Tag Archive for: Mighk Wilson

Crowd of bicyclists

Bikeway Study: Strategies to Improve Bicyclist Safety

 In Part One of this series, I discussed how most bikeway studies fail to address the key factors that lead to crashes, and I described the basic findings of Metroplan Orlando’s new bikeway study. Part Two went into deeper detail to show how cyclist direction, position and speed affect crash risk. In this final part, I’ll discuss how data from the study should inform attitudes and strategies to improve cyclist safety.

Crowd of bicyclists

Jacobsen’s widely-cited study

In a 2003 paper in Injury Prevention [1], Peter Jacobsen found that higher bicycle use went with lower cyclist crash rates across geographies (European nations and California cities) and over time (United Kingdom and The Netherlands). As cycling (and walking) increased, it seemed that the overall crash risk dropped. In the discussion section of the paper, Jacobsen wrote:

“It seems unlikely that people walking or bicycling obey traffic laws more or defer to motorists more in societies or time periods with greater walking and bicycling. Indeed, it seems less likely, and hence unable to explain the observed results. Adaptation in motorist behavior seems more plausible and other discussions support that view.”

Though Jacobsen provided no behavioral data to support this explanation, it has become popular among bikeway proponents. When skeptics point out conflicts created by many bikeways, advocates have a handy response: “But there’s safety in numbers…” Others have questioned Jacobsen’s math [2].

Does Jacobsen’s conclusion hold water?

Our bikeway study shows whether that assumption holds water. Did rates for motorist-caused or bicyclist-caused crashes increase or decrease with larger numbers of bicyclists?

I divided the twenty streets into five groups of four each, ranked from lowest to highest bicyclist counts over 10 years. The table below shows enormous differences in the amount of bicyclist travel. There was 60 times as much bicycle use on the busiest streets as on the least busy.

Quintile Streets by Bicyclist ExposureLowest Quintile2nd Quintile3rd Quintile4th QuintileTop Quintile
Bicyclist Miles Traveled819,0005.344 M9.674 M13.341 M49.218 M
Miles Between Motorist-Caused Crashes19,00046,00039,00049,00045,000
Miles Between Bicyclist-Caused Crashes13,00073,000125,000205,000198,000

I left the lowest 1/5 out of the analysis, because the bicyclist exposure and the numbers of crashes are tiny. Even from the second group to the top group, there’s a nine-fold increase in bike use:

Orlando bikeway study: miles between bicyclist- vs motorist- caused crashes
The results? There is little difference in the risk of motorist-caused crashes. (Remember, a higher number — more miles between crashes — means lower crash risk.) But bicyclist-caused crashes were 170% to 180% lower for the top and fourth quintiles!

Better overall bicyclist behavior is responsible for the “safety in numbers” effect. [3]

It’s plausible that motorist behavior improved some small amount on the higher usage streets, but that would probably be masked by the reduced risk due to slower cyclists on the sidewalks.

Three of the four streets in the 4th quintile (with the lowest risk for cyclist-caused crashes) are two-lane streets with bike lanes. These are just the type of streets touted as “bike-friendly.”  Bikeway advocates like to say that bikeways attract potential cyclists who are “interested but concerned.” [4] Wouldn’t “interested but concerned” cyclists generally be more cautious and less likely to cause crashes?

The streets in the top quintile are all high-speed, high-volume, four- and six-lane arterials. Their obvious risks should encourage cyclists to use extra care.

It’s possible that motorist behavior does improve with still higher bicycle use. On the busiest cycling streets in the Orlando bikeway study, a bicyclist would pass any given point about once every eight minutes. In some European cities, bicyclists are almost always in sight. Motorists’ expectations would be radically different there.

Study results: crash risks and numbers

Orlando bikeway study: key to the three graphs below

Key to the three graphs below

In this bikeway study, ten times as many cyclists were using bike lanes on the bike lane streets as were using the travel lanes on the comparison streets. Almost all bicyclists on the comparison streets were riding on sidewalks. But there was only 28 percent more bicyclist travel overall on the bike-lane streets. Most of the increase in bike lane use was due to bicyclists switching from the sidewalk to the bike lane.

Orlando bikeway study: Estimated miles of travel on streets with and without bike lanes

Though the bike lanes in this bikeway study presented a 53 percent lower crash risk per cyclist, four times as many motorist-caused crashes occurred in bike lanes on bike-lane streets as in travel lanes on the comparison streets. Almost all of the motorist-caused crashes on the comparison streets, and more than 3/4 of them on bike-lane streets, occurred on sidewalks and crosswalks.

