers should assume they have exclusive rights to the roads. Motorists, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians are all a part of the transportation make-up of every major city and should all be given due respect and consideration. Unlike many European cities, which have taken measures to dramatically improve the interaction between the various groups using the roads, many US cities are only just starting this process and tempers often flare as compromises are made to meet everyone's needs. However, every group has to take responsibility for making the road conditions better for all road users.

In this two-part editorial, I want to look at ways to help everyone be better road users and to help drive improved conditions that will hopefully help reduce incidences of road rage, accidents, and make the roads a more pleasant place for everyone.

Today, we will start at the bottom of the perceived road usage hierarchy by looking at pedestrians and cyclists. In next week's follow-up, I will conclude with a look at motorcyclists and car drivers.

Image courtesy of POPVille
Starting with pedestrians, there are many things they can do to help reduce tensions and improve traffic flow. The first thing to do would be to pay more attention to traffic signals. One of the things that always sent my blood boiling when I lived in DC was when tourists would cross the street without a care for whether the signals were red or green or even if a crosswalk is present. Sometimes, even when they are following the rules, pedestrians fail to consider traffic flow and, as a result, create chaos and test the patience of even the most saintly driver. Mix in the proliferation of smart phone users glued to their screens while walking, completely oblivious to the hazards that nearly crush them every day and it should be no surprise that motorists often regard pedestrians with such disdain. Certainly, a dose of common sense and greater attention to the conditions around them would be a tremendous leap forward in safety and for everyone and might greatly ease tempers on all sides.


Next on the hierarchy are cyclists. Often demonized for sharing traffic lanes with motorists, failing to stop at traffic signals, and generally having a disregard for pedestrian safety, cyclists get a bad rap for the actions of a few and the poor planning most US cities do to make the roads cycling friendly. Many major US cities lack adequate protected bike paths to separate bicycle traffic from motor vehicle traffic, forcing them to share lanes despite the rather large speed disparity. Adding these on major roads would allow motorists to not get stuck behind slower moving cyclists and facilitate more bicycle traffic, encouraging more people to travel by bike and hopefully taking cars off the road reducing both congestion and pollution. Additionally, setting up these lanes would be justification for charging a registration fee for bicyclists, thus getting them to contribute towards road maintenance, a common complaint against cyclists, who often retort by pointing out that they are not given any consideration when roads are being planned.
Image courtesy of the City of Portland, OR.

Cyclists need to also do their part to reduce potential hostility. Greater adherence to traffic laws would be a good place to start and would address one of the most commonly lodged complaints against cyclists. Riding often, I can fully appreciate that momentum is important on a bike, but better judgment by all would help minimize risk and make the roads safer for everyone and encourage other road users to share the roads more willingly. Taking the time to properly assess traffic conditions before venturing out into the street and making sure that intentions are signaled would certainly help reduce accidents. It would also not hurt for better education efforts to be made to teach cyclists the relevant traffic laws and encourage proper enforcement from law enforcement officers. All too often, in bicycle vs motorized vehicle or bicycle vs pedestrian accidents, assumptions are made about the guilt of the parties involved and such preconceptions do a great deal of harm to the trust needed from all sides to help make our roads better for everyone.

Our discussion continues next week with a look at motorcyclists and car drivers and the things that they can do to contribute to improving our road usage landscape. Stay tuned...