Category: Education

Another “Oops!”

Another “Oops!”

I’m sitting in a car dealership, having recall work done. The perfect opportunity to start going through stuff on the computer and cleaning things out/reorganizing/deleting, etc. In digging through the files, I find an old post on bicycle safety from 2020 (wow! pre-COVID) that I apparently never put up. But it’s worth taking a look at it. I wrote it after going on a bike ride with local police officers. And my goodness, that day, they got to experience first-hand some of the craziness that people on bicycles experience ALL. THE. TIME. So I’ll just go ahead and put this out there.

You should think about this in light of all the new bike infrastructure now being built around town. Of course, it’s meant to make roads safer for all users. The whole “Complete Streets” philosophy entails making roads safer for ALL road users, rather than just getting motorists from Point A to Point B faster (which has been the operating principle of road design for quite some time). However, motorists are saying that bicyclists “taking over my streets” and “getting in the way of traffic” and “slowing me down” are just wrong. And they’re taking it out on anyone who disagrees with them…see the road rage incidents mentioned below against bicycling groups that include police officers!!!

Read on…


At the end of January, several LCIs/ride leaders met with officers from New Orleans Police Department’s First District for a bike ride. The inspiration for the ride came when Clark Thompson spoke with Captain LeJon Roberts at a neighborhood association meeting. To Capt. Robert’s statement , “We should go for a bike ride,” Clark responded, “OK. When?”

And so last week, Clark and I, and three other LCIs (Janneke van der Molen, John Strange, Scott Verdun) led a group including about a dozen officers (including Capt Roberts) on a bike ride through the CBD during evening rush hour. Blue Bikes provided bicycles to officers who needed them. The ride included a bit of the French Quarter, Baronne St, Loyola and Tulane Avenues, Galvez, Canal, and Broad Streets, and the Lafitte Greenway/Basin Street.

The officers were split into small groups, riding in plainclothes, so as not to attract any special attention. A mere three blocks from the start of the ride, one group experienced road rage as a motorist told us to quit blocking the street (in not so friendly terms). As soon as we crossed Canal, another group encountered a taxi driver blocking the bike lane, who, when approached and asked to move, threatened the ride leader (it didn’t hurt that Capt. Roberts was in that group).

On reaching Tulane and Loyola, because on the high volume of traffic, we elected not to move to the left lane to turn onto Tulane. Instead we did a two-stage turn, crossing Loyola and Tulane, then waiting for a green light to proceed on Tulane. The light turned green and a motorist gunned it to get in front of us and turn right, almost hitting an officer in the process.

We stopped along the way to discuss what we had seen, and to alert officers to upcoming challenges. We could not have planned for a better (worse?) outcome, as several incidents brought home the reality faced by bicycle drivers every day in the Big Easy…it’s not so easy for people on bicycles. The incidents I mentioned (and others along the way) brought a new level of awareness to the officers. We leaders could see/hear the “Aha!” moments on the ride.

At least this group of officers has a better understanding of how much different roads look when you’re under your own power on two wheels, rather than in a big metal box with the power of a gasoline engine. Capt. Roberts told us that he wants everyone in the First District to experience bicycle safety (or in this case bicycle “un-safety”), and that he will bring it up as something that should be done across the city.

And by the way, the next day, officers were in front of the business where the taxi driver was blocking the lane, handing out $300 tickets.

Small steps, big results. We’ll take it.

For more about These Guys’ efforts in law enforcement, see my post Bikes and the Law or Bicycling and Traffic Law 2018.

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Bikes and the law

Bikes and the law

“Is it about a bicycle?”

The Third Policeman, Flann O’Brien

No, it’s about bicycling and traffic law. I haven’t read the book from which the quote comes, but it looks fascinating, and more than a bit weird. I put it on hold at the library so I can learn what the line has to do with anything. But for now, I’m using this quote to spur me on to other thoughts.

I’m in the middle of thinking through/planning/executing a series of short videos on bicycling and traffic law. If you followed my blog for a bit, you know that working with police officers has been my “thing” for the last few years. Over the next year, I’ll have the opportunity to work with a whole new group of departments. I’ve gotten a grant to expand statewide here at home, so I’ll begin laying the groundwork now. For posts about earlier work I’ve done in this area see posts here (2018), here (2017) and here (2015).