Orlando bikeway study: Counts of motorist-caused crashes on streets with and without bike lanes

The crash rate was higher for sidewalks on the bike-lane streets than on the comparison streets, and so the bike-lane streets had a higher overall crash rate, despite the 53 percent lower crash risk than with the travel lanes on comparison streets. (Recall that a longer bar in the graph below represents a longer mileage between crashes — lower crash risk.)

Orlando bikeway study: miles between motorist-caused crashes on streets with and without bike lanes

How to approach a Vision Zero goal

The stated goal of the Vision Zero Network is to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all. [5]

In order to truly approach this goal, much more effective risk-reduction methods than bike lanes and sidepaths must be implemented. As I highlighted in Part 2:

Rather than bikes lanes or sidewalks improving the safety of bicyclists, bicyclists are improving the safety of bike lanes or sidewalks by riding slower.

Bikeway advocates point to separated bike lanes, special bicycle signals, and channelized (“protected) intersections as improvements over sidewalks and ordinary striped (“basic) bike lanes. Slowing bicyclists at the approaches of intersections is part of bikeway designers’ design strategy, and may reduce risk somewhat.

In our Metro Orlando data, though, only 28 percent of motorist-caused turning and crossing crashes (for cyclists riding with the flow) occurred at signalized intersections. Forty-two percent occurred at unsignalized intersections (mostly minor cross streets), and 30 percent at driveways.

Orlando bikeway study: turning and crossing crashes by intersection type

Most turning-movement collisions do not occur at signalized intersections. It is not practical to install preventive measures everywhere a motorist may cross the path of a bicyclist.

Mitigating all conflicts would require channelization to slow bicyclists at every intersection and driveway. This would be very costly — if even possible — and would slow cyclists nearly to pedestrian speeds, making bicycling less useful. [6]

Cyclists who tried to maintain their preferred speed could be blamed for crashes in the bikeways, or harassed for using lane control in the travel lanes. Now with electric-assist bikes, novice cyclists can ride on bikeways at the speeds of fitter, experienced cyclists. This is not a good combination.

The 6 E's of a bicycle program

Final Thoughts

The real world is a very messy place. As with many of life’s other challenges and questions, prevention of bicyclist crashes doesn’t lend itself to simple, straightforward answers. Nor does the question of whether bikeways really improve cyclist safety.

Cyclist skill, direction, position, speed, predictability, and conspicuity are concerns in crash prevention. So are motorist attention, speed and turning movements, lighting conditions, sight lines, traffic controls, and many other lesser concerns.

Attempting to address all of these factors with street and bikeway design is bound to fail. Design can improve safety, but it won’t get us as far as we’d like.

“Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.”

This saying (perhaps Native American) has been replaced with a popular version, found on parenting websites, using the word “road” instead of “path.” [7] and [8]

Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child. Adults as well as children benefit from such a philosophy. Bicyclist training and education are not optional.

Mother and child riding side by side on a street and both signaling a right turn


[1] Jacobsen’s article

[2] The widely cited hyperbolic, descending curve which appears in every graph in Jacobsen’s report  is an artifact of faulty math. Correct math gives varied results. See this for an explanation.

[3] Other research has also shown that bicyclist crash rates are lower on busy streets, notably a  study by William Moritz from the 1990s. One factor: cyclists with more experience and greater skill are more likely to ride on busy streets. Also, more mentoring occurs where bicycling is more common. See discussion here.

[4] This categorization, one of four by Portland, Oregon bicycle coordinator Roger Geller, conflates two characteristics. Not all interested people are concerned, and vice versa.

[5] Wikipedia article describing Vision Zero, with links to other resources.

[6] The reduction in possible trip destinations within a given time is greater: in an urban grid: half the speed, 1/4 the destinations.

[7] See this, for example.

[8] However, Strong Towns offers the opposite advice.

Bikeway Study Part Two: Your Speed, Your Choice

Safer Motorists or Safer Bicyclists?

Last week, in the first of a three-part series describing my research on bikeway crash risk, I gave relative estimated risks for three types of motorist-caused crashes when bicyclists rode with the flow…

miles between crashes graph_intersection with diagram

Travel Lane Edge – 61,000 Miles Between Crashes (Highest Risk)

Bike Lane – 75,000 Miles

Sidewalk – 122,000 Miles (Lowest Risk)

… and asked:

Why would the risk be lowest for bicyclists riding on sidewalks?

All crashes occurred at intersections and driveways with no sort of “protection” for the bicyclist. Don’t experienced bicyclists avoid using sidewalks — and sometimes even bike lanes — because riding in the street is supposed to help them avoid such conflicts?

Stay with me while I show you where the data led me as I pondered this question.

There are two key possibilities why these risks are lower: (1) Motorists might be more likely to yield to bike lane and sidewalk cyclists for some reason, and (2) Bike lane and sidewalk cyclists might be better able to avoid a motorist-caused crash.

