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.
In my experience, having tried unsuccessfully to get information on cyclist education published a number of times, the media don’t want to cover the issue of cyclist & motorist education. Have there been ANY articles or reports focusing on cyclist and motoris education? The media would rather cover either confrontation and injuries (bad news) or more bike paths (good news) and they link these two themes together, as in more paths = less injuries. I think that cyclist education is seen by them as off-topic because the goal is getting cyclists separated from cars.
The media may be unwilling to point to a lack of education as a possible contributing factor in cyclist injuries because they don’t want to appear to be blaming the victims. But more importantly, they just don’t understand what constitutes safe cycling and how cyclist education prevents collisions. The media are probably reflecting both their personal gut feeling and the mainstream public opinion that cars and cyclists should be separated.
I agree that it is difficult to try and get media to listen to the education message. Recent interviews with media is what prompted me to post this myth.
It does amaze me that when and collision happens that is the result of a cyclists error they are quick to point to the error, but if it is a driver error, it generally is not raised. I agree that they don’t understand the value of education and unfortunately neither do those in government. If they did there would be education provided for all ages and include drivers and cyclists.
It is also true that generally the message that we send and what people want to hear is infrastructure and that education just doesn’t resonate with people. We need to change that!
Hey guys, I’m a broadcasting student interested in telling both sides of the story for a school project. Although it might not be seen by that many people i would love to set up an interview to get the cyclist’s side of the story pertaining to what should and can be done to make Winnipeg better.
I don’t believe there is a “war” as much as I believe there is a lack of education & mutual respect from both road users. Our current cycling infrastructure does not help the situation either.
Drivers: limited information on how to properly share the road with other users. Practically no testing on the matter, and frankly…too much sense of entitlement over ones automobile and public roads.
Cyclists: a belief that since they’re on a bike, the rules of the road don’t apply to them. Lack of education & resources as to how to properly behave in traffic, and a lack of desire to educated one self because…well, they’re on a bike, who cares!
Infrastructure: inconsistent signage that causes confusion amongst both road users as to how to behave. Incomplete / improper infrastructure that is inconvenient and contributes to dangerous behaviour.
As I indicated in my reply to John below they do have more information in the beginners manual and I am told that there are some questions on the written test. The questions are randomly chosen and so any test may or may not include questions. I do wonder if this is reinforced in the on road portion of the instruction though.
What is needed is progressive education of children and teens in school so that by the time they reach driving age they are already clearly aware of how to interact with cyclists. We also of course need to educate the current cyclists and drivers,
The inconsistent signage and infrastructure has been the subject of some media lately and I suspect we will see more. While this likely causes some cyclists to either break the rules or make poor decisions as to negotiating the particular area, again education could help these cyclists make at the very least safe decisions.
Thanks for your comments Mario.
Does Driver’s Ed include a section on cyclists on the road and their rights?
There is quite a bit more in the driver’s handbook than there used to be. You can check out the details on page 72 to 75 in the handbook at this link. (http://www.mpi.mb.ca/PDFs/DriverHandbook/CompleteHandbook.pdf)
There is also some information on pavement markings as they relate to the interaction between cyclists and drivers. The thing that jumps out at me is the statements under “sharrows” (pg. 34) that they are used when the lanes are wide enough for “side by side operation” and that the “sharrow marking simply indicates cyclists and motorists are to share the lane.” This is simply not possible on most of the roadways in Winnipeg that have been chosen to have sharrows. The lane widths on many of these are at or in some cases slightly below the minimum width required for sharrows. Sharrows are not an indication that we share the lane, it is an indication that we can “shar road.”
I don’t think most drivers are anti-cyclists, they just don’t know what to do when they encounter a cyclist, and they are trained to “keep moving” in traffic, so they pass too close, or pass and turn right, just because that seems like the way to keep traffic moving. Then they are surprised by the different behaviours of cyclists, because cyclists don’t all ride the same way in traffic.
Governments could help by communicating simple messages like “share the road, but not the lane”, “allow 1 meter clearance when passing”, “don’t pass until it’s safe”. They should use simple methods that will reach everyone, like signs along the road.
I agree. This also becomes a question of the lack of education, both or drivers and cyclists. As you indicated drivers are unsure what to do when they encounter a cyclists and cyclists do not ride in a consistent manner.
The government could help by communicating simple messages but also by providing programs of education.