“Let’s Talk Cycling”

Thursday, March 19th, 2009 @ %I:%M %p | Cycling

letstalkcycling.jpgI attended this event this evening at Brighton Town Auditorium. According to the advertisement, it is “a discussion to help reduce your carbon footprint sponsored by the Sierra Club, the Rochester Bicycling Club and presented by the Monroe County Office of Traffic Safety.” It went on to say that “this discussion will provide information on the vehicle and traffic laws of NYS and how they apply to new or experienced bicyclists.”

When I first read this I thought “how is talking about traffic laws helping me to reduce my carbon footprint?” The title and subtitle seem at odds with the description. So I asked Richard DeSarra this and he answered: “Not my wording. I am just a standby supportor of the talk […] The idea was put together by the Sierra Club.” And closed with: “Come and find out.”

I thought that was a fair suggestion and so I went.

Before the main topic of the evening started the microphone was given to a person of the Sierra Club giving a rather confusing 5 minute talk on tap water vs bottled water. Apparently bottled water is bad but it didn’t become clear why except that the companies that produce the bottles make a lot of profit and that is wrong. That seemed to me the conclusion as that was the one sentence she delivered with great emphasis.

Alright, on to the headline programming. Jean Triest of Monroe County was the presenter.

She did indeed just talk about how all traffic laws also apply to cyclists, that they should/must obey them and to wear a helmet.

She had one slide with supposedly the biggest bike safety myths. This was a rather bizarre enumeration with one of them being that it is okay to swerve left without looking when wanting to make a left turn. Okay, so I acknowledge that perhaps the US population on average is less practised on the topic of bike safety than us Dutch people but really how can that be a myth of bike safety!? For it to be a myth there must be a sufficient number that think that (whether on bike or car for that matter) swerving left on the road without looking is a good idea.

NYS law requires that bicycles have front and rear reflectors. One example she gave of why having front reflection is good is that it avoids the cyclist being doored by a parked car saying that there recently were two such incidents that would have been prevented if the cyclists in question had reflectors on their bikes. I don’t believe that. There are two difficulties with that. Foremost, US drivers are not – contrary to Dutch drivers for example -trained to look over their shoulder before opening their car door. So reflection or no, you’ll get doored. Second, reflection is a passive source of lighting. If there’s no oncoming car with its headlights on even if the driver looks s/he will still not see the bicyclist in low light circumstances.

She took us through some more slides on bike safety: which part of the road to ride on, what about bike lanes, how to turn left. It was very elementary. Looking around I suspect that of the 20 or so people in the audience almost all are regular cyclists. I had at least hoped for some more advanced discussion. The analogy to me very much is that explaining one the rules of the game of chess does not make one a chess player.

Her closing slide was a very strong urge to always wear a helmet with various claims on the slide how helmets help. I had some difficulty with that slide. She presented statistics without source and really without such context. Her first bullet claimed that 98% of fatal bicycle accidents involved cyclists not wearing a helmet. But no information on what impact on that percentage wearing a helmet would have had. Other bullets seem to come more from motor helmet benefits rather than to the design and impact of a bicycle helmet. The overriding impression was that you’re safe when you wear a helmet.

I found that quite intriguing and challenged the presenter a little. On the BikeFriday discussion forum the same topic came up last week. One provided a pointer to an Australian study that shows that bicycle helmets do not improve the cyclist’s safety (most accidents are not front collisions but of a kind where a helmet does not provide additional benefit) and that the wearing of a helmet leads to a false sense of safety. A study in New Zealand showed very little decrease in head injuries due to helmet use.

Now back to the opening question, what has this all to do with reducing one’s carbon footprint? I don’t know.

Maybe there will be a follow-on meeting another evening that does talk about how to frequently, regularly leave the car parked and take the bicycle to go to work, to do the groceries, to go to the movies. Not only in the summer but also in the winter. I know several local cyclists with a lot to share – Richard himself has been commuting for years, Brucew does everything on the bike including those groceries, Wayne rides to the movies.



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    One Response to ““Let’s Talk Cycling””

    1. brucew Says:

      Thanks for the report, Onno. I had a sneaking suspicion that it would turn out to be lame.

      As for the local Sierra Club, well, when they rented the meeting room at my library, filled the parking lot with single-occupant SUVs and looked at my bike like it was a big steaming pile of dog poop, I decided they don’t “walk the walk”.

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