It’s often argued and assumed that striping a bicycle lane leads motorists to look for and yield to cyclists. But the sidewalk cyclists had lower risk for these motorist-caused crashes than even the bike lane users, though sidewalks are neither designated nor designed for use by cyclists.

When we split up the crashes further, we see that only the risk of drive-outs is higher for bike-lane and sidewalk cyclists.  Right-hook and left-cross crashes are less likely:

Right Hook & Left Cross

miles between crashes graph_right hook and left cross

Travel Lane Edge – 73,000 Miles (Highest Risk)

Bike Lane – 100,000 Miles

Sidewalk – 300,000 Miles (Lowest Risk)

Sidewalk cyclists have the highest risk of drive-out crashes:


miles between crashes graph_drive out

Travel Lane Edge – 367,000 Miles (Lowest Risk)

Bike Lane – 292,000 Miles

Sidewalk – 245,000 Miles (Highest Risk)

Would motorists be more likely to yield to bike lane and sidewalk cyclists during overtaking right turns and opposing left turns, but not during drive-outs? I think that this is not more likely.

People Make Mistakes

News Flash: Humans make mistakes, whether they’re walking, bicycling, or driving motor vehicles.

We expect slower automobile and motorcycle drivers to be better able to react more quickly than faster ones to avoid conflicts caused by other motorists.

Why would we assume differently for bicyclists? [1]

Recall the average speeds we found for cyclists using the three positions. A slower cyclist needs less perception and reaction time and less braking distance:

Bicyclist PositionBicyclist Average (Mean) SpeedBicyclist 85th Percentile SpeedStopping Distance at 85th Percentile Speed
Travel Lane14.5 MPH18.4 MPH104 Feet
Bike Lane11.8 MPH15.7 MPH83 Feet
Sidewalk9.3 MPH12.4 MPH60 Feet

Facing an impending motorist-caused crash, the bike-lane user riding at the 85th-percentile speed would need an additional 23 feet of stopping distance compared to the sidewalk rider — about the width of the typical two-lane street. The difference is about the same between the travel lane and the bike lane. The total difference between travel lane and sidewalk is about the width of four traffic lanes, or 44 feet.

85th Percentile Bicyclist Speed and Stopping Distance

85th percentile stopping distance

With right-hook and left-cross crashes, the motorist is coming from the bicyclist’s left, so the farther right the bicyclist is, the longer it takes for the motorist to reach the bicyclist’s path. This means that the bike lane or sidewalk bicyclist gets more reaction time. With drive-out crashes, the travel lane cyclist gets the most reaction time.

Rather than bikes lanes or sidewalks improving the safety of bicyclists, bicyclists are improving the safety of bike lanes or sidewalks by riding slower.

The Takeaway

If you’re going to ride on the sidewalk, bike lane or edge of the travel lane, you must ride slower.

I can’t tell you how slow is slow enough. But if you’re having more close calls with turning and crossing vehicles than you’d like, you need to either slow down, or use lane control. [2]

Based on the data, each additional mile per hour of bicyclist’s speed increases the risk of a motorist-caused crash about 9 percent.

With lane control, you give yourself much more reaction time for drive-out crashes, you eliminate the right hook crash, and you get more options for avoiding the left cross.

lane control allows faster speed

To put it in the simplest of terms: The faster you go, the more important it is for you to control your travel lane.

Sidepaths and Motorist-Caused Crash Risks

We performed the same type of analysis for five sidepaths which have been in place for over ten years. I was curious as to whether they would have better safety performance than a regular sidewalk. They did — about 68 percent better, on average — but it varied widely. Looking closer, I found that three of the paths had few intersections and commercial driveways — 4.6 per mile — while the other two had 11.6 per mile. Low-conflict paths had 64 percent lower motorist-caused crash rates compared to the other two paths; 51 percent lower than for ordinary sidewalks.

Low-Conflict SidepathsHigh-Conflict SidepathsRegular Sidewalks
Intersections and Commercial Driveways per Mile4.611.610.5
Cyclist Miles Between Motorist-Caused Crashes81,000 (Lowest Risk)29,000 (Highest Risk)40,000

miles between crashes graph sidepaths

Notice that high-conflict paths had 10 percent more intersections and driveways per mile than the sidewalks, but 38 percent higher motorist-caused crash risk, likely due to the higher bicyclist speeds on the paths (16.3 MPH versus 12.4 MPH for the sidewalks).

If we replace a sidewalk with a sidepath without somehow reducing the turning and crossing conflicts, the risk for the bicyclists will likely increase. This information helps you as a cyclist to decide when a sidepath might be reasonable to use — such as going with the flow on a low-conflict path — and when to avoid one — for example, when going against the flow, or going with the flow fast on a high-conflict path.