But what’s the connection? The series of videos would be about bicycles and traffic law and directed towards bicyclists, rather than towards police officers. Because experience says that many bicyclists don’t understand the rules of the road…

Hey, that sounds familiar:

Many police officers, while they understand traffic law from the motorist’s perspective, don’t understand how that translates into traffic law while seated on a saddle. So, since I’ve developed a program that facilitates giving officers that perspective, I thought it might be a good idea to bring that to the public-at-large, too.

If will have to be a bit more general, though, since laws differ by location. I would discuss the general principles of traffic and how they might look to a person on a bike, but not get into specifics on any one state or municipality. With every state and many local governments creating their own laws under those principles, it would be impossible to do a comprehensive program.

But there’s still plenty to talk about. What are your rights and duties as a road user? What’s the deal with being a part of traffic? Do you need to follow the same rules as motorists? Can you get a ticket on a bike? How does a bicyclist’s view of the road differ from that of a motorist?

In all of this, I’ll show that it’s about the law and how, and when, it applies to people on bikes. It isn’t about a bicycle.

What do you think?

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Dedication

Dedication

“No quote today.”

Les Leathem

OK, so I didn’t start today’s post with a bicycling quote. I guess it is a quote, though…Why no bicycling quote? Because today I’m going to talk about how I spent one weekend this month.

I was in Sarasota, Florida, working with LCI (League Cycling Instructor) candidates. These folks came to be certified in order to share their passion for bicycling with people in their communities. It was great. Dedicated people, hard at work in their communities already, who want to do an even better job of teaching others how they can use their bicycles to commute, to exercise, to travel…

The group was diverse – some young, some older. For some, a “long ride” would be 10 miles. Others wouldn’t be fully warmed up in 10 miles, on their way to the goal of a “century” ride of 100 miles. Some had a lot of experience working on bicycles; others, not so much. What they all shared was passion. Passion to share their experience with others. Passion to work to make bicycling accessible to all. Passion to teach others about the joy that bicycling can bring.

They demonstrated the ability to teach others. They demonstrated the ability to handle their bicycles in hazard drills. They demonstrated the ability to navigate roads in Sarasota – even one of which a local candidate said point-blank, “I live on that road, and I won’t ride my bicycle on it.” But ride on it he did, as did the rest of the candidates. And no, I would never take less-experienced people on bicycles down that road, but as instructors, LCIs should be able to handle higher-volume roadways. And handle it they did.

I am honored to now call many of them “colleague,” rather than “candidate.” This group of brand-new LCIs are eager to get out there and share their knowledge and experience with others. Several of them already have plans in place to work with their local clubs in upcoming classes. They are wasting no time in giving back to their communities. It’s wonderful to hear, and I am so happy I was able to meet and work with them.

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I see…people

I see…people

“I want to kill a bicyclist. I want to hit one of them with my car, knock him off the road, send him spilling over the curb, tumbling out of control. I want to see the bike go flying, and then–this is my fantasy–I stop the car, get out and so do all the other drivers. They cheer me. They yell ‘hooray!’ and then they pick me up and carry me around on their shoulders.”

Richard Cohen, journalist, in Washington Post Magazine

I don’t think Mr. Cohen really means he’d like to murder someone. At least I hope not. If he does this, though, we have this in print, so we know he’s been thinking about it for a while.

Thank goodness this is not a fantasy that is prominent in most people’s minds. At least, I don’t think it is. Most people treat other people the way they’d want to be treated. Usually it’s not even done consciously. Maybe they don’t often go out of their way to help someone, but whether in big cities or small towns, in cars or on the sidewalk, there’s an acknowledgement that the people around you are just that: people. Mothers, sons, friends, daughters, and fathers. Waiters, engineers, teachers, CEOs. Poor, rich, and everything in between. There’s a dance, or an unending string of “negotiations,” if you will, among motorists, among pedestrians, and even between motorists and pedestrians.

