I propose this as the Mission Statement of the type of organization that I believe is best fitted to rectify the problems of the bicycle transportation field.
The Bicycle Transportation Engineering Group (BTEG) is organized as a not-for-profit charitable and educational organization.
Bicycle transportation engineering is the application of general street and highway transportation engineering to the special case of operation of bicycles. It is based on the same principles and methods, and reaches conclusions in agreement with those reached in the major discipline. Most of the research and policies that have produced the quality, safety, and convenience of our street and highway system are applicable to bicycle transportation.
However, this applicability is often misunderstood. BTEG is organized to provide accurate technical information about bicycle transportation, whether for utilitarian or recreational travel, to government, transport professionals, and society as a whole. Its purpose is to support safe, convenient, and equitable treatment for those who choose to cycle according to the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles.
The scientific and engineering evidence on bicycling strongly supports the Vehicular Cycling Principle that "Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles." Hence, BTEG will support Vehicular Cycling Principle except in the unlikely event that future evidence accrues to overturn this principle.
A variety of governmental organizations at all levels of government have pursued policies that are in agreement neither with the Vehicular Cycling Principle nor more generally with sound traffic engineering principles, mainly through granting a kind of symbolic priority in road use to motorized vehicles. The result has been a patchwork of laws, policies, and facilities that treat cyclists as second-class roadway users.
A movement has developed in this country, starting around 1970, to accommodate cyclists with segregated bikeways - on bike lanes on streets or on bike paths set off from streets. This policy is detrimental to cyclists because it reduces the safety, utility, and appeal of bicycle use. Had the consequences of this policy been foreseen it would not have been accepted by the communities where it has been put in place. However, the segregated-bikeway movement has a popular base of support in a common fear of cycling on streets and roads with motor traffic and especially in the fear among inexperienced cyclists of collisions with overtaking motor traffic. The policy problem here is that collisions with overtaking (or same-direction) motor traffic are rare: what are much more common are collisions with intersecting motor traffic (and in some cases with intersecting bicycle traffic). It proves to be almost impossible to create segregated bicycle facilities that do not increase the number (and danger) of intersections over those that would be encountered were the same cycling to be carried out on the conventional street or highway grid.
It is a major policy goal of BTEG to correct this situation - to inform government agencies, transportation professionals, and those who choose to cycle, that "cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles."
The defective condition of bicycle transportation policy has two causes. One cause is non-use (and sometimes misuse) of scientific and engineering information. The other cause is the public misconception about bicycling safety that allows this misuse. Any thorough discussion of BTEG strategy will need to consider which of these causes can be most easily corrected given the resources of an organization such as BTEG, and which course of action would most likely produce the desired correction.
Any effort to correct public misconception would require not only some kind of public relations program but a program so effective as to persuade enough of the public that government agencies and transportation professionals should forego segregated facilities and adopt Vehicular Cycling as the policy criterion. Three barriers to such persuasion arise. First, the general voting public consists largely of motorists, many of whom take comfort in the idea that bicyclists ought to be second-class road users. Second, the general public believes that cycling on the same roads used by motorists is dangerous. Third, few among the general public care very much about bicyclists and bicycle transportation. To change a sufficiently large segment of general public opinion would require not only concise and memorable slogans, facts, and arguments, but a large and expensive public relations effort.
Because the vehicular cycling principle is strongly supported by safety and accident evidence, those who will take most serious note of it are transportation professionals, particularly engineering professionals. These are government highway authorities, legislative staff personnel, and independent traffic engineers and academics who consult with government. If these persons can be persuaded that the evidence overwhelmingly favors the Vehicular-Cycling Principle (and thereby casts doubt on policies of cyclist segregation), then, through their effective control of the technical aspects of highway design and operation, they would advise legislators as to the disutility and danger of present policy.
The technical engineering aspects of vehicular-cycling policy need to be supported by practical evidence that they succeed among actual cyclists on real roads. Many active cyclists in touch with cycling traditions that had been developed and handed down through cycling clubs know from their own experience that they fared best when they acted as drivers of vehicles. This is directly opposite to the public misconception that riding bicycles on the roads is simply too dangerous. Because of this public misconception, many programs, rules, and regulation affecting cycling have had the real (if unstated) goal of frightening inexperienced or potential cyclists with the threat of serious injury or death from same-direction motor traffic into non-vehicular-cycling preferences.
In contrast to the "fear from the rear" policy of advocates for segregated facilities, BTEG presents four reasons for teaching people to cycle properly and safely as drivers of vehicles. First, it improves both the safety and the utility of bicycle transportation. Second, it has already demonstrated that both adults and children can quickly learn to ride safely as drivers of vehicles. Third, it demonstrates to the wider public that cyclists actually do fare best when they act as drivers of vehicles. Fourth, the cyclists trained to benefit by acting as drivers of vehicles will form a cadre of advocates for vehicular cycling and for societal acceptance of the Vehicular Cycling Principle.
Still, it is not to be expected that the public will come to believe very strongly in the Vehicular Cycling Principle; the most that can be reasonably hoped is societal acceptance of the vehicular cycling principle as embodied in engineering designs and statute laws, applicable to those who actually choose to cycle.
BTEG will develop and distribute better information about bicycle transportation engineering. To the extent that its resources allow it may do this by conducting its own research. More likely, as with prior similar organizations, it will improve the state of knowledge by analysis and synthesis of research by others who have more resources.
BTEG will distribute this better information through whatever channels are appropriate for a particular situation. This may take the form of articles on BTEG's website, position papers distributed by BTEG, papers presented at professional meetings and published in professional journals, media presentations, testimony before legislative hearings, presentations to governmental and professional organizations, moving pictures when appropriate, and books. The object in each case will be to disseminate better information to persuade the target audience to support policies and programs in accordance with the vehicular-cycling principle.
BTEG will provide this better information to governmental bodies that deal with bicycle transportation, with the intent of persuading them to institute laws, policies and programs that best reflect the vehicular cycling principle.
BTEG will present (and offer models for) instruction in bicycle transportation engineering and associated subjects to both present and prospective practitioners of these subjects. Such presentations may be made through seminars for practicing professionals and through presentations to students of transportation engineering, urban planning, and the like. It is desirable that academics be persuaded to include such presentations in formal curricula for those subjects.
BTEG will demonstrate how vehicular cycling skills can be taught to persons over a wide age range, including children. This requires a system for training instructors, and testing and qualifying them, to ensure that the teaching be done with proper competence. Instructors may affiliate themselves with various organizations that provide education, such as community colleges, park and recreation departments, bicycle clubs, community service organizations, and the like. Instructors will be required to test their students by measuring their behavior on real roads in real traffic (of the intensity suitable for the age of the student), and to report the results so that a proper data base of curricular effectiveness may be developed.
Because the activities of BTEG concern bicycling, BTEG will maintain links to other cycling organizations, with the form and content of these links reflecting the degree to which the other organization supports the vehicular cycling principle. The link may range from friendly and cooperative to acrimonious, depending on the activities of the other organization.
BTEG supports the Vehicular Cycling Principle because that is best for those who choose to cycle and is equitable for motorists. BTEG evaluates other issues according to that criterion. BTEG hopes to attract more persons to cycling in the vehicular manner, and to persuade society to better accommodate such cycling. BTEG does not support attempts to increase bicycle transportation, or to decrease motoring, by methods that jeopardize the welfare of vehicular cyclists.
Each of the above operations can benefit from public relations work. BTEG will support public relations effort that is directed at furthering the operations that are described above, to the extent to which favorable results may be achieved.
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