Bikeway designers can’t foresee every situation for you, so don’t expect them to.

Next time: Safety in numbers, Vision Zero, and “Preparing the Child.”


[1] The 1976 Bikecentennial study found that 38% of crashes occurred on downgrades, though the constituted only 15% of the route. This was for all types of crashes.

[2] This short video explains lane control and the need for it.

Mighk wilson setting up Miovision camera

Orlando’s Better Data Can Make You Safer On Your Own Bike

Editor’s note

We love to give you the tools to keep you safe on your bike. New research from transportation planner and CyclingSavvy co-founder Mighk Wilson offers surprising insights about your safety when riding in bike lanes, on sidewalks, or on the edge of travel lanes.

In this three-part series, Mighk describes his bikeway research, and how the way he gathered data for it differs in critical ways from other bikeway studies.

You’ll be impressed.

Metro Orlando Bikeway Study

Metroplan Orlando logoThis is the first in a series of articles on new bikeway research which I’ve completed for my employer, MetroPlan Orlando. Findings of this research are useful for planners and designers, and for bicyclists. The study compared risks to bicyclists riding on sidewalks, on streets with bike lanes, and on streets without.

This first segment will cover:

  • My own professional and personal history with bike lanes;
  • How most bikeway studies don’t clearly show how bikeways might prevent motorist-caused crashes; and
  • An overview of the data and basic findings of my research.

The second segment will help you make better decisions as a bicyclist. The third segment will address the “safety in numbers” premise and how bicyclists truly get to “Vision Zero” (the goal of eliminating fatal and serious injury crashes) [1].

Part One: Better Data, Better Understanding

I Used to Be Mr. Bike Lane

When I started work as a bicycle planner for MetroPlan Orlando in 1993, I was quite supportive of bike lanes. After all, the cities and towns that had lots of bicycle traffic had them. Wouldn’t that mean that people there had good experiences with them?

But it didn’t take me long to cross paths via internet forums with the infamous John Forester [2], and to have my assumptions challenged.

While Forester and his supporters had reasonable concerns about bike lanes, there was no solid data to show that they were worse (or better) for bicyclists than a regular travel lane. Concern about bike lanes was based mostly on direct experience. I had little, as the Orlando area had no bike lanes.

I found it frustrating that some bicyclists complained so much about bike lanes, while others expressed a strong preference for them.

Mighk not riding in bike lane on Edgewater Drive

A Quest for Answers

It took quite a few years for the Orlando area to get bike lanes and for me to gain enough experience with them. I found myself frequently having types of conflicts that rarely occurred when I used regular travel lanes. But still, I could find no good objective evidence about relative safety.

It became clear that to assess it, I would need lots of detailed crash data and good measures of bicyclist counts and behaviors.

Assembling crash data was fairly easy. MetroPlan Orlando had been collecting and analyzing crash reports since 1997. Also, I had a solid understanding of how bicycle/motor vehicle crashes happen.

But getting good counts would entail thousands of hours sitting next to roads, counting and observing bicyclists.

A few years ago, computer/video technology finally made counting efficient and effective. I now have the combination of crash, behavior and exposure data to allow useful analysis. But before I get to that, I want briefly to discuss the shortcomings of other studies.

Sloppy Bikeway Research

A number of studies published over the past decade or so have purported to show better safety performance of streets with bikeways compared to those without. Some are before-and-after studies of the same streets. These studies have a major problem: they treat all bicyclist-versus-motorist crashes the same, as if all would be affected in some way by the presence of a bikeway.

But clearly, the presence of a bikeway would not impact many crashes one way or the other. For example, a bicyclist might roll out of a driveway and fail to yield to an approaching car, or a motorist might blow through a red traffic signal at speed. Also, some crash types would likely be made more common by the presence of a bikeway, such as “wrong-way bicyclist” crashes when a bikeway either encourages or requires bicyclists to travel facing traffic.

montreal study comparison streets with and without separated bike lanes

A bikeway study street and its “comparison street” in the 2011 Montreal cycle track study.

Such studies have too many other kinds of failures to describe here, but the highly-touted 2011 Montreal cycle track study by Lusk and Furth [3] had a particularly serious failing. That study compared parallel streets with and without cycle tracks, but the paired streets were often radically different from one another.

One comparison, for example, was of a one-lane, one-way, low-volume residential street with a cycle track vs. a two-way, four lane street with high traffic volume and storefronts. A traffic engineering journal’s peer reviewers likely would have thrown out the Montreal study, but an injury prevention journal published it. The reviewers apparently didn’t catch this major failure of methodology.

