Cycling in the Transportation Community

Cycling in the Transportation Community
By Mark Aasmundstad, Southwest Bike Initiative (SBI)
For the New Mexico Bicycle Racing Association (NMBRA) Spring 2020

The objective of this resource, called “Cycling in the Transportation Community”, is to create a common knowledge-based platform for people to learn and converse about cycling.  It is part of a larger course on transportation planning–Supporting Active Transportation in New Mexico–designed to foster a culture of health and safety.  Readers can expect to learn history and context of cycling in the transportation system, and develop a positive action framework to ask for what we need to keep cycling safe and growing.

Purpose: To increase cycling’s role in creating a culture of health, safety and inclusiveness in transportation, and improve traffic safety for all, through education.  This course prepares and informs citizen cyclists for a collaborative and inclusive planning and decision making process, and increases effectiveness in public engagement and involvement.

Goal: Fully integrate cycling into a balanced transportation system that respects every person, with a rule-based system, culture and physical infrastructure that encourages cycling, so cycling is accessible and safe for all.

Introduction: Cycling is an immensely positive activity and practical tool that enriches life and contributes to virtually all sustainable development goals.  Through education and organizing community, we can increase our confidence in cycling and make it more accessible and easier for people to join us in New Mexico.  Cycling is a tool that can bring more wonder into the world, and assist us in changing our perspectives, seeing the world through new points of view.

History of Cyclist Education
The history of traffic laws governing the movement of cyclists in relation to other traffic are covered in depth by Professional Engineer Robert Shanteau in his article The Marginalization of Bicyclists

Robert Shanteau and his colleague, Helen “Maggie” O’Mara, P.E. (Professional Engineer), developed a slide show and paper as part of an ‘Understanding Bicycle Transportation’ workshop that show how informing road design with an operating concept for bicycling improves safety and standardizes the operation of bicycles in relation to other traffic.  This re-education for the transportation community integrates design with education, and makes the flow of bicycle traffic more intuitive and aligned with the physics of cycling.

Rethinking Bike Lane Standards: The Importance of an Operating Concept (Slide Show) O’Mara and Shanteau

Rethinking Bike Lane Standards: The Importance of an Operating Concept (Paper) O’Mara and Shanteau

What are roads for?
Peter D. Norton’s writing focuses on the history of the role streets play in society.  Motorized vehicles introduced new possibilities and responsibilities. In Street Rivals: Jaywalking and Invention of the Motor Age Street, he writes: “But before the city street could be physically reconstructed to accommodate motor vehicles, it had first to be socially reconstructed as a motor thoroughfare.”

With the automobile age, the systemic bias towards speed was exacerbated.  Peter D. Norton gave a talk on March 22, 2019 called Data Doesn’t Drive in Eric Dumbaugh’s class at Florida Atlantic University, discussing the values embedded in transportation formulas, such as Level of Service (LOS), where the reduction in speed below the posted limit constitutes delay (interpreted as reduced performance).  Eric Dumbaugh published a paper in the ITE journal 2014 detailing the human drivers in decision making.
Decisions, values, and data: understanding bias in transportation performance measures

In another talk on C-Span, Norton says “the past we have grown up with about surface transportation in this country is a past created in part to justify the status quo”. Norton’s department at UVA emphasizes ethics to guide engineers in service of society.

Many of the traffic laws and interpretations developed around the rise of automobiles impacted cycling.  There is a map and list here detailing laws requiring change by State:

Evidence-based science and scholarship is shedding light on the results of the status quo in transportation.  Gregory Shill’s research, Should Law Subsidize Driving? suggests “a reorientation of law away from this system of automobile supremacy in favor of consensus social priorities, such as health, prosperity and equity”.  His article in The Atlantic, Americans Shouldn’t Have to Drive, but the Law Insists on It creates a narrative around this perspective.  Shill’s legal framework for improving street function is further developed in Unsafe Streets’ New Liability.

The National Transportation Safety Board released a study in 2017 on Reducing Speeding-Related Crashes Involving Passenger Vehicles which recognized that by protecting more vulnerable users in the transportation environment, we enhance safety for everyone. This is very good news.  If we understand how we shaped our cities and roads around the automobile, it gives us insight into how we can shape a better world for people on bicycle and all active transportation modes.  The cycling community has the knowledge, skills and ability to communicate what makes the cycling experience so good.  By sharing our experiences, asking more people to join us, and through informed, principled, and knowledge-based discussion, the ‘crowd’ of cyclists can lead the way in shaping the way we design living environments, similar to the way everyday people drive the innovation in other fields of technology.  As Walter Isaacson wrote on Silicon Valley in his book The Innovators, “The uncredentialed crowd did not run off the experts.  Instead the crowd itself became the expert, and the experts became part of the crowd” (p. 443).



%d bloggers like this: