Changing minds…a few at a time

Changing minds…a few at a time

As an avid road bike rider, one thing I began to think more and more about was law: specifically, the intersection between motorists and bicyclists. Then, I joined the League of American Bicyclists and took a course that talked about driving my bicycle. That course codified the need for bicyclists to follow the same principles that motorists follow on the road.

New Jersey law, like the law in every other state, explicitly gives bicycle riders the same rights and responsibilities as drivers of motor vehicles. Many motorists do not understand this. Even most police officers, including those focused on traffic enforcement, have the perspective of a motor vehicle operator. Talking to officers around the state, I learned that many of them do not realize how different traffic appears to a bicyclist. They also did not fully understand the challenges bicyclists face in dealing with motorists.

So, I created a course designed to teach New Jersey law enforcement officers exactly how NJ motor vehicle law applies to bicyclists. I thought at the time that the best way to get officers to understand what it’s like to drive a bike would probably be…to get them on bikes.

The course addressed the “Three E’s of Traffic Safety:” Education, Engineering, and Enforcement, in the classroom. Then, I got them on bikes to practice hazard avoidance drills, and to ride on a variety of roads ranging from low-speed, residential streets to major highways, on roads with and without shoulders so they could understand how roadway design, traffic and road conditions affect bicyclists. I was fortunate to conduct the course in Camden, Essex, Middlesex, Ocean, and Passaic Counties in August and September, reaching 48 officers. I taught it with another League Cycling Instructor, who is also an active police officer and bicycle racer. He was able to provide the police perspective to his colleagues. It also helped that he was up front teaching rather than just some guy (me) trying to tell cops how to do their job…

The dual approach made the program work. Classroom discussion helped officers become more aware of how motor vehicle code applies to bicyclists. The “Aha!” moments started, though, once the officers got out from behind the steering wheel of a police car and onto two wheels.

As the experts on traffic law, officers have an intellectual understanding that bicyclists have the same rights and duties as motorists. But, honestly, getting them on the bikes made the difference. Many of the 48 officers who participated in the course commented on this to me. I heard things like, “I have a new respect for people who ride bikes now,” and “Now I understand what it’s like to try to ride on these roads.” I also heard, “I’m not visible on the bike unless I take the lane and ride in traffic,” and “It really does work better when I behave more like a car.”

My hope is that I’ve planted a seed.

Posted in Law
It was a crash…it was no accident!

It was a crash…it was no accident!

“The problem is that you can be wounded in your mind as well as your physique.”

— Marco Pantani


Yeah, a bike crash can do that. The body (usually) heals just fine, thank you. But there’s a mind game going on, too.

I’m thinking about this again because a friend of mine was recently involved in a bike crash. The husband and wife were riding on a trail. At a road crossing, motorists stopped to let them cross the road. Someone in a car in the line decided that he wasn’t going to wait. So he swung out onto the shoulder on the right side of the lane and accelerated past everyone else…right into the husband on the bike.

The collision was at 40mph. Had the bicyclist’s right foot been a little further in the pedalstroke, the front bumper would have hit him in the leg. He probably would have lost his leg, given the speed of collision. Thank God that didn’t happen but of course, there are multiple other wounds now. After shattering the windshield and flying through the air before hitting the ground, he has a broken scapula, tears in both knees, tingling in his hands from the blow when he hit the ground on his head, a hematoma in his hip that will take 8 months to heal, damage to rib cartilage that allows his ribs to just pop in and out of place. Those are the ones they know about now. He’s still going from doctor to doctor so they can figure out if there’s anything else going on!

Think that’s all? Nope. His wife, who was riding right behind him at the time, got to watch him fly across the hood, smash the windshield, go airborne, and land on his head. She’s wounded, too. Not physically, but mentally and emotionally she’s having a hard time.

And the motorists who watched the whole scene play out in front of them? I’m sure some of them keep seeing it over and over, too.

And why did this happen? Because an egocentric, impatient motorist COULDN’T WAIT A FEW SECONDS to get through an intersection. He felt entitled to ignore the rule of law, normal caution and common courtesy because everyone else was in his way.

I hope he replays that day and that moment, too. I hope that the hurt he caused teaches him a little bit about awareness, about compassion, and makes him realize that he is NOT the center of the universe. If even just a little of this happens, then something good may yet come out of this.

