Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Cycling Education. Who could be against that?

Recently the Office of the Chief Coroner set about to conduct a review of cycling deaths across the province. This was in response to the deaths of two young women in the space of a couple of weeks. These deaths and a spat of other incidents, aroused public concern over the safety of cyclists. Corner's reports are long processes and the report will not be released before spring 2012, so I can't really talk to the report. Although, the Chief Coroner did allow for public input as part of the review and that has sparked a reoccurring debate in the cycling community; Infrastructure vs. Education.
The Education Activists are an interesting bunch, they don't like being called activists. They usually portray themselves as "Responsible Cyclists". They are scandalized by the behaviour of cyclists they see every day (or think they see) they know that cyclist safety is suffering because of this poor behaviour. They think Infrastructure Activists are irresponsible for advocating for policies that will attract more people to cycling. These new cyclists will, by definition, be "poorly trained and unskilled", and inevitably the victim of some horrible tragedy as they transition from protected cycle-track to regular streets. The solution to these problems is Cycling Education and if the there is no money left over for infrastructure, so much the better. Of course this is nonsense. Cycling fatalities and injuries have been on a bumpy downward trend for nearly 20 years. This is at the same time that cycling is increasing, so these poorly trained and unskilled (new) cyclists are not being killed off in number. Adult returning cyclists are most often licensed drivers, who should know the rules of the road. Convincing large numbers of them to take a Can-Bike course, devoting an entire weekend (or several) to being lectured about “cyclist inferiority complex”. Well, lets just say I wouldn't want that marketing job. Ah, what about the children? Surely there is value for Cycling Education in the schools? After all "cycling education has entirely disappeared from the public education system". Maybe, but probably not. This is a bit of a good news/bad news story. School age children are not being killed on bikes. This is most likely because school age children are not riding bikes. At least not to school, shops or even friends houses. I'm a parent of two elementary school kids, the bike racks are mighty bare. Besides, traffic safety is taught. Kindergartners know stop-signs, and red-lights.  They know to look both ways before crossing the road. Every year they get a school-bus safety refresher. These kids know safe, a specific cycling program, while maybe nice, is not necessary. 
Let's be clear calls for Cycling Education as a safety program, are really calls to not spend money on other programs or infrastructure. They ignore the real dangers of our streets and the real actions that can make cycling safer objectively and subjectively. Calls for Cycling Education are obstructionist strategies, and should be seen as such.
*Update 2011-12-16*
Kathleen Wilker's blog FamiliesonBikes has some relevant information on this issue. The City of Ottawa offers Can-Bike courses through City Wide Sports a division of Ottawa's Parks, Recreation and Culture Department. Not only is the city already delivering cycling education, they piloted a program that offered free cycling education to Ottawa schools: "All told, 2000 kids received some kind of free bike education at their schools in Ottawa last spring". Further according to Kathleen's blog Gord MacGregor, who leads the program is planning to expand the schools cycling education program for next spring. 
So the Cycling Education is there. Will this make the "Responsible Cyclists" happy? Probably not, and that is sad.

No comments:

Post a Comment