Our Data

study methodology, streets with and without bike lanes

The MetroPlan study ensured that the control (no-bike-lane) streets were like the bike lane streets: same number of lanes, median type, same or similar posted speeds, similar traffic volumes, similar land use, and even similar surrounding populations.

We selected ten streets that had had bike lanes for at least ten years, and for each of them, a control street that also had not seen major changes for ten years. The streets were mostly suburban, with just a few a bit more urban.

We had ten years of crash data for all of the streets, categorized by crash type (who turned, who crossed, who violated right-of-way, etc.); the bicyclist’s position leading up to the crash (travel lane, bike lane, sidewalk or other non-roadway position); and the bicyclist’s direction of travel (with or facing the regular flow of vehicular traffic, or crossing the roadway).

miovision setup photo

Left: Mighk Wilson with the MioVision camera system, which is portable and records 48 hours of video. Right: the pole-mounted camera provides a birds-eye view of the roadway and the sidewalk.

Video Data Collection

Using a MioVision camera, we counted bicyclists, with their position and direction, on each bike-lane street and its control street during the same 48-hour period. With this information, we were able to estimate miles of bicyclist travel by multiplying the counts by the length of the study street, and then by 1,825, which gets us from 48 hours to ten years of exposure.

With ten years of crashes and of estimated exposure, we could calculate Bicyclist Miles Between Crashes. A high number means lower risk. (I’ve rounded to the nearest thousand miles for clarity.)

85th percentile speedsWith the video, we were also able to estimate typical speeds for bicyclists. Traffic engineers typically use an “85th-percentile speed” for traffic studies. (85% of the travelers are going at or below this speed.) We found the 85th-percentile speed to be 12.4 MPH for sidewalk bicyclists, 15.7 MPH for bike-lane users, and 18.4 MPH for travel-lane users.

We also looked at five shared-use sidepaths (“trails” directly adjacent to roadways) that had been in place for more than ten years, and collected the same crash and exposure data for them.

Key Findings

This section will explore the risk of a motorist-caused crash.

Most Important Factor: Bicyclist Direction

It is legal to bike against traffic on a sidewalk or path, and illegal in a bike lane or travel lane, but regardless of bicyclist position, we found bicyclist direction to be the most important risk factor. The risk ratio was the same, 5.3 times greater, except for bike lanes, where it was 4.3 times. This means that bicyclists riding against the flow of motor vehicle traffic are 4.3 to 5.3 times more likely to be in a crash than those who ride with motor vehicle traffic flow.

These results show higher relative risk than prior studies, but this study had many more streets and better bicyclist-count data. (Wachtel and Lewiston in 1993 [4] found 3.6 times greater risk, and Huang and Petritsch in 2007 [5] found 4.4 times greater risk.)

Risk by Position

So we know that going with the flow is much, much safer. But if we’re going with the flow, is it better to be along the edge of a travel lane, in a bike lane, or on a sidewalk? For bicyclists traveling with the flow, the Miles Between Motorist-Caused Crashes were:

miles between crashes, bike lane, sidewalk, roadway

Travel Lane Edge – 31,000 Miles (Highest Risk)

Bike Lane – 64,000 Miles

Sidewalk – 122,000 Miles (Lowest Risk)

I have assumed that the bicyclist in the travel lane is riding along its right edge. Very few bicyclists use lane control, and only a tiny percentage of crashes involves bicyclists using it. This study could not assess that strategy.

These numbers make it look like the sidewalk is the safest place to ride, with four times lower risk than the edge of the travel lane. The sidewalk looks better than the bike lane too. But stay with me…

study crash types

The four main motorist-caused crash types for bicyclists going with the flow were: overtaking motorist, drive-out, right hook, and left cross. (Dooring was not a significant issue with these streets; only two of the twenty streets had parallel on-street parking. There was only one reported dooring during the ten-year period.)

Overtaking crashes are very rare. Of 428 motorist-caused crashes on these twenty streets, only ten (2%) involved overtaking motorists. Six of those ten involved bicyclists in bike lanes. But the bike lanes did show a much lower risk for overtaking crashes: 585,000 miles between crashes compared to 92,000 miles for travel-lane bicyclists.

Setting Overtaking Crashes Aside

For now, let’s set overtaking crashes aside and look at the risks for drive-outs, right hooks and left crosses. Again, we consider only bicyclists going with the flow.

miles between crashes at intersections, bike lane, sidewalk, roadway

Travel Lane Edge – 61,000 Miles (Highest Risk)

Bike Lane – 75,000 Miles

Sidewalk – 122,000 Miles (Lowest Risk)

Here we still see much lower risks for sidewalks, and somewhat lower for bike lanes. But why would there be lower risks for those crash types? They all occur at intersections and driveways with no sort of “protection” for the bicyclist. Don’t experienced bicyclists avoid using sidewalks — and sometimes even bike lanes — precisely to avoid such conflicts?

