Notwithstanding my earlier post today on road rage and harassment, almost all of my bike rides are without incident. And so are yours.
Somebody posted a request for a bike route across San Jose on a local discussion list last night. He quit riding 20 years ago after he was hit by a car. He’d like to give biking to work a shot again now, but it’s just so dangerous, don’t you know.
How do you address something like that? Irrationality is part of the human experience. I know there’s an uncontrollable animal aspect to fear and I have first hand experience with the tremendous adrenalin surge that happens after a hard thump from a motor vehicle.
I have to wonder, though: How many people quit driving after they’ve been in a car wreck? About one fourth of the U.S. population have been or will be involved in a car collision, but anybody with a driving phobia is seen as strange and in need of therapy, while a fear of cycling is seen as a healthy and appropriate response to our hazardous roads, even in various online bicycling forums.
The cycling echo chamber too often reinforces the dangers, risks and hassles of cycling over the fun, freedom and exhilaration. I’m guilty of this myself, but I began Cyclelicious six years ago partly to counteract the fear-based advocacy that seems so prevalent. Yes, bicycling can and should be safer in the United States, but it’s really not that much more dangerous than riding in a car.
Vik the lazy Randonneur rants at length about “The Safety Myth” and the extent some cyclists go to achieve what he calls “Most-Safer” cycling. He begins provocatively with “The number one threat to cycling in North America is fear – nothing else comes close to doing the same damage” and moves on from there to evidence based risk mitigation.
Vik’s solution is to fight fear with logic. I’m a big believer in education to increase a cyclist’s confidence in riding with traffic, but I don’t know that to be a complete solution. Mikael’s Copenhagen Cycle Chic has probably done more to normalize cycling and make it seem safer and more mainstream than 50 years of cycling education have done. Group rides — whether they’re formal road confidence education rides, roadie club rides, town cruiser tours or even “bike party” style rides — can also work effectively to increase a bike riders confidence, though, admittedly, this is completely anecdotal.
Kent’s response is sort of along the same lines as mine here. Kent acknowledges that cycling is safer than many people realize, but he also understands personal experience drives an irrationally emotional response that can overpower volumes of empirical data. We’re not robots with risk / reward analysis programmed into our skulls, but we’re complex, emotional beings who, at times, act irrationally.
Perception is reality. For some people, Joe Friday’s “Just the facts, Ma’am” approach to bike psychic comfort works fine. Most people, however, require encouragement beyond simple statistics and intellectual browbeating.