LaHood: Zero Tolerance for Drivers Who Disrespect Cyclists

Secretary Ray LaHood (left) and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn (right) ride along the Riverwalk to kick off U.S. DOT's bike safety summit. Photo: City of Tampa, via ##http://fastlane.dot.gov/2013/04/southeast-bike-safety-summit-just-the-starting-line-for-a-long-important-ride.html#.UWgtkatARU0##Fast Lane##

First there was “Click It or Ticket.” Then there was Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Now, U.S. DOT is campaigning to end another life-threatening behavior: disrespecting cyclists.

“We need to develop zero tolerance for people who don’t respect cyclists,” Secretary Ray LaHood said yesterday at the first of two national bike safety summits hosted by U.S. DOT this month. “That’s the campaign we’re kicking off today.”

At yesterday’s summit in Tampa, Florida, LaHood announced a new, long-term, national-level campaign to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety through aggressive education, enforcement and engineering.

“It’s simple,” LaHood said yesterday. “When you build a road, build a bike lane. When you’re fixing up your street, build in a bike lane. Do that, and we’ll be supportive of that at the national level.”

“Another simple thing,” LaHood went on. “We need to make sure people driving here have respect for bicyclists. Bicyclists have as much right to the road as they do.”

“If someone is not respectful of cyclists, there’s a penalty,” he said. “That’s it in a nutshell.”

The secretary conceded that improving conditions for bicyclists will not happen overnight, but he made a promise to the more than 200 planners, advocates and bicycle professionals in the audience that U.S. DOT “will not stop until the number of bicyclists killed on our roads is zero.”

The Tampa-Clearwater-St. Petersburg area of Florida was ranked second in Transportation for America’s 2011 Dangerous by Design study. Florida regions occupy four of the top 10 slots for bicycle and pedestrian deaths.

But for reasons as economic as they are moral, the state of Florida is getting serious about safety on the road, and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is leading the way.

Under Buckhorn’s direction, the city is painting bike lanes and sharrows, ticketing drivers who break the three-foot passing rule, and introducing the country’s 42nd bike share program this fall. Buckhorn believes that Tampa’s success can serve as a model for the rest of the state. Certainly, other counties are beginning to recognize his key point: “Intellectual capital is mobile. When our young people decide where they are going to live, they are going to ask, ‘Is this a city where you can live, work and play without getting in your car?’”

Over in neighboring Charlotte County, damage from Hurricane Charlie and the shock of the housing bubble had a huge impact on tax revenue — but it also presented an opportunity. “We noticed that the value of homes in the City of Punta Gorda suffered significantly less than Port Charlotte because people can walk places there,“ says Charlotte MPO Planner Gary Harrell. “They can bike to the store.”

For the first time ever, Charlotte County is moving to adopt a Bicycle Master Plan. As roads are rebuilt, planners are thinking about complete streets, rather than just level of service. Small, independent bike-share programs are popping up in towns, and local retirees are engaging with government.

In the state capital, FDOT is studying the safety benefits of green bike lanes and investing in safety education for all road users in every corner of the state.

Yesterday’s hastily-organized event did elicit some frustration. Many more people would have attended if word had gotten out earlier and more effectively about the event. Police escorting participants on a bike ride with Secretary LaHood led riders on the sidewalk, against traffic and then on the Riverwalk, where bikes are officially not allowed. A bike shop owner who drove four hours from Plantation, Florida, wished there had been less talk about increasing bike facilities and more talk about improving the poorly designed ones already in place.

Still, the mood was overwhelmingly positive. A member of the president’s cabinet, a mayor, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission, and uniformed police officers were all describing a future America where it is both socially and legally unacceptable to disrespect a bicyclist. Advocates were buoyant.

Tim Bustos, executive director of the Florida Bicycle Association and a speaker at the summit, was impressed with the seriousness and commitment from U.S. DOT. “We have some of the best planners and engineers here in Florida,” he said. He said the summit was not a one-time press conference, but “the beginning of a renewed effort throughout Florida to make bicycling safer and more enjoyable throughout the state.”

Jessica Wilson of Tennessee DOT summed up her takeaway: “Just as MADD launched a successful campaign against drunk driving, our generation must campaign to end discrimination against non-motorists. As a mother, I accept that challenge.”

Kathryn R Moore is the program manager for all six Broward County B-cycle cities and a contributor at TransitMiami.com.

  • Anonymous

    How long till the NYPD gets the memo?

  • TomG

    Thank God.

  • Jack Jackson

    “It’s simple,” LaHood said yesterday. “When you build a road, build a bike lane. When you’re fixing up your street, build in a bike lane. Do that, and we’ll be supportive of that at the national level.”

    Whom were you addressing that to Mr. LaHood? Munis? States? What types of roads? Highways,city streets, residential development?

  • KillMoto

    “We need to make sure people driving here have respect for bicyclists. Bicyclists have as much right to the road as they do.”

    Easy to do. Require states to accept video of vehicular assaults on cyclists to carry the same weight as police eyewitness. Correspondingly, helmet-cameras will be sold out through the rest of 2013.

  • Z. Fechten

    This is excellent but insufficient. Many more walkers are killed each year than cyclists. He should also be calling for more sidewalks and more crosswalk beacons.

  • Anonymous

    What courts have refused helmet cam footage as evidence?

  • martine bruchetti

    True, but walkers are not walking on the streets as a cyclist would be riding on the same roads as cars. I agree more sidewalks and crosswalks, but walkers don’t compare to the constant safety issues as cyclist.

  • Trey Allen

    Lahood could teach SF Supervisors and Mayor a lesson. They seem to think that limited bike lanes is sufficient for a safe transit. The problem is that bicyclists use all streets. Not every street needs a bike lane but there does need to be signage and street decals reminding drivers that they should kindly share the road with cyclists.