I’ve been helping out the couple, being an ear when needed, bringing dinners when I can so there’s one less thing for them to think about. I know how the presence of friends and the outpouring of love, prayers, and thought can change things. I know how much the little things can mean.

I pray for their recovery. I pray for a change of heart in the motorist who did this. I pray that everyone who was there during and after is changed for the better. It’s a lot, I know, but I won’t stop caring.

I’ve talked about crashes in an earlier post. If you’d like to read on, try this one: “I just crashed! (hypothetically)

The day my eyes opened

The day my eyes opened

“I had been familiar with that street for years, and supposed it was dead level: But it was not, as the bicycle now informed me to my surprise. The bicycle, in the hands of a novice, is as alert and acute as a spirit-level in the detecting and vanishing shades of difference in these matters. It notices a rise where your untrained eye would not observe that one existed.”
Mark Twain, Taming the Bicycle

Yeah. That. The things you see, and learn, when you ride a bike:

The way the road rises and falls, and makes you work harder to keep going…it’s the kind of thing you can’t appreciate, or even notice, when driving a car. The slight turn to the left that keeps you from seeing the next intersection…and when you were in your car, you thought it was a perfectly straight road. Those seemingly tiny imperfections in the road surface when you’re in a car, that loom large against the narrow tires of a road bike.

Your perception changes. The way you see things becomes somehow a bit more…granular? Precise? Detailed?

Another, much more significant, change in perception for me occurred right after I took a basic course in bicycle riding. It was the League of American Bicyclists’ Traffic Skills 101. I took it along with a friend; both of us wanted to become instructors, and the TS101 course was a prerequisite. We both wondered on our drive to the course: We’ve been riding bikes for years. We’ve done short rides, long rides, rides for fun, rides for charity, week-long rides…you name it. What can we learn in this course?

We learned that our way of looking at riding changed. Yes, the course went through some basics (much of which we knew at least as well as the instructors), but then made us rethink our relationship with other drivers. We gained the confidence to DRIVE our bicycles. We learned that the more confidence we showed on the road, the more respect we got as road users! And we learned some skills that would serve us well in avoiding the mistakes of other drivers.

I find, too, that the way I drive a car has changed. The increased awareness of the road, of other road users, of the need to communicate and negotiate with other drivers (on 2, 3, 4 wheels or more) all play into an increased presence of mind when I’m driving.

Try it. I challenge you to get on a bike and drive it. See if it changes you, just a little bit…



I just got back from a multi-day trip to Seattle, WA. A beautiful, friendly place. We thoroughly enjoyed so much of the city: the parks, the food, the Market…the list goes on. Seattle is also one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the country. Bikes are everywhere. Bike racks are available just about everyplace you visit. Parking garages routinely have bike corrals/bike parking.

We also experienced, for the first time, a number of different types of bicycle accommodations: protected bike lanes, two-way bike lanes on one-way streets, separate signals for bicycle drivers, two-stage left-turn boxes…most of which are not available where we live. Multi-modal transportation is encouraged: bike racks on buses, acceptance of bikes carried onto light rail. In spite of all this, though, I left feeling ambivalent about bicycle infrastructure.

In many ways, it seemed a great idea. The availability of all these accommodations may be a part of the reason the place is so bicycle-friendly…or may be the result. I can’t say which is causal. Perhaps neither is.

I also saw a lot of bad bicycle driving: Wrong-way riding (and no, not just in the contraflow bike lanes!). Bicyclists ignoring red lights. Roadies speeding through intersections and almost hitting pedestrians who had the right of way.

As in many citites, there’s a bike-share program. Like in New York, lots of bikes available in the downtown area, and in heavily-touristed areas, and not so many (or no availability) in areas where people could use them for transportation.

So from my long-weekend-length impression, I’m left with the feeling that there’s so much potential for amazing things. Cities like Seattle have gone so much further than most. But we’ve still got a long way to go. Bicycles can do so much for us: for our bodies, for our minds, for our economies, for our cities, for our planet.

We still need to educate people about how to drive their bicycles. We need to educate city planners/engineers about how to create efficient and safe infrastructure. We need to educate motorists about how to share the road. We need to educate pedestrians about how to negotiate the newer types of infrastructure that are being created.

In short, we need to educate.

Who pays for the roads, anyway?

Who pays for the roads, anyway?

A friend asked a question on facebook yesterday. She wanted an objective, fact-based response to the argument some people start about bicycle riders: “Bicyclists don’t pay for roads so they shouldn’t use them.” This argument seems logical to many, but in fact, is completely off-base.

