One of the barriers to encouraging bicycling as a mode of travel in the US is the perception that cycling is not “safe”. The fear of injury, and the insecure feeling of being run off the road by cars is one of the main factors many people cite as the reason they won’t take up bicycling on the streets. They certainly won’t ride to work, or even just a mile to run an errand.
When I was a kid, we played in the street all the time. Basketball, baseball, tag, or whatever game we were into at the time. We ran around in front of our houses with little fear of being run down – we knew to pause and let cars pass – but in general, it wasn’t a huge concern.
I think the same thing applies to cycling. When I was a kid, I regularly rode my bike from my house to my best friend’s house which was six blocks away. I never worried about the safety of the ride, nor did my parents really, (as far as I know). But these days when I ask friends who tell me they would like to ride, but won’t because they don’t feel safe, what do they report that feels unsafe? It’s cars and the feeling of the inequity of sharing the road. It’s a mismatch when you are on street: just you versus a multi-ton vehicle. I wonder, what’s changed since the days of my youth on the streets of Portland, Oregon? For one thing, the size of the cars and trucks that crowd the streets now. And the 60’s and 70’s are well known for gas guzzling muscle cars, and big luxury cars like the Buick Electra “Deuce and a quarter”.
I recently reflected on this when I borrowed a full-size pickup to pick up a load of mulch and to make a run to the transfer station, or the dump as we used to call it.
This truck is a Toyota Tundra. It is incredible how large this thing is. It’s at least six and half feet off the ground, and is probably two feet longer than my old Toyota mini-van which was huge in its own right.
And it’s not my imagination: take a look at this picture of the Tundra next to an older truck at the Transfer Station. It’s mammoth in comparison to this good old Ford truck that was big enough for the same kinds of jobs 30 years ago, and still is today.
When these giant vehicles pass you on the street, on your bike or on foot, the sun is blocked out momentarily. It’s ridiculous how over-sized they are and surprising how ubiquitous they have become on our streets. Giant pickup trucks and massive SUVs are everywhere across American cities. People use them as “commuters”. Nutty!
It’s no wonder new cyclists feel unsafe. Imagine being 10 years old riding a bike in the street to school while one of these squeezes past. It’s incredible that we have allowed this to happen.
But that is where we are in America. What makes you feel unsafe on the street?