Britain’s fastest bicyclist, the person who holds the top speed record on a pushbike, is not Sir Chris Hoy, the eleven-time World Champion and six-time Olympic champion track from Scotland, or Sir Bradley Wiggins, the first British professional cyclist to win the Tour de France (in 2012), or Mark Cavendish, a multi-stage and points classification winner of the grand tours (the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia, and the Vuelta a España). Instead, Britain’s fastest cyclist is a truck (or lorry, as those curious Brits call it) mechanic named Guy Martin. Guy Martin is also a successful motorcyclist road racer who has regularly participated in the most famous of them, the Isle of Man TT (tourist trophy). In a way, this is not surprising since many motor sport athletes (as well as other athletes) train on bicycles for speed and stamina. Guy also occasionally participates in mountain bike and endurance bicycle races. And he commutes 40 miles daily between his home and work. The point is that bicycling does not have to be taken up to the exclusion of any other form of transport. And appealing to environmental benefits is not the only way to get more people on bicycles. Bicycling has health and fitness benefits that trump going to the gym, something that seems to preoccupy more and more people these days but is largely a waste of time and money–better to commute on a bike. But most of all, bicycling is fun and enjoyable in itself, whatever its other benefits may be.
“When you get hurt, it’s your fault now. You should have been more careful. You should have watched where you were going. If you had just stayed in your proper place, this wouldn’t have happened.” Read more . . .
If the recent annual talk shop of the Partnership for Clean Air showed anything, it is that air pollution continues to be a big problem and the campaign against it has shown little success aside from expensive junkets to annual conferences and site visits. This sorry state of affairs holds for the whole of Asia as well, for which the apparently ineffective Clean Air Initiative-Asia, the Asia-wide clean air network initiated by the Asian Development Bank, is partly to blame. CAI-Asia has shown little in terms of creative innovation in running its campaign: even high public awareness has not led to effective measures at pollution control and regulation, particularly with regard to motor vehicle pollution.
If air pollution, which in Metro Manila is said to be caused mostly by motor vehicles, is just as bad as smoking tobacco, as health activists contend, shouldn’t the measures to regulate pollution from motor vehicles be just as stringent as for smoking? The anti-smoking campaign has produced bans on smoking in most public areas. It has discouraged smoking by citing its dangers to personal health, putting warning labels on tobacco packs, and imposing a tax on its consumption together with alcohol (sin tax). On the other hand, revenues from the sin tax have been used to fund health promotion campaigns, including the anti-smoking campaign.
One way of putting this regulatory model to use in the clean air campaign is to impose a fee or a tax on motor vehicle use. Such a tax is justifiable on the grounds that car users pollute the air for everyone but are not penalized for it. The surprising thing is that some supposed clean air advocates oppose this idea, saying that it puts a burden on car users who are loathed to use public transport system that is not up to their standards of comfort. This is, of course, simply wrong. It is true that public transport can be better but it is better than it was in 1999 when the Clean Air Law was passed. Besides no one is preventing car owners use of their cars, only that they pay the cost of the pollution they produce when they use them. Yes, it is that simple, and it may be as effective in lowering car use as the sin tax is in lowering smoking. And that can only lead to cleaner air than what we’ve had to suffer these past decades . . . and maybe save our children’s health.
Many non-cyclists perceive bicycling, especially when urban commuting on the road with other vehicles, to be an inherently unsafe activity. Most experienced cyclists, however, think just the opposite and feel safer riding their bicycles than being “trapped” in a cage (a car). Since these are opposite perceptions of the same issue, how does it get resolved? If there were objective data on the subject, then that would be one way to settle the issue. The thing is in this country no data on bicycle-related injuries or deaths are readily available, or are available only sparingly, probably when serious injury or death is involved. However, no one has deigned to look at the statistics–no transport planner, no MMDA or DOTC official, no local government planning to promote cycling, no bicycling advocate, no one. But it’s not that simple. Even in the U.S. where data on such things are available, there is still disagreement on what the data say, as this New York Times article points out.
An interesting point is that while people’s fear of cars is an important concern, car-bike collisions are not the most common cause of cycling accidents. One doctor cited in that article who looked at the statistics in San Francisco “suspects that many cyclists with severe injuries were swerving to avoid a pedestrian or got their bike wheels caught in light-rail tracks.” That says something about the inherent danger in putting bike lanes on sidewalks, something that the MMDA needs to hear. Such data also imply that cyclist error may be a common factor, one that can result from lack of proper cycling skills and on-road awareness.
A serious accident is one thing. Falling off the bike in a minor accident, resulting in scratches and abrasions, is something that most cyclists have suffered or will experience. I certainly have had my share, which I can count just on one hand. The most serious was an off during a rapid descent on a rocky mountain trail–flipping over the bar and landing hard on my back. Hell, it hurt but only for a few days. Let’s be honest: there is a risk in cycling, as there is in just about anything worth doing. Just don’t be stupid, and prepare yourself for what can happen the best way you can.
The issue of how best to promote the safety of cyclists is a source of constant debate among cycling “advocates.” This is because on road fear is one of the biggest obstacles in getting more people to ride their bicycles, particularly for urban commuting. The situation is not helped by government agencies, particularly the MMDA, preferring to construct bike lanes, most badly designed and many on sidewalks where they lead to cyclist-pedestrian conflicts. No wonder, as some of the media have noted, virtually no one uses these bike lanes. This has also led to the sale of various gadgets, some of them useful, others garbage, that are claimed to keep cyclists safe.
A recent article in the New York Times Well blog features such gadgets that have recently come out. The development of these gadgets (pictured in the illustration above taken from the blog) responds to concerns about safety that cyclists and would-be cyclists supposedly voice. In a survey that we did way back when we were doing a study for the Marikina bike lane network, safety was also a high concern that people, particularly non-cyclists, raised.
One of the more interesting of these gadgets is an inflatable head and neck protector that pops out and encloses the whole head from a pouch worn around the neck when an accident occurs. The article likens it to an airbag in a car.
However, the article also point outs, correctly in our opinion, that safety on a bike ultimately depends on the rider operating the bicycle in a safe and predictable way, as well as being constantly aware of the behavior of other road users. This means having the proper skills for riding on the road with other vehicles and riding “defensively.” These skills and riding awareness can be gained through experience, or less painfully from formal instruction, as in the FFB’s urban riding skills classes. The FFB has always stressed the importance of cyclist education in getting people to ride safely in lieu of constructing bicycle lanes that only give a false sense of security for people who do not have the proper skills to ride in traffic.