Educating Drivers and Bicyclists in Urban Areas like the Bay Area

Recently, the news media has been drawn to disproportionately covering accidents involving bicyclists. On two different occasions, bicyclists struck and killed a pedestrian at a crosswalk. Then, a reckless young driver allegedly mowed down a father and child who were bicycling in Concord, reportedly because he was speeding and texting. Sensational events such as these are rare, but traffic accidents are a common occurrence in urban areas like San Francisco and the Bay Area as a whole. According the California Department of Motor Vehicles, about 100 cyclists are killed each year in California and hundreds of thousands more are injured.

Educating motorists and bicyclists is not always easy. Most drivers groan when they receive a traffic ticket, partly because of the fine and inconvenience, but partly because many anticipate the driver’s education required to strike the ticket from their record. Yet drivers and bicyclists alike should not take their means of transportation for granted or begrudge others for using the roadways. The first step to coexisting safely on the roadways is educating oneself about sharing the roads with more than one type of transport. Getting your hands on such information is often just a click away.

The San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency initiated the Coexist Campaign in 2007 to educate motorists, bus operators, and bicyclists in order to curb the nerve wracking feeling that often wells up when encountering each other on city streets. As more residents look to bicycling as an alternative to crowded public transport, bus transfers, or the lack of parking in urban areas, drivers and cyclists alike must be aware of how they can share the road safely and peacefully. The purpose of the campaign is to try and create a non-confrontational dialogue between bicyclists and drivers.

For instance, in June 2008 a survey by the City of Oakland’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilitation Program highlighted educational material for cyclists and bus drivers that not only had tips for safe driving, but that commented on each other’s point of view. For instance, the materials pointed out that the vast majority of bicyclists strive to ride predictably, but often ride out from the curb to maneuver around storm drains and potholes. In turn, the materials explained to bicyclists that if they cannot see the bus driver’s mirror, then the bus driver cannot see them. It also stated that hesitant or wobbly bikers make bus drivers very nervous, because they take it as a sign of unpredictability.

Lately various organizations, like the San Francisco and East Bay Bicycle Coalitions have stepped up the number and variety of educational classes. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition now offers classes for urban riders, beginning classes for adults and children, family oriented classes, and even educational classes for bus drivers. The website bicycling.511.org also provides information on where bicyclists can take classes.

The availability of classes or educational materials for every day motorists is somewhat lacking. The California driver handbook, issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles, has a small section reserved for rules of the road for bicyclists, but not one for how motorists should interact with bicyclists. The non-profit organization One Street provides helpful links on its website for both bicyclists and drivers to watch.

The better bicyclists and operators of vehicles understand the challenges each other face when sharing the high traffic urban roads, the safer the streets will be.

Gregory J. Brod is a personal injury lawyer dedicated to aggressively representing car and bike accident victims. Mr. Brod proudly supports the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and the Marin County Bicycle Coalition. Please contact us today for a free consultation.