Lawmakers, cyclists, and safety organizations nationwide traveled to Washington DC this week for the annual National Bike Summit, hosted by the League of American Bicyclists. In past years, the summit has been a forum to discuss issues pertinent to cyclists, connect with advocates from other cities and states, and discuss future goals. But when it comes to the ultimate goal of making roads safer for bicycles and reducing fatal accidents, the strategy has long been unclear. Will this year’s National Bike Summit make a significant step toward reducing fatal bicycle accidents?
Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood was the most visible speaker at the National Bike Summit. LaHood has been a strong voice for transportation safety when it comes to distracted driving and bicycle accidents. LaHood is remembered fondly for his speech at last year’s summit, when he declared “this is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.” This year, he focused on changing minds in Washington, telling the crowd “I want you to work hard on your members of Congress…we really need your help more now than, maybe, ever before,” he added, referring to an increasingly hostile environment in congress toward spending programs, even when they could contribute to increased safety that reduces fatal accidents.
But will coaxing Congress into implementing stricter safety laws make an impact? New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn isn’t so sure. “We can’t wait for Washington,” she said this week, noting that the most progressive bicycle safety programs across the country have been the result of hard work from dedicated bicycle organizations, not congressional bureaucracy. Sadik-Kahn mentioned bicycle safety successes like Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC, Broadway in NYC, and Market Street here in San Francisco.
Sadik-Kahn’s statements get to the heart of why current safety laws are disadvantageous for cyclists. When we trusted legislatures to make traffic regulations, they implemented laws that favor vehicles when it comes to bike-car accidents, reports Bicycle Times Magazine. During the 1970s, for example, California roads experienced an influx of new cyclists, which meant more bicycle accidents and lawsuits. To unclog the courts, lawmakers decriminalized such accidents, meaning that drivers could get off relatively easily, even in the case of a fatal accident.
So let’s give safety-minded organizations like the League of American Bicyclists and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition a crack at taking on traffic safety regulations. If their ideas work, then Congress just might get inspired to adopt the issue more strongly as well.
Photo credit: mikebaird