I have the answer for you in the next article.


[1] Wikipedia article describing Vision Zero, with links to other resources.

[2] John Forester, pioneering bicycling educator, died in April 2020. We have an evenhanded article about him.

[3] The Montreal study may be found here. Michael Kary’s critique of it may be found here, Wayne Pein’s, here and Paul Schimek’s here.

[4] The Wachtel and Lewiston study is available online.

[5] The Huang and Petritsch study is available on the Metroplan Orlando site.


The Special Mode

No reasonable person expects pedestrians to behave like vehicle drivers. If you’re walking down the street and planning to turn left at the next intersection, nobody expects you to walk in the left turn lane to do that.

Similarly, no one expects motorists to behave like pedestrians. Driving on the sidewalk is illegal — as well as highly dangerous and impractical.creating a virtuous transportation culture

But when it comes to bicycling, some people expect cyclists to behave as pedestrians, and some expect them to behave as vehicle drivers. Many cyclists switch back and forth between the two approaches.

Bicycles were both commonly and legally defined as vehicles by the 1880s, well before the invention of the automobile. Until the middle part of the 20th Century, most people expected bicyclists to behave as drivers. Practically speaking, the operating characteristics of bicyclists are that of a vehicle, not a pedestrian.

We don’t design different types of pedestrian facilities for “beginner” and “experienced” walkers. We design pedestrian facilities based on their operating characteristics and legal requirements. We generally want those “beginner” pedestrians to become “experienced” as quickly as possible, because we know experienced road users are safer.

While we don’t provide different types of sidewalks and crosswalks, we recognize that quiet neighborhood streets present fewer conflicts than busy commercial arterials, so we prefer that beginner pedestrians (children) keep to those neighborhood streets until they are mature enough to handle the busier ones. More experienced pedestrians (parents) prefer to accompany their kids on those busier streets.

We don’t have special lanes or facilities for beginner motorists.

We design their facilities based on their operating characteristics and legal requirements.

We generally want motorists to become “experienced” as quickly as possible, because we know experienced road users are safer. As with pedestrians, parents prefer to accompany their teen drivers or have them taught by professionals — especially in more complex driving environments — until they have shown they are competent to drive on their own.

Best bicycling practices often counterintuitive.

Unlike with walking and motor vehicle driving,

few parents understand the strategies of successful, experienced bicycle drivers, and often believe them to be unsafe. So they themselves stay with the untrained and inexperienced pedestrian approach to cycling, and teach their children to do the same. This inexperience has now been passed along for a few generations.

This approach is okay on quiet residential streets. But when used in busy commercial districts, it greatly increases the risk for the cyclist, due to all the turning and crossing conflicts with motorists.

Is it possible to provide bicycle facilities for “beginner” cyclists?

Yes, but the opportunities for such facilities are very limited. Trails in their own rights-of-way are great places to learn bike handling skills and get comfortable operating the machine. But when a path is placed along a busy urban or suburban street, it presents users with more turning and crossing conflicts with motorists than a cyclist would encounter using a regular travel lane. In Central Florida, where I study bicycle and pedestrian crashes, 82 percent of motorist-caused bike crashes involve cyclists riding on sidewalks, sidepaths and crosswalks.

savvy cyclists co-exist with ease

Rebecca Bealmear in St. Louis understands where the risks are (and where they are not) wherever she rides

Bikeway advocates are fond of calling experienced bicycle drivers “strong and fearless.” How often are experienced pedestrians or motorists referred to in that way? The key characteristics of bicycle drivers are their understanding of how conflicts and crashes are most likely to happen, and their use of the best strategies to prevent those conflicts. Inordinate strength and fearlessness are simply not necessary for successful bicycle driving.

This “strong and fearless” framing is clearly intended to marginalize cyclists who are competent and experienced. How many novice cyclists would express a desire to become “strong and fearless”?

Ultimately, whatever type of accommodation is provided along our roads, cyclists will need to understand the true causes of crashes and the best strategies for avoiding them. Neither the causes nor the strategies are common knowledge, and they sometimes run contrary to popular belief. That’s why cyclist education is essential.

how to change American bicycle culture

How to jumpstart a virtuous traffic culture

At the American Bicycling Education Association, we also want America to have the best motorists. By “best” we mean competent, predictable and courteous. Here’s what’s exciting:

We bicyclists can create a virtuous transportation culture.