First, there is no such thing as a road tax. All of us pay taxes to support the functions of government. One of those is creation and maintenance of a transportation system. I hear you saying, “But gas taxes pay for roads.” Yes, gas taxes do contribute to infrastructure development and maintenance. But in many places (notably here in New Jersey) the gas tax got rolled into the general fund. And the general fund is used to pay for anything for which the government chooses to use it. It is NOT dedicated to infrastructure construction and maintenance. Also, gas taxes, even if they were dedicated to road costs, would not cover the cost of construction and maintenance. So a significant portion of the funds would still have to come from the general fund.

In almost all places where bicycle riders are on the road, the local government handles road construction, or at least maintenance. Funds for the local government come mainly from…property and/or sales taxes. So anyone who owns property or buys anything is actually paying for the road.

And county and state roads are mostly funded by…income or sales taxes. So anyone who works or buys anything pays for the roads.

And Federal highways are funded by the US government. And the Federal government is funded by…income tax.

So anyone who works, or owns property, or buys anything pays for the roads. Wow, that changes perspective, doesn’t it?

Now back to the original proposition (that bicycle riders don’t pay for roads). Quiz: do bicycle riders own cars? Almost all do. So they do pay gas tax, like everyone else who drives a motor vehicle. They bought those cars, and groceries, and clothes, so they also paid sales tax, too. They probably work somewhere to get the income to buy all these things, so they pay income tax, too.

Oh…sounds like that argument just doesn’t hold up, doesn’t it?


Close Call

“Wow, that car almost hit me!”

“…that $#^^#*@ threw a soda bottle at me as he went past!”

Most of us have experienced close calls, if not exactly one of those two scenarios, then one just as unsettling or dangerous. Your heart races, and flashes of what might have happened go through your mind. Now there’s a place we all go to report problem motorists. A database called “Close Call” has been established to help identify them.

Let’s say a car comes up behind your group cycling on hilly, narrow rural roads. The driver pulls up close to the last rider, backs off, then does it over and over. She tries to pass, but since the roads are narrow and hilly she can’t get around you without taking a chance that a car may be coming in the opposite direction just around that corner. Eventually, she pulls out and floors it, taking a chance with her own life, and with the lives of the riders in your group.

You call the local police, and are told that since the officer was not there to see what happened, it’s your word against hers. Therefore, they won’t do anything…

This is not a hypothetical. It happened to me and some friends.

The reality of that situation is that this is probably not the first time that motorist did this. And it probably will not be the last. The Close Call Database can provide a means of tracking such drivers. After a close call, you can log in to report the incident. Enter as much data as you have, and information about it will be shared with cyclists in your area. When others report an incident, you’ll get information on that, too. Serial offenders will be identified, and police will be contacted.

In addition, the database being built will give police information so that if a future incident occurs with one of those same drivers, there will be evidence to show that no, it wasn’t just a one-time lapse of judgment.

So do yourself…and your fellow riders…a service and register on the database. Go to the Close Call Database. We’ll all be glad you did.

Bicycling in NOLA

Bicycling in NOLA

We’ve spent the last week in New Orleans. It’s been fun visiting family, eating at some of our favorite haunts, and just enjoying the city’s amazing vibe. One of the things that has become more and more apparent in the years since Katrina is the rapid rise of bicycling in the city.

It began with sharrows on some of the fairly major roadways across the city. Over time, we began to see bike lanes, then bike taxis in the French Quarter, dedicated bike lanes on some of the major roads into and out from the central business district, and bike shops springing up all over town. On this trip, we couldn’t help but see the throngs of tourists on bicycle tours of the city.

The city seems to have made a commitment to alternative transportation. And many people have made the same commitment. Public transit has been big in NO at least as long as I’ve been alive. So I guess the willingness to NOT use a car was already there.

I have not yet ventured out in NO on a bike (at least, not since my college days, when my bike and public transportation were my means of getting around). I’d like to do it, but I think I’d have to come down here with that as my primary agenda item, instead of visiting family and friends. Much of the family lives outside of town, and there is, literally, no way to go from New Orleans to points east by bicycle.

Gambit Cover Green mileThe city’s latest project is the “Lafitte Greenway.” Work finishes up this spring on repurposing an old railway bed that runs for 2.6 miles from the edge of the French Quarter out to the Lakefront, pretty much bisecting the city. It will connect many diverse neighborhoods with a multi-use park, with sports facilities, paths, bike lanes, and businesses all along the perimeter. An ambitious, and inspiring, project. The Dec. 30 issue of “Gambit” gives some of the details.

