24 October 2018

Making Drivers Bicycle-Friendly in Colorado

Whenever I've ridden outside the US, I couldn't help but to notice how much more courteous drivers are to cyclists.  Even in Cambodia and Laos, which don't have cycling cultures like those in some European countries, I had less fear of riding even the most chaotic streets than I sometimes have in my home town and country.

What's especially interesting, to me, is that it doesn't seem to matter whether I'm in the city or the country.  In France, the country where I've spent the most time (besides the US), I find drivers in Paris nearly as accommodating as those in Provence or Picardy.

The reason, I believe, is that drivers are simply more conscious of cyclists and of how cycling is different from driving.  In the US, many people never get on a bike again after they get their drivers' licenses, usually at age 16 or thereabouts.  In other countries, some people continue to pedal, at least for short distances, even after they're allowed to drive.  Some never even become regular drivers, usually because they can't afford it, but sometimes out of choice:  There are situations in which a bicycle is actually more convenient than a motorized vehicle.

In other words, in other places, drivers are more conscious of cyclists because they are more likely to be, or have recently been, regular or occasional cyclists themselves.  Also, most countries didn't experience two or three generations of people who didn't ride as adults, as the US did from the end of World War I until recently.

Thankfully, a few policy makers are at least beginning to understand what I've just described.  That seems to be the reason why the National Safety Council has given one of its Road to Zero grants to Bicycle Colorado so it can conduct Bicycle-Friendly Driver Certification programs throughout the state.  

The curriculum was created in Fort Collins, a city in the northern part of the state long known for its cycling infrastructure.  Since then, Bicycle Colorado has brought its classes, which are free for participants,  to other parts of the state--including, most recently, Colorado Springs.  BC has also made its curriculum available so that other communities can adapt it.  

Community Safety Cooridiator Molly McKinley says the classes teach drivers about "sharing the road" from the motorist's perspective:  how to pass and yield to cyclists, how to turn and how to utilize a bike lane.  She says it also is an attempt to inculcate drivers with the notion that cyclists are drivers of vehicles who have just as much right to the road as motorists.  The importance of exercising caution and patience when passing a cyclist is also emphasized, McKinley says.

Molly McKinley leading a Bicycle-Freindly Driver Certification class.

Perhaps most important of all, Bicycle Colorado is trying to reach drivers who might not otherwise come into contact with such a program.  According to Maureen McCanna, Bicycle Colorado's education program manager, BC is "trying to support communities who want to incorporate this education but don't have the resources to do it."   Also, she says, her group wants to "make sure we are reaching people who may not be avid cyclists and may not have that perspective."

I think she has a clear understanding of what needs to be done.  Now, all she and others have to do is figure out a way to make it all happen nationwide.  After all, we have two or three generations' worth of knowledge to catch up on.

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