Monday, November 8, 2010

Santa Monica Recreation and Parks Commission Bike Committee To Discuss Bike And Ped Collision Statistics Tonight @ 6:00pm

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The Santa Monica Recreation and Parks Commission Bike Committee is having a public meeting tonight at 6:00pm at the Ken Edwards Center to discuss bike and pedestrian safety information in Santa Monica. The recent and sobering statistics cited in the latest city Sustainability Report Card and in the California Office of Traffic Safety Rankings are topics that will be discussed. In addition to the committee members, representatives from the police department and city staff will be on hand to discuss the issues.

I've also heard there are some senior residents who are planning to come and express their frustration with sidewalk bicycling. I plan to come prepared to discuss why sidewalk cycling is a symptom of poor infrastructure design, poor education, and aggressive and often illegal bullying behavior from motorists. The problem of dangerous drivers trickles down to effecting everyone, and represents the biggest threat to all road users.


Really cyclists and pedestrians should be allies with a common enemy in the automobile. In 2008, 110 cyclists and 105 pedestrians in Santa Monica were seriously injured or killed in traffic collisions, and it's certainly not because of cyclists and pedestrians occasionally bumping into each other. Which is not to say there is not an issue with sidewalk cycling, it certainly presents a hazard to pedestrians and cyclists alike. It reinforces the false, but widely held notion that cyclists don't belong on the road and encroaches on the rights and space of pedestrians, and does represent a potential for collision resulting in injury.

We need to keep the situation in context.  Some people on foot may be afraid of cycling on the sidewalk, but there is little to suggest it is all that dangerous to the pedestrian. There are some freak incidents in the U.S. were a cyclist has struck a pedestrian and the victim fell in such a manner as to die from their injury, but such incidents are incredibly rare, while drivers killing pedestrians is very common place, happening every day. Transportation for America has put out a report that compares pedestrians struck and killed by cars while crossing the street to being the equivalent of a jumbo jet crashing and killing all passengers every month.

Causalities involving cyclists struck by cars out numbers pedestrians being seriously hit or killed in Santa Monica, despite representing a smaller margin of the populace. Until we make the streets feel safe to ride a bike, no matter what the laws governing sidewalks are, how many tickets are handed out, no matter what cycling advocates say in encouraging street cycling, I think we will find some cyclists on the sidewalk. This is not to suggest bicycling is exceedingly dangerous as an activity, but many of the ways in which a cyclist can significantly reduce their risk of being hit are not being practiced by many riders, either because the cyclist doesn't know what safe riding practices are, are unaware of their legal rights, or are afraid to fully exercise their rights because of intimidation by motorists who either do know their rights, or do not respect them.

It's easy to lose sight of the bloody reality of transportation because the news media filters out most traffic casualties. Serious injury and death from traffic collisions are so common it's generally not considered that "news worthy". I think some people are surprised to discover the most common traffic death of them all is the single vehicle automobile crash, with a driver hitting a stationary object or going off the road. That's not considered interesting to news media unless the driver was famous or the car was very expensive.

We should not resign ourselves to accept traffic fatalities as fate however. Traffic, and traffic deaths are not weather conditions, they are not an act of God, it is a problem of our own doing, and one we can undo as well. There are cities that have made enormous strides toward improved traffic safety with concerted campaigns, enforcement and engineering. The life expectancy of New Yorkers has been going up by notable margins recently (1 year and 7 months increase) in part because of reductions to traffic deaths from their recent re-engineering efforts. Researcher and public health consultant Peter Jacobsen has made a call for a Vision Zero, a goal that we dramatically reduce traffic fatalities until there are none at all. America, with it's 30,000 - 40,000 traffic deaths a year has a long way to go to get there, but it won't change if we don't try.

Hopefully tonight's meeting can kick off a constructive dialogue in Santa Monica on improving the safety of our streets, for the good and livelihood of us all, regardless of what mode or means of getting around our city.

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