Wednesday, May 4, 2016

City Video on Bike Safety Joyless, still has too much Autoism

The pernicious spirit of high-viz and victim-blaming.
Is this really the vision for our streets?
In observation of Bike Month, the City and Police Department have put together a short video on bike safety. It's short and sweet and mostly it seems sound.

And yet...

To make my point, I am going to exaggerate bit. Probably you will want to dial back the criticism some. But the problems will still be there, I think.

What the video is not is a celebration of #BikeMonth and #BikeMore. It's not "yay bikes!" 

Instead it's bicycling is dangerous and a constant source of misbehavior and lawlessness. If you are going to undertake this dangerous enterprise, make sure you are blameless. It's a dumb thing to do, but if you're going to do it, here's some things to protect yourself.

It comes at bicycling from a seemingly benign perspective of a concern for safety that actually masks the real threat from cars. It recycles the "lawless cyclist" trope and privileges hydraulic autoism and frames people on bike as the disrupters of normal street functioning. They are a regrettable compromise - but if they behave, we can manage. It's scolding and treats lesser causes of death and mayhem as the main cause.

It leads with "the most important thing is to wear a helmet."

title card from the video
But helmets are only useful after the cascading chain of catastrophic failure has started!

They don't protect you from getting hit. They don't ward off the precipitating event in a catastrophe. They only mitigate after-crash severity. They don't make you "safer" if you define safety as avoiding the catastrophe of a crash itself.

(If we were serious about this logic, we would require car drivers to wear a helmet! The fact that we don't shows the hollowness of the argument.)

The video trades too much again on the victim-blaming, and minimizes ways that our hydraulic autoism, not bicyclist behavior, is the great threat to people on bike.

4245 people/day speed more than 10mph over limit
Salem Presentation Slides, Dec2014
On no street is Salem are there 4245 bike salmon going the wrong way in the bike lane or running stop signs! There's just a wild disproportion of scale here.
During the month of March, Salem Police officers arrested 48 people for driving under the influence, issued 87 citations for driving while suspended and issued another 881 citations and warnings for various other offenses.
Cars and their operators. Vehicles with weights measured in tons, with power measured in hundreds of horse equivalents, going speeds with lethal force. That's what is the main problem, not wayward cyclists.

via Placemakers
It feels like the way we talk about "bike safety," as the way we talk about "pedestrian safety," is mostly the result of an effort to insulate our autoism from criticism and change.

Biking and walking should not require bravery, should not require extra planning and care. They should be the most banal of ordinary activities.

Using an automobile should be the problematic activity that requires extra care, attention, and planning. We have to switch the frame.

Our current frame may look like it's encouraging bicycling, but I contend that a person considering a bike commute for the first time will not be encouraged by the City video and instead will feel marginalized, weird, or wrong.


Unknown said...

The root of the problem is the poorly built road infrastructure in Salem. When you have roads with 12 foot lanes and are straight you are going to have people driving fast. The City of Salem seems to believe that simply slapping a 30 MPH sign on a road makes that road a 30 MPH road. If the road is designed like a 50 MPH road people are going to drive like it's a 50 MPH road. I don't really know why the City doesn't understand this concept.

Sarah Owens said...

"Our current frame may look like it's encouraging bicycling, but I contend that a person considering a bike commute for the first time will not be encouraged by the City video and instead will feel marginalized, weird, or wrong." Yep.

Anonymous said...

There may also be an element of irony in the place the video was shot. That is in front of CCTV at the corner of Church and Trade, it looks like. Trade Street is one-way, runs east, and the bike lane is on the south/far side of the lane.

In the video image the bike here is parked on the north/near side of Trade and is pointed against traffic, pointing west. While it is not impossible that a person biking in traffic on Trade would dismount and point the bike this way, it seems highly unlikely. The position of the bike suggests that it is the result of sidewalk biking, which is not legal in the downtown zone on this side of Trade and Church - but of course is legal for police.

The way the picture is staged thus does not appear to show a person operating a bike normally and in the ways suggested in the video. It may not walk the talk!

Anonymous said...

Re: helmets.

Here's a good discussion from the perspective of construction work site safety -

"Kostelec shows a version of the control hierarchy as it would apply to dealing with the problems of cycling.

This is the fundamental problem with the Automobile Association promoting bike helmets. Because the vast majority of the deaths of cyclists are caused by them being hit by drivers of big complex pieces of equipment going at high speeds. That the operators of this equipment are not isolated from pedestrians and cyclists by decent infrastructure. That few places are trying to change the way people drive by dropping speed limits. If the hazard control hierarchy was applied to transportation, we wouldn’t be worrying about helmets on cyclists; we would be preventing “accidents” in the first place."