And yet, once in a while, the humanity disappears. The dance turns ugly. We see road rage. We see hit-and-run crashes with other motorists, with pedestrians, with people riding bicycles.

Did you see what I did there? Motorists and pedestrians, more often than not, are seen as people. But “cyclists” are those whack jobs in garish outfits who have no respect for the law. They never stop at stop signs or lights and just appear in front of you out of nowhere! They insist on riding in the lane and I can’t get past them! Why don’t they get off the roads??? The dance ends. Negotiations cease. In their place, rancor. Dehumanization.

News flash: those “cyclists” are people, too. People riding bicycles. Parents, children, friends. Musicians, bus help, vice presidents. People at every level of education, society, economics. People riding for fitness. For fun. To get to work or school. To run an errand.

And, yes, some of them may be disobeying traffic law. But before you judge, look in the mirror, buddy. Do you ALWAYS come to a COMPLETE STOP before turning right on red? I didn’t think so. Do you EVER exceed the speed limit by a few miles an hour or so? Oh, yeah, I thought you did…So wait, we’re ALL scofflaws. And we’re ALL people.

Mr. Cohen’s rant takes the humanity away from those who choose to (or have no option but to) use another form of transportation. It reduces the person on a bicycle to an object. In fact, an object of disdain, to be (literally) crushed. Luckily, most people don’t share his fantasy. Most motorists are perfectly willing to coexist with other road users.

But there is ignorance out there. Many people in cars don’t really understand how to behave around bicyclists. And some people on bikes don’t play nice. We need to better inform EVERYONE of his or her rights and duties. Better behavior can happen, but we really are talking about a change in the culture.

In one sense, it’s an enormous change. It’s moving from a car-centric view of the world to one that sees roads as a means to facilitate movement from one place to another for all who wish/need to use them. Looking at it another way, though, it’s not so big. It’s just looking AT, not THROUGH, people, and remembering that we all have the right to move about in society, in whatever way we choose.

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Support. And Freedom.

Support. And Freedom.

“The hardest part of raising a child is teaching them to ride bicycles. A shaky child on a bicycle for the first time needs both support and freedom. The realization that this is what the child will always need can hit hard.” – Sloan Wilsonjournalist

 

What an analogy! It’s hard to add to that, but I’ll ramble on nonetheless. Those of you who have children or work with them know that this is a pretty good summation of the way things work with kids. In reality, that’s a pretty good summation of any relationship. Every human interaction involves some level of support and freedom.

OK, my head just exploded. With our children, we move from more to less support and at the same time, increasing freedom. In our other relationships, do we perhaps move from less to more support, but with freedom redefined? Redefined, perhaps, as the freedom to leave (not all relationships with others grow!) becoming the freedom to stay (some relationships grow into lifetime choices of friendship and/or love).

But back to the bike. What’s so hard after learning to ride? Once we’ve gotten the support to balance it, we figure we’re free. And done with learning.

A lot of kids give up the bicycle when they begin driving cars, trading one means of transportation for another. The lure of the automobile – speed, comfort, ease of use – crowds out other options. And they forget what it was like to be out there, on two wheels. They forget the freedom, the sense of flight, that feeling the wind brings. They forget the euphoria of coasting downhill.

That’s when it gets hard again. Not hard to “ride the bike,” because one never forgets how to ride…umm, balance a bike, but hard because the innocence and invincibility of childhood fades. Adult life interferes. And so, too, does fear. Many people never take up riding again because they are frightened. Of falling. Of cars. Of roads. Of hills. Of rocks. Of…

And that’s where support comes in again. There is always more to learn, and confidence to build. Because in learning more, we realize (discover) that we can have better control over what happens.

  • Learning emergency maneuvers lets me react better in dangerous situations.
  • Learning about traffic principles shows me how to be interact with other drivers.
  • Learning more about descending hills makes me able to do it more safely.

You get my drift?

So keep learning. There are plenty of resources out there for you. I have some of them on my links page. Support and freedom. Not just for our children – for all of us.

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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…

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Seattle

Seattle

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.

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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?

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