    I know that some cyclists are jerks but they are not covered in a 1,000 lbs steel cage like cars drivers are. Yes cyclists could use a courtesy education. There is such animosity between drivers and cyclists that our city leaders must take action to reduce the heat on the street.

    Abiding by the complete streets initiative that they adopted would be one step in the right direction.

  • hamish wilson

    Fighting “carism” in North Americar might take a long time – right? We are carrupt…

  • railroader

    And what about bicyclists who disrespect the drivers? Yes, they are everywhere!

  • dan

    a cyclist can’t kill a motorist you moron

  • timbs

    Look at them all in their helmets, miles from the nearest motor traffic – did no-one have the balls to take it off and put it in the basket?

  • Joe R.

    If someone chooses to wear a helmet, it’s much more likely the helmet will help in the types of accidents which occur on bike only paths. Lots of people give motor traffic as the reason they wear helmets, but the truth is helmets aren’t designed to protect you from collisions with motor traffic. Besides that, the typical mechanism for death in bike-motor vehicle collisions is blunt force trauma to major organs, not head injury. Head injury sometimes occurs also, but due to the severity of bodily injuries it rarely affects the overall outcome (i.e. a cyclist hit by a car is just as likely to die with or without a helmet). That said, chances of serious injury on bike only paths is pretty low even without a helmet, so I agree with your sentiment of taking the helmets off. Of course, we both know this was a photo op. The officials involved would probably catch a lot of flack from unknowledgeable people if they rode without helmets (oh, the horror-a helmetless cyclist). BTW, I don’t wear a helmet, never have, never will.

  • Daniel Winks

    From what I’ve been told, though I’ve yet to exercise a need to do so, either camera footage or a second eyewitness is enough for Columbus Police to issue citations. So, while it’s not a nation-wide thing, some places will accept footage of vehicular assaults or reckless operation.

  • The Secretary and Mayor both commented on this and included this in their remarks. As the main topic was launching a bicycle-safety campaign, this was the focus of the piece.

  • It’s not the whole story but I do wonder if part of the problem here is that many motorists simply don’t have much information about cyclists’ rights. I regularly get people yelling at me when I’m cycling in New York about, for example, how I shouldn’t be making a particular turn because I don’t have the light – even when I do. I analyze the problem here: http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/2013/04/a-pain-to-use-but-joy-to-be-on-joys-of.html At the same time, it’s pretty obvious that many motorists just seem to get irrationally angry with cyclists: http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/2012/01/why-some-people-get-angry-with-cyclists.html LaHood’s initiative should certainly help with the latter category – if the US’s police forces ever decide deliberate dangerous driving is actually a crime.

  • FYI this is completely wrong: “then on the Riverwalk, where bikes are officially not allowed”

    The Riverwalk is a multi-use trail over 12 feet wide through the whole distance. There is a even a rental fecility for bikes from CityBike on the Riverwalk itself: http://citybiketampa.com/ — only about 70 feet from the summit at the convention center.

    Please don’t come up here from Miami and start making all kinds of claims about things around here without talking to someone local.

  • You remind me of the fellow reporter who interrupted me after I asked the then UK transport secretary what he was going to do about motorist aggression towards cyclists. Before the minister could answer, the other reporter interjected, “And what are you going to do about aggressive cyclists?” I describe the incident here: http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/2012/01/minister-who-made-invisible-visible-man.html
    It is absolutely obvious that motorists kill cyclists in fairly large numbers every day in the United States. If you can find a single example, where a cyclist caused a motorist to die in a fatal crash, I will be absolutely astonished.
    I get that you don’t like cyclists’ being on the road and think they should behave differently. Funnily enough, I’m no great fan of the standards of drivers in New York City, where I live. But the idea that cyclists’ “disrespect” for motorists is a problem on any serious level and in any way compares with the daily carnage that motorists inflict on cyclists is bizarre in the extreme.

  • If someone has a helmet with them, why would they put it in the basket? I find it much less awkward to just carry the helmet on my head. If I’m not wearing one, it’s because I either left it at home, or I just got out of the shower at the gym, so my hair is still wet.

  • Fortunately, in our downtowns, and even the rest of our major cities, most streets have sidewalks already. There are very few cities that have anywhere near this much bicycle infrastructure, even if you count as “infrastructure” those little signs that say “bicycle route” as well as sharrows, lanes, separated paths, and cycletracks.

  • Miles Bader

    So true … however useful/non-useful helmets are (and I think both sides in this “debate” tend to play fast and loose with the facts, it’s more a religious war than anything else at this point), the reality is that a politician doing a bike photo-op better wear a helmet, it’s just safer politically (if not necessarily physically :] ).

    It’s for the better, I think; if he didn’t wear a helmet, many (very loud) people would focus on that, and it would distract from the actual point of the photo-op…

  • PurpleCyclist

    One way to make sure drivers understand the rights and responsibilities of cyclists is to include them in the driver’s manual. Many states do this. However, the problem is that in many states its possible to renew your driver’s license without retaking the test. So if the rules have changed since the last time you took the test you may be unfamiliar with the rules. So we need a national campaign to advertise the rights and responsibilities that cyclists and motorists have towards each other. MADD has already been mentioned. We could call it something like CABD (cyclists against bad drivers).

    As for helmets, I’m all for protecting my brain. It doesn’t have to be a collision, it can be a bad spot on the road or trail, debris or whatever that can send you over the handlebars into the pavement, a tree or someplace equally hazardous. I’m sure we have all heard: I hit something and woke up in a hospital…..

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