More people have taken to the streets on bicycles and on foot, even in traditional commuter areas. It’s healthy, reduces your carbon footprint, decreases traffic-jam woes, and is far cheaper than driving an automobile. Biking to work can reduce your stress level and increase your health and stamina.
Unfortunately, not every city is bike-friendly. We’re not just talking about the number of bike paths, or the quality of the pavement; one important factor to safe urban cycling is the existence of traffic laws that protect cyclists in cases of traffic accidents. To appeal to cyclists, cities also need segregated bike lanes and plenty of accessible, safe places to lock up that bike.
Distracted Driving and Road Rage
Sadly, traffic laws and existing roadways do not adequately reflect the growing trend or ensure a cyclist’s safety. In some recent tragic examples, drivers who caused injury or death to cyclists were given not much more than a slap on the wrist; this hardly encourages others to get on the bicycle bandwagon.
Bicyclist Cindy Whitney was killed in 2010 when driver Gaige Sippy hit her with his pickup truck in Randall County, Texas. According to Sippy, he dropped his cell phone and was trying to retrieve it when he swerved into Whitney on her bike. The grand jury called the death a tragic accident and declined to file charges.
He Said, She Said
Part of the problem is that when a cyclist is injured or killed due to a traffic accident, it is often difficult to prove negligence or fault on the part of the driver. As alttransport notes, cyclists do not have the protection a driver does within a car, and are more easily killed in accidents. To be negligent, a “reasonably prudent person” must fail to protect another, and whether a driver failed to protect a cyclist cannot always be determined–particularly if the one of the two people involved in the accident is no longer alive.
Best Cities for Cyclists
Some cities are encouraging cyclists, with the aim of improving general health of the population and reducing traffic congestion. Bicycling Magazine recently released their list of the top 50 cities for cyclists. One important consideration for inclusion on the list was whether or not the local government is supportive of cycling safety and laws that protect cyclists. Here are the top seven cities on the list:
7. Madison, Wisconsin
Madison has been encouraging urban cyclists since the mid-1970s, when it unveiled the city’s first bicycle transportation plan, and now supports BikeMadison, with committees that report to the city council and a goal to make bicycling an integral part of daily life in Madison.
6. San Francisco, California
San Francisco offers a bike shuttle across the Bay Bridge during rush hour, and allows cyclists to transport their bikes on the city’s commuter rail lines. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition teaches free Urban Cycling Workshops.
5. Eugene, Oregon
Eugene currently has 89 miles of on-street bicycle lanes and five bicycle/pedestrian bridges spanning the Willamette River. The city is in the process of updating its master plan for pedestrians and cyclists, and has created an app, Cycle Lane, which users can download to their smartphones to send information about their preferred bicycle routes to the city for analysis and planning.
4. Seattle, Washington
Seattle’s Bicycle Master Plan seeks to triple the number of trips made by bicycle and add 450 miles of bike paths. Seattle’s bike laws are comprehensive and the city’s bike program has resulted in $36 million in improvements, dedicated lanes, road markings and bike parking.
3. Boulder, Colorado
Boulder leads the nation in the number of bicycle commuters, and with good reason: 95 percent of Boulder’s surface streets are bike-friendly. The city is also helping to fund an innovative online site to help cyclists find the best routes to get where they want to go, and calculates both calories burned and money saved during a ride.
2. Portland, Oregon
Portland has innovate cyclist-friendly programs, including designated bike-only areas at traffic signals and free lights for bikes, that support and encourage new cyclists. The Portland Bureau of Transportation even named May “PDX Bike Month” to inform locals about the biking possibilities in the city, including legal clinics and classes in safe bicycle commuting.
1. Minneapolis, Minnesota
You might need extra layers and winter gear to ride in Minneapolis half the year, but the city is doing its best to be encouraging. A bike share and rental program was recently implemented, to go along with 120 miles of on- and off-street bicycle facilities, plus indoor bike parking.