A recent media interview and discussions with a variety of people got me thinking about this “war” that some still feel is going on between drivers and people who ride bikes. For some time now we have been creating an image of volatility on the roads of Winnipeg and at the same time we make riding a bike sound “dangerous.” For that reason I decided to update and re-post my myth busting blog from almost 2 years ago.
The media sometimes prefer to cover confrontation as opposed to good news and that certainly has helped to establish this attitude of conflict between people that ride bikes and people that drive cars. In many cases they are the same people. In my opinion (and that of some others that responded to my initial blog) no war exists, there is however a lack of understanding and education on both sides. The term “share the road” is common, however there is little information on how to do this properly.
Many people believe they know how to ride a bike, after all they have been doing it since they were a kid! Unfortunately most have received no real education on how to ride safely. Some flaunt the rules, but many simply don’t know them. This leads to people riding inconsistently and makes it difficult for drivers to predict what that person on the bicycle is going to do. This makes drivers nervous around people on bikes and also a bit frustrated by their behaviour.
Similarly most drivers have no education on how to interact with bicycles. They have no understanding of what constitutes appropriate behaviour on the part of the person riding the bike and the frustration they feel sometimes comes out in aggressive behaviour. Drivers need to understand the vulnerability of people on bikes and see them not as an obstacles or inconvenience, but as just another person with a right to their space on the road.
MPI’s driver training program was updated a few years back to include some education on sharing the road with people on bikes, however the curriculum could still be expanded to include on-road experience and inclusion in all testing. That still leaves the vast majority of drivers with little or no information on how to deal with people on bikes. MPI’s advertising campaigns (bus ads and 60 Second Driver commercials) attempt to reach this audience, but once again this needs to be improved and expanded if the aim is to bring about any real change in driver behaviour.
On the bicycle side of education, there is little or none. Once again MPI has taken some steps to try and educate cyclists, but like the driver education, there is simply not enough available. MPI has developed website content and improved their road safety advertisements to include bicycles. This might provide people with some knowledge, however this kind of passive approach will not bring about behaviour change. A program of education which includes some on-road training is the only way to help people understand appropriate behaviour and we need this to be available to both our youth and those adults that choose to ride a bike.
It is prudent for MPI to continue it’s support and even expand bicycle safety programs, however it is also time that the province got on board with promoting bicycle safety. They have the responsibility for education and so should look at building progressive bicycle skills education for school aged children. They are also responsible for the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) which is badly in need of updating to reflect the rapidly increasing number of people on bikes. Things like appropriate passing distances and better definition of a bicycles positioning on the road would go a long way to helping improve things for both drivers and bicycle riders.
Funding of active transportation is certainly needed, but the reality is that we are many years from having the kind of separated bike infrastructure that we all dream of, so in the meantime we still need to use the roads. If the province, city, and MPI could just get together on the need for education, an appropriate program could be put in place quickly and at only a fraction of the cost of the infrastructure that is needed.
The war that some believe exists between drivers and people on bikes is in reality just a lack of understanding and education of how bikes and cars can share the road.
You may want to check out our blog on “Two wheels good but misunderstood” for some background on how we can all cooperate on the road.