It’s beyond the scope of this post to describe how, but when you explore CyclingSavvy Online or attend a CyclingSavvy workshop, we’ll show you how. You’ll discover how motorists who seem so dumb and careless can become quite smart and courteous when you change your behavior.

The best bicyclists are educated bicyclists, who fully understand the difference between being a bicyclist operating as a pedestrian, and bicyclist operating as a driver.

The best cyclist is a savvy cyclist.

ABEA wants American bicyclists to be the best in the world.

savvy cycling

The Cycle of Habit and the Habit of Cycling

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

I’m a habitual reader, bordering on addiction. I’ve always got (at least) one book going, and when I finish it I’m immediately looking for my next “fix.”

At the recommendation of my wife, Carol, I’m now reading The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. It’s an engaging and enlightening investigation of how our habits are formed, how difficult it is to change them, and how we can create new ones.

My other major habit is, of course, cycling. My habits of reading and cycling began around the same time, and perhaps for the same reasons. My earliest memories of reading are tearing through the SRA Reading Lab cards, starting in first grade. First grade was also when I finally managed to get the training wheels off my bike and ride on two unfettered wheels. Both served my curiosity and desire for freedom and exploration. As a teen I’d sometimes carry a book on my summer break cycling explorations in rural northeast Ohio. I’d often stop in a park in some small town and read. Today I cannot imagine a life without either habit.

I’ve certainly thought of my cycling as a habit, but never in the clinical sense as explored in Duhigg’s book. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always bristled when asked by a non-cyclist acquaintance I haven’t seen for some time: “Are you still bicycling?” It sounds vaguely accusatory to me, like: “Are you still an alcoholic?” I’ve been so permanently hard-wired as a cyclist that it’s just like a chemical addiction.

Unlike most adult cyclists, I didn’t give up cycling when I got my driver’s license, then pick it up again some years later when looking for a way to “get back in shape.” I never had to “create a new habit” for cycling, so I may not be the best person to tell you how to do that. But building any new habit requires removing barriers to the new behavior, and then rewarding yourself when you do it.

Removing barriers could include putting your bike in the most convenient place to be used, buying a floor pump so it’s easy to keep your tires inflated or – best of all – being comfortable riding on the streets where you live and work, so you don’t feel like you have to load your bike onto your car and take it to a trail to ride.

And rewards? Well, that’s the easy part. Cycling burns calories, so you can reward yourself with your favorite food or drink.

“Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.”               – Mark Twain

What keeps so many of us from biking more is other peoples’ habits – particularly motorists. So much of what we hear and see in bicycle “advocacy” is really not advocacy of cycling at all; it’s advocacy to suppress or change the habits of motorists. As hard as it can be to change your own habits, it’s many times harder to change the habits of others. Especially when those others outnumber you 100-to-1. Motorists don’t necessarily improve their habits when a bike lane, sidewalk or sidepath is built, or when a new law is passed.

In order to change a habit you need a cue and a reward. Finger-pointing is counterproductive. Telling others “You have to change your habits for my sake” is a non-starter. Even if they did want to change, are they going to get enough opportunity and practice to learn a new habit?

For example, the most common crash between a motorist and bicyclist is when the motorist is pulling out from a driveway or side street preparing to turn right and the cyclist is coming down the sidewalk facing on-coming traffic. The average motorist might look just a few feet to the right where a pedestrian might be. But to see a cyclist approaching at 12 miles per hour, that driver will need to look at least 100 feet down the sidewalk to the right. They rarely do. In most areas the chance that such a driver will encounter an approaching cyclist is very small. A cyclist might come by once every fifteen minutes.

So even a motorist consciously trying to build a new habit is going to get little opportunity to practice. The cues are rare, and so are the rewards. The same can be said for all the other less-common types of conflicts.

Advocates like to tout the safety of cycling in The Netherlands, but may not realize that Dutch drivers have always had far, far more opportunity to build the habits of scanning for, yielding to, and safely passing cyclists. Long before the Dutch started building so many bikeways, it was common to see 10 to 15 percent bicycle traffic in their cities. That means one out of every seven to ten street users is a cyclist. Think of the habit-building opportunity in such an environment compared to the average American street, where cyclists are less than 1 percent.

Rather than tell millions of others to change their habits in an environment that discourages them from doing so, what if we changed our cycling strategies to take advantage of the habits drivers already have?

That’s what CyclingSavvy is: A set of strategies designed to take advantage of the habits American motorists have now. Our challenge at American Bicycling Education Association is to make successful cyclist safety strategies habitual for American cyclists. With a New Year around the corner, that will be – continues to be – our resolution.

What’s your resolution to make cycling a stronger habit for you and your friends? What cues and rewards will you use? Please share your comments below!


savvy cyclists

Another Brick in the Wall

Here at The Savvy Cyclist we prefer to stay away from political matters and stick with the practical. Don’t we all get way too much politics in our lives as it is? A basic appeal of cycling is how it can free us – at least for a while – from the frustrations of everyday life.

