Don’t Let Fear Hold You Back

To finish off the Streetsblog Network week on an adrenaline-filled note, we’ve got a post about fear — the biker’s fear, to be precise — from Livable Streets for West Palm Beach. Raphael Clemente relates a couple of all-too-familiar anecdotes about drivers who use their vehicles to intimidate, then says:

3213601375_80ac4ebc62.jpgPhoto by cainmark via Flickr.

[P]eople who are not in a car and utilizing public roads and rights of way are often fearful of drivers and therefore intimidated by them. Some drivers choose to use this intimidation factor in an effort to control situations in their own favor at the expense of the more vulnerable user. For me it is something I choose to deal with… But for those who are less hardy or less hardcore than I am maybe one or two fear-inducing incidents will be enough to make them give up on walking or bicycling and go back to driving their cars everywhere.

I have thought about this for a long time and feel that the only way to confront this is to completely reorganize the transportation heirarchy as we know it. In urban areas, business districts and neighborhoods, peds, bicyclists and transit are given priority in that order. Private automobiles, delivery trucks, etc are moved to the bottom of the ladder. This is across the board starting with the planning and design phase through construction and included as specific policies for law enforcement, funding, etc. Undoubtedly this will be years in the making — if it ever happens.

Lofty goals to be sure. But with the idea of "complete streets" quickly gaining traction at the local and national level, what better time than now to think big?

Clemente adds to his own thoughts a statistic-packed essay by Mighk Wilson of the Florida Bicycle Association. It’s quite long but well worth a read if you have any interest in the numbers on cycling safety (and being able to pull them out in an argument). "Being afraid of real risks and threats is healthy," says Wilson. "But the belief that bicycling is dangerous is based
on intimidation, scary stories and vague statistics."

In non-fear-related news from around the network: Light Rail Blogger reports on rider unhappiness over rising transit fares in Phoenix; Austin Contrarian links to some stunning panoramic photos of sprawl; and Seattle Transit Blog details how falling retail and car sales have gutted that city’s transit budget.

  • “But the belief that bicycling is dangerous is based on intimidation, scary stories and vague statistics.”

    Those scary stories are scary because they are often easily verifiable. The belief that bicycling is dangerous is not particularly mistaken.

  • Peter

    when drivers ‘intimidate’ cyclists, they are actually ‘terrorizing’ cyclists — their behavior is the textbook definition of terrorism:

    for drivers, there are democratic, political means of keeping bikers off the roads, but too often they choose the terror route and resort to violence and threats of violence to achieve their goals — it has to stop. and we need to appropriate response from law enforcement officials to prevent and punish this terrorism as much as possible.

  • Right now the priority of U.S. surface transportation policy, spoken or unspoken, is moving more and more cars at faster and faster speeds. Everything else gets whatever crumbs are left over. Complete Streets are a step in the right direction but Complete Streets say nothing about what gets priority when there are limits on available space, funding, and other resources. The official UK design guide for residential and mixed use streets sets transportation priorities exactly as Clemente describes.

    Here is a proposal for a conceptual framework to replace the current unsustainable U.S. transportation concept. I’d be interested in getting feedback on this.

  • Laurence, I’m curious as to why you think complete streets say nothing about transportation priorities when dealing with limited resources. The “complete streets” concept is not about singular corridors, but about a complete overhaul of the transportation policy – meaning all users are assumed from a project’s inception. It’s about using the existing funds wisely, balancing all needs appropriately. Furthermore, as we need to flexible in how to apply these policies, taking context and future need for the facility into account. One wouldn’t build a 10′ sidewalk in rural Arkansas.

    You may want to look at some new design guides to understand how this works on the ground. For example, MassHighway’s Project Development and Design Guide looks at ROW from the curb in – rather than the center line out. The City of Decatur, GA’s Community Transportation Plan actually designs the ROW for every street in town – you’ll see how it varies according to context and use.

  • Stephanie, it is because what one generally sees in Complete Streets literature is a call to consider all users equally. For instance, the MassHighway document says that:

    Ultimately, thoughtful consideration and evaluation of all modes should result in a robust, multimodal transportation system for the Commonwealth that accommodates all users safely and efficiently within the public right-of-way.

    Sounds pretty sensible, and it is certainly better than the status quo. No question. But since it doesn’t go any farther than that, it fails to set priorities. Contrast to the UK Manual for Streets which states:

    It is recommended that the design of a scheme should follow the user hierarchy …

    Consider first
    Public transport users
    Specialist service vehicles
    (e.g. emergency services, waste, etc.)
    Other motor traffic
    Consider last

    That is a clearly defined set of priorities.


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