It is amazing to see. There are already bicycles everywhere. The city and businesses have installed racks all over town. There are people RIDING their bicycles everywhere you look. You’ll have to visit, rent a bike, and explore. And later this year, maybe even ride the Greenway! So many things to do, so little time! And besides, if you ride your bike there, you can afford to consume a few more calories in some of the most amazing restaurants you’ve ever seen.

A random musing about online learning

A random musing about online learning

I recently read an article about online learning. It was based on work done by psychologists Pam Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel Oppenheimer of UCLA. Between them, they conducted three studies to test whether taking notes by hand or on a laptop affected learning.

All subjects (students) got the same lectures. Some interesting differences in learning came out of the studies, however. The concepts were better learned by those who took notes by hand. For immediate simple fact retrieval there was no difference between the two groups. But, when allowed to then look at their notes, those taking notes by hand did better.

The conclusion was that longhand note-taking was better.

So why am I talking about this in a blog about bicycling? I’ve taught a number of students the League of American Bicyclists’ course Traffic Skills 101. There are two ways one can take that course: the full course can be taken in the classroom/on the bike, or students can go to a website that has the classroom portion online, and follow up with just the on-bike portion in person.

My interest was piqued by the article, since I had experienced a difference in learning, albeit not the same difference studied by these researchers, among TS101 students.

In 2012, I had exactly one student who elected to take the classroom portion online. When he arrived for the on-bike portion, I had the distinct impression that he had not internalized many of the concepts that had been presented in the classroom section. Principles of traffic law, in particular, were not as well understood, and during the on-bike portion of the course, I noticed this rider taking more chances/riding in less-than-optimal positions during the ride. At the time, given my sample of exactly one, I just filed it away as an interesting and possibly wildly inaccurate conclusion.

More recently, though, I’ve had more students who have done the online/on-bike version of the class. More experience corroborates my initial feeling that taking the course online led to a shallower experience, and left students less-well prepared and educated.

What really made it hit home was a class of students who were interested in becoming instructors. There is an assessment given before the start of the class to make sure students are operating from the same knowledge base. Students are given a second chance to pass the test if they score poorly the first time. Here’s where it got interesting: All of the students in this class had taken the online version of TS101. When they sent in their first pass at the assessment, scores were lower than usual for many of those enrolled. A greater proportion of students than in other classes scored poorly; I had to ask most participants to re-take the test to reach the minimum passing score required for attendance.

They all did fine on the retest, so there was no problem in the long run – but it took more work on their part to wrap their minds around the material. The “convenience” and “time-saving” of online learning was offset by insufficient absorption of the material.

I realize that I’ve extrapolated (probably inappropriately) from the original research. I think it’s an area that we don’t know enough about right now, and that it needs more work. Based on my (relatively small) sample size, though, I will recommend to any potential students that they take the class in-person rather than online.

Your thoughts?

I just crashed! (hypothetically)

I just crashed! (hypothetically)

OK, so you’ve gotten into a crash with another vehicle. It was NOT an accident. Someone or something caused it. What should you do now? Here are the steps you need to take:

  • Memorize (or photograph!) the license plate number of the other vehicle.
  • Call 911 to report the crash. DO wait for the police.
  • Get information about the other driver: vehicle information (you should already have the license plate number in case the other driver decides to leave the scene), the driver’s name, vehicle owner’s name, names and contact information for any witnesses, and insurance company info.
  • Take pictures. Virtually all phones can do this – photograph the crash scene, the other vehicle, your bike, the road, the sky…anything and everything that could be used to document what happened.
  • Contact the other driver’s insurance company. Give them notice of claim, but DO NOT volunteer a lot of information. They will use anything you say that might exonerate their customer or minimize their payment responsibility.
  • If the condition of the road had a bearing on the crash, file a claim with the municipality.
  • PRESERVE ALL EVIDENCE!!! Your helmet, your torn-up bike clothes, again, anything and everything that could be used to document what happened.
  • Do not give a statement to anyone other than a police officer. Anything you say will come back to haunt you…

To help collect all this information, I found a cool app. It’s called Bike Crash Kit and is available for Apple and Android. It’s free, and looks to be an excellent app. Look for it in the App Store or Google Play.

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