Freedom and adventure were the key benefits we saw in cycling as kids; the ability to travel well beyond walking distance from home without the help or supervision of our parents. Cooperation and courtesy are the hallmarks of the U.S. transportation system.Growing up, cycling was simple. Hop on, wander, explore, discover. In the 1970s – when I grew up – no one was telling me how horribly dangerous cycling was. That’s because it wasn’t.

It still isn’t.

Based on data from the American Community Survey and the National Highway & Traffic Safety Administration, American bicyclists travel about 9 billion miles per year. About 40,000 suffer injury crashes with motorists, and about 750 per year are killed. This means the average bicyclist will travel 225,000 miles between injury crashes, and 12 million miles before a fatal crash. Be a safer-than-average cyclist and those distances increase a great deal.

At least half of those deaths involve bicyclists behaving in a very risky manner, such as cycling at night without lights, biking while intoxicated, or darting out mid-block onto a high-speed road. Less than half of the injury crashes involve a law-abiding cyclist traveling along on a roadway.

Far fewer crashes involve cyclists who have received formal training. So if you’re a trained law-abiding cyclist, you can confidently bump up those mileages to at least a million miles between motorist-caused serious injury and 30 million miles per death. I’ll leave it to you to figure out how long it would take you to ride a million miles.Not "bikes" or "cars." Humans.

Yet, to listen to the news, you’d think such personal catastrophes are imminent and inevitable. This myth received an unfortunate boost last week when a terrorist chose a New York City bikeway and the innocent people using it as his target. And so the political realm has imposed upon us once again. The culture expects us to choose sides and stake out our political turf.

In the aftermath of this event, some voices have called for still more “protection” for cyclists, by beefing up separation barriers alongside bikeways, and adding posts at path/street intersections. Others are likening the everyday actions of regular motorists – our friends and neighbors – with those of the terrorist. I’d provide links as examples, but I don’t want to expand their audience.

Well, I’m not having it. The whole “bikes-versus-cars” meme deserves to die a quick and painless death. To say cyclists and motorists are at war in our streets, and that the government must side with cyclists, will only increase conflict. I wrote about this at length in an essay titled I Am Not a Bicyclist.

People who misunderstand Darwin think our primary survival strategy is competition. Eminent biologist E.O. Wilson (no relation) insists it’s really cooperation.

Cooperation has made the human race the dominant species on this planet. Cooperation is the fundamental feature of our traffic system, at least when it’s working properly. Cooperation is what we teach in CyclingSavvy. It’s what we experience on a routine basis as we bike around our communities. We need more of it – much more – not less. But barriers inhibit cooperation. And at times they become a hazard in and of themselves.

I live in Orlando. Last year we suffered the worst (at the time) mass shooting in modern U.S. history. I was so proud to see how our community came together – gay and straight, all races and ethnicities, all faiths, and those with no faith, all political parties, law enforcement, everyone – to say we will not give in to fear. The community conversation was how do we work together to address the underlying cause of this tragedy, not treat symptoms or point fingers.


Not a wall along the border.

Not paths with jersey barriers.

Not steel posts at path crossings.

Just …

I’m a human on a bicycle. Are you a human in an automobile? We share an essential need: To understand what the other will do so we can cooperate and make both our journeys better.

biking on sidewalks

Sidewalk Strife

Leave the roadway,

and you leave

some important rights behind.

I work for MetroPlan Orlando, Central Florida’s regional transportation planning agency. Each morning when I get to my desk, I log in to a statewide database of traffic crashes and review the latest pedestrian and bicyclist crashes uploaded for our area. This system allows me to review detailed police reports and classify the crashes based on the behaviors of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. If you’ve taken CyclingSavvy you’ve seen some of the results of this ongoing analysis.

Crashes with motorists involving sidewalk cyclists are increasing both in number and as a percentage of the total. When I first did such analysis in the mid 1990s, less than half of crashes involved sidewalk cyclists; today it’s at 70 percent. Much of this increase is likely due to more of our major roads having sidewalks today than they did 20 years ago, and most now have curb ramps for wheelchair users, making sidewalks more accessible to cyclists.You have a pedestrian's legal rights when you ride on sidewalks.

Those who have taken CyclingSavvy or read other knowledgeable sources on cycling safety understand the many ways sidewalk cycling increases crash risk. Sidewalk cyclists have more conflicting movements, poorer sight lines, and reduced predictability.

But in addition to the increased crash risk, sidewalk cyclists involved in crashes with motorists may be at a bigger legal disadvantage.