Thursday, January 29, 2015

Cycle track video highlights need for better education and enforcement

The author, preparing to take a relaxed ride to Main Street
By Angela Connolly -- It was with great interest that I watched this video, and read the article. I was especially curious, as these roads are part of my regular ride to and from Downtown Newark, and I ride them often. Even as a new cyclist, several years ago, I was not terrified to ride on these roads - only eager to learn from my mentors how to take my proper place on them. To support the need for this cycle track, this video presents Ms. Jones's view of cycling these roads, and while I agree that they can be challenging to ride, her behavior at times had me concerned.

For myself, I have learned that in order to be safe, in Newark and anywhere else, I must ride responsibly and predictably. To me, that means cycling defensively, and anticipating different possibilities at all times. That means slowing down at crosswalks, especially around the busy University, or the Newark High School, and anticipating that I might encounter pedestrians. Pedestrians approaching the crosswalk are intending to cross, and must be yielded to. When sharrows are present, I ride right down the middle of the lane, keeping myself visible and out of the door zone. And when no sharrows are present, and I must take the lane to get where I need to go, I behave predictably - I don't stay near the curb unless I am intending to turn right. I don't hesitate or slow down in the bike lane when it is clear to move ahead. That sends mixed signals - where will motorists think you are going? Take your proper place on the road, and behave appropriately. And tell yourself this, as I have many times, while motorists honk at me and call me names - I am traffic. I belong here. It is my right to be in this lane. Put simply, if drivers are harassing and threatening bicyclists that are in the lane, the City and its police department are not doing their job (we already know that DMV - here and nationally - are not doing their jobs in terms of education and re-testing).

This isn't to say it's always easy. Is it always safe? No. And it's not always fun. But when cyclists don't claim their rightful place on the roads, it sends a signal loud and clear that we are letting ourselves continue to be treated as second class citizens, and not valid road users. Whether we ride for recreation, transportation, or both, we have the right to infrastructure that encourages us, not scares us. And that includes on-road facilities as well as off road. And while I agree that trails, pathways, and cycle tracks do have a place in the overall network, they are only part of the solution.

I feel like, instead of promoting the proposed cycle track, this article and video made a better argument for education and enforcement, both for bicyclists and motorists. It was an eye-opener that made me look at my behavior, and the sometimes inappropriate behaviors of my fellow cyclists, as seen in the video, who sometimes need to be educated, and more importantly, encouraged to ride the roads. A cycle track won't cure those bad behaviors. The use of the word "terrifying" to describe cycling on our LAB designated Bike Friendly hometown newspaper's front page is discouraging, and inappropriate. And it undermines the positive efforts that the Newark Bicycle Committee, and other advocates, have put forth. Fear-mongering will discourage cyclists and keep them from cycling in Newark until years pass and the cycle track might be built. This is Ms. Jones's experience, and it does not reflect all of our experiences. Cyclists have been made to feel like they do not belong in traffic for too long. 

In summary, this proposed cycle track might be a good idea, but it won't immediately address the concerns of those who need to commute and navigate all of the areas of Newark. Even if the cycle track is built, there will have to be education provided, so that those who ride it will do so properly, with the proper etiquette. So in the meantime, as we anticipate Newark's first cycle track, it's also important that bicyclists remain a steady and accepted presence on the road as well.

The author (not terrified) rides Delaware Avenue past S. Chapel Street in 2011. In its current condition, bicyclists need to have confidence and take the lane as needed, especially where the bike lane narrows across from the 7-11.  Surface conditions also demand lane control, as cracks and holes from shifts in the asphalt present a safety hazard. Lane control is necessary on many roads in Newark, especially those with sub-standard or door zone bike lanes.

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