There’s a lot of bad safety advice out there, much of coming from various city organizations (Ottawa Public Health, Share the Road Ottawa, Ottawa Police Services, etc.). And, no, I’m not talking about helmets (even though their effect on bike safety seems to range between negligible and detrimental). I’m talking about the other pieces of advice that keep getting hurled at us.
Like the idea that pedestrians and bicyclists should always make eye contact before crossing the road. The cops like that one.
Oh, hey, it turns out that’s bullshit:
But no one would ever advocate confidently striding out into the street, even if that would keep people safer. It just seems so much more dangerous, and our institutions are so into performative safety over actual safety that they’ll push unproven or disproven safety measure because they seem to make sense. (And, hey it’s not a whole lot better to get run over only 29% of the time rather than 70%.) We’ve fetishized caution to the point where we’ll accept it–demand it–even if its dangerous.
You can also take the key element of Be Safe, Be Seen, wearing high-visibility clothing:
As they say…
Slapping reflective material on your arm or wrist is an easy and practical way to make sure you are seen at night. Without reflective gear you are practically invisible to other road users. With a reflective band you can be seen up to 150 metres away!
Oh yeah, we’ve now learned that high-viz clothing does nothing:
Hey, well, at least it doesn’t actively endanger people (though if it discourages healthy transportation, I guess it kinda does, indirectly…but indirectly endangering people is okay, I guess).
You see, as it turns out, the only real safety measures are actual safety measures. You want bicyclists to be able to ride safely, build bike lanes. You want pedestrians not to die, build safe crossings.
(Oh, and to all the VCs who want to jump in here, it’s been shown, once again, that you’re all full of shit.)
Now, it’s more than just safe crossings and better bike lanes. Cars generally go too fast, and we need to do something about that. So, slow them down. Our city streets should default to 30 km/hr, ideally, or at least 40. Few roads inside the city should go much higher than that.
And you can’t just put up signs and hope everything’s going to be ok. Narrow the roads. Get rid of medians. Stop rounding corners. Plant trees.
I’d love to see Ottawa Public Health take up the mantle of slower speeds and proper bike lanes. Hell, they do that, and I’ll let the occasional ignorant helmet-obsessive tweet go by without criticism.
Speed limits aren’t the only laws that need to change. Eliminate right turns on red. Allow bicyclists to go on pedestrian advances. Legalize the Idaho Stop. Oh yeah, and enforce the damned laws. OPS should worry less about people making eye contact and more about actually arresting drivers who threaten, hit, injure and kill vulnerable road users (and other drivers, too).
In the end, all this shaming, victim-blaming and schoolmarming about high-viz, helmets, eye contact and “shared responsibility” is just bullshit. We keep learning that all these things the city is willing to do (throw in “education campaigns” and sharrows, too) are just cop-outs. It’s a way for them to look like they’re doing something when they’re just allowing our streets to continue being way too dangerous.
And then when the predictable happens, and their negligence results in another pointless death, they can just remind people to make eye contact before crossing the street.