Monday, April 4, 2011

Mind the Rules while Biking to Work

Two major cycling campaigns got underway today: first, the spring Bike to Work contest, which pits companies against one another to see whose employees can log more kilometres in a months' time commuting by bike. The second is the National Police's long-promised crackdown on scofflaw cyclists. This will reportedly last three weeks and entail random police checks for reflectors and working lamps, as well as breathiliser tests for those suspected of drunk cycling.

A conspiracy theorist might wonder if the police didn't intentionally schedule their dragnet to coincide with Bike to Work, just because the pickings would be easier.

However, according to the blog, the enforcement campaign has the support of Hungary's main transport cycling NGO, the Hungarian Cyclists Club (MK). At a public announcement of the crackdown last week, the police's spokesman was joined by MK President János László, who noted that the measure was not against cyclists or cycling, but rather about safe riding.

During this announcement, nationwide statistics were cited about cycling injuries and cycling deaths in 2010. However, they weren't put into any context so I wasn't sure if I should be alarmed, relieved or indifferent. One statistic that was interesting, however, was that cycling numbers in Budapest have doubled during the last four years, while death and injuries to cyclists haven't grown at all. This mirrors experience in cities the world over: practically anywhere where levels of urban cycling have grown, traffic injuries involving cyclists have either held steady or gone down. It's become a universal maxim that the more cyclists there are on the road, the safer it is for individual cyclists.

It follows that if authorities have only our safety mind, they would do better by taking measures to promote cycling. Not that I'm against following road rules and riding responsibly. These are clearly important to cycling safety. What's missing is a comprehensive approach that balances enforcement with campaigns to promote cycling as a healthy and enjoyable mode of urban travel; the development of safe, separate infrastructure for city cycling; more stringent penalties and better enforcement of speeding violations by motorists, etc., etc.

The "etc., etc." can be found in a study published in 2005 on safety conditions for "vulnerable road users" in European countries whose safety records are below the EU average (Hungary's among them). The study suggests that enforcement and better cycling behaviour is needed, but so are several other measures, including those directed at motorists.

Transport of London has put out a Cycle Safety Action Plan that takes an even more sympathetic approach toward cyclists. It recommends nine specific actions, just one one of them concerning enforcement. The other measures involve changes to mindsets and the urban environment to better accommodate and encourage cycling.

Like Budapest, London is at an early stage of cycling development. But the city government there is taking better strides to ensure it flourishes.

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