As bicycle use continues to grow more popular, commuters remain vulnerable to bicycle accidents due primarily to the fact that city infrastructure for safe bicycle use lags far behind. The problem is particularly striking here in California, where our major cities are notorious for heavy vehicle traffic during commuting hours, which explains why the percent of bicyclists among the total number of California traffic accident deaths is nearly double the national average. Fortunately, San Francisco and Los Angeles lawmakers are facing the issue head-on by introducing major plans to reduce bicycle accidents.
In Los Angeles, this means converting more vehicle drivers to cyclists throughout the car-dominated metropolis. This week, the Los Angeles city Council voted unanimously to approve a bicycle master plan that would add nearly 1,700 miles of bikeways, including 200 miles of bicycle paths every five years. That’s a major improvement from the city’s current total of 400 miles of disconnected bikeways. “We’ve always given the automobile the priority, and the bicycles were secondary,” said Councilman Ed Reyes. “Now we’re changing and we’re having a cultural shift.”
Since he shattered his elbow in a bicycle accident last year, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been a tireless voice for more bicycle paths and a statewide helmet law. “We are investing in bicycling as a viable transportation option and in the process encouraging Angelenos to lead healthy, active lifestyles,” he said this week, praising the bicycle plan. “Los Angeles is on the path to becoming a world-class city for bicycling.”
Already one of the major centers of bicycle culture nationwide, San Francisco does not have as far to go when it comes to improving the city’s bicycle paths. But a recent infographic developed by The Bay Citizen indicates that there are far too many preventable bicycle accidents. Taking an aim at these accidents, the SFMTA Board of Directors voted unanimously this week to permanently implement a trial plan to reduce vehicle traffic on Market Street. The San Francisco Bicycling Coalition calls Market Street “the busiest bicycling street west of the Mississippi,” which accounted for more than 75 percent of morning traffic during Bike to Work Day last year.
SFMTA Director Cheryl Brinkman said letters of support for the trial program indicated that it would benefit all sectors of San Francisco. “The same people who are on our buses and our streetcars – the same variety of professions, ethnicities and ages – that’s who should and want to be out there on bikes,” she said.
Vehicles and their drivers have an inherent advantage when it comes to city traffic: muscle and protection. But with more commuters getting on bicycles and major California cities willing to stand up for the little guy – cyclists and pedestrians – we can begin to expect traffic safety to improve slowly but surely from here on out.
Photo credit: oedipusphinx — — — — theJWDban