The bicyclists, transportation planners and others who attended a national summit on Monday in Minneapolis discussed dozens of small and big changes to improve bike safety. The stakes are high, because many people living in cities won’t ride because they don’t feel safe.
Below is a list of five of the ideas discussed during the summit, which was organized by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Reduce distracted driving:
Texting was a major complaint bicyclists at the conference had. Chris Budel of St. Paul bikes every day and said he had seen drivers texting four out of the last seven days. He’s confronted drivers about it. “They’re not apologetic at all,” he said. “They just get defensive.
Andy Clarke of the League of American Bicyclists received applause for his comment that texting is “the scourge that threatens to undermine everything the traffic safety community has done in the last 50 years.”
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration head David Strickland said federal officials are working on the issue. Minnesota and 38 other states have texting bans. But he reminded everyone that enforcement isn’t enough — a cultural change is needed, which can take time.
Federal officials’ efforts to get people to wear seat belts and stop driving drunk has gone on for more than 30 years, he said.
Protected lanes, or “green lanes”:
A bike lane painted on a street sometimes isn’t enough. A “green lane” separates bicyclists from motor vehicles with some kind of physical barrier. Six cities — Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, Ore.; Memphis, Tenn.; Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas — are part of a new project that is constructing the lanes and testing their use.
Although Minneapolis is not one of the first six cities in the project, city officials say the concept is coming soon to West 36th Street near Lake Calhoun and Broadway Avenue in northeast Minneapolis.
Step up enforcement of bicycle safety laws:
Speakers at the conference agreed that law enforcement officials should be issuing more tickets to both bicyclists and motorists for not following the rules of the road.
Three Rivers Park Police Officer Danny McCullough told the group about his experience writing tickets to cyclists who fail to stop at stop signs along the trail system. The agency targeted the most dangerous intersections, and said the enforcement campaign caused more bicyclists to comply.
But McCullough said efforts must include education. He hands out a card listing all the bike safety laws every time he issues a bicyclist a citation or warning.
“We could write tickets all day long. It’s only part of the solution,” he said.
Reduce speed on city streets:
Clarke, of the League of American Bicyclists, noted a campaign in the United Kingdom to reduce speed limits on city streets to 20 mph. (It’s 30 mph on most city streets in Minnesota.)
Other speakers suggested other ways to reduce speed on certain streets, such as by adding traffic roundabouts and “advisory” bike lanes that signal to motorists that they might have to share the road with a cyclist.
Minneapolis and several other cities have also created bike boulevards that can have speed humps and special pavement markings to slow motorists down.
Mandatory helmet laws:
Some states have required bicycle helmet use for children, and some cities, like Seattle, require helmets for all riders. (Minnesota has no mandatory helmet law for bicyclists.)
Some of the summit speakers criticized the Seattle law for discouraging people from bicycling and pointed out that the helmet law is the reason the city doesn’t have a bike share program like other bike friendly cities.