Safety Summit PostscriptsSafety Summit Postscripts

By Joan Pasiuk, Bicycling and Walking Program Director


Officials, agency staff, and bicyclists gathered Monday for the Midwest Regional Bike Safety Summit in Minneapolis.


Though organizer and host Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was beckoned by the White House for the announcement of the new secretary designee (what - he couldn't alert the President to pressing bicycle matters in Minneapolis?) the U.S. Department of Transportation Midwest Regional Bike Safety Summit was deemed a success by everyone I talked to. Noting a 9 percent increase nationally in bicycle fatalities from 2010 to 2011, this was opportunity for the federal agency to flex its public attention muscle on one of the biggest barriers to bicycling, and to highlight the improving bicycle safety in Minneapolis. Transit for Livable Communities was a summit co-sponsor with the City of Minneapolis and Minnesota Department of Transportation, as well as host agency U.S. DOT.

I was very honored to be part of the welcome panel with Administrator David Strickland of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Beth Osborne, US DOT Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy. Our Bike Walk Twin Cities presence also included an exhibit and a high-energy presentation on street design/engineering by Steve Clark. I offer a few personal postscripts of the summit.

Joan Pasiuk, TLC/BWTC, speaking at Monday's bike safety summit.



Prescott Morrill staffing the TLC/BWTC table during the summit expo.


What I was glad to hear

1.       Enforcement + Education + Policy

For communities committed to advancing bicycling and bicycle safety, enforcement can be a tough challenge. Training officers in bicycle laws, incorporating bicycle enforcement into ongoing patrol work, executing enforcement campaigns, and navigating a host of political issues are significant hurdles. Officer Danny McCullough from Three Rivers Park District is smart and dedicated to the cause. In his experience, he knows enforcement alone can create short-term behavior change, but enforcement combined with education brings long-lasting results. So when Officer McCullough issues a citation or a warning to a motorist or bicyclist, he also provides materials on bicycle laws and a quick lesson.


Officer Danny McCullough, Three Rivers Park District, recommending education combined with enforcement.


This winning combo of education and enforcement could not have a more telling example than that of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Administrator Strickland. NHTSA's work on seat belt use includes rigorous research to inform strategic communications campaigns executed in conjunction with a nationwide enforcement blitz, Click It or Ticket. The research shows that education without enforcement was less successful.  Seatbelt use in the US was 86 percent and rising in 2012 as more states pass laws pass and enforce mandatory seatbelt laws. This is an inspiring success in addressing behavior-related traffic safety, the main cause of bicycle/motor vehicle crashes.

It's also good to note that, according to police reports, most of the failure-to-yield behaviors among motorists that lead to cyclist injuries result when motorists do not see cyclists. The primary reasons cyclists are not being seen: riding too far to the right or coming off of sidewalks where motorists aren't expecting them. Ticketing is not going to solve this problem (unfortunately, the circumstances are not as simple as with the seatbelt enforcement campaign).  So again education is the key -both to teach cyclists to be conspicuous on the roadway and to keep reminding motorists to watch for people walking and bicycling. Today, many motorists are still just looking for other cars.  But one reason for safety in numbers is that motorists get used to seeing cyclists everywhere and ultimately begin to expect them everywhere.

On the streets and trails, police officers make all the traffic laws, education, and communications campaigns real. Officer McCullough's message to cyclists at the safety summit: complain more. Motorists, it seems, are quite eager to report bad bicyclist behavior; bicyclists, perhaps worn down by years of dealing with unsafe streets, are not as likely to report flagrant motorist behavior. This we can change. In Minneapolis, to report nonemergency unsafe driver behavior, the best advice is to call 311 with information about the location and traffic violation; a license number may be helpful but, of course, the motorist cannot be issued a citation based on your observation. It also may be valuable to alert the relevant city council member, who has the ability to bring safety issues to the attention of precinct commanders.


2.       AAA - Redefining Road Users?

Tom Sorel, former MnDOT Commissioner and now AAA Minneapolis CEO, talked about new bicycle safety initiatives from AAA Minneapolis. That would be, yes, the American Automobile Association. Sorel is a proponent of sustainability, Safe Routes to School, quality of life, safety, and new connections and collaborations, including public health partners. In July, AAA Minneapolis will launch a new member program that integrates bicycling into their current services. I don't know what this will look like, but it sounds like Mr. Sorel means business about complete streets.


Tom Sorel, former MnDOT Commissioner and now AAA Minneapolis CEO, speaking at Monday's summit.


3.       Three Ways to Keep Making Change

In his remarks, Andy Clarke, Executive Director of the League of American Bicyclists, congratulated Minneapolis for all that the city has accomplished, but he also emphasized that more still needs to be done to improve safety for bicyclists. Andy recommended a new report, Get Britain Cycling, because of similarities between bicycling conditions in the U.K. and U.S.  In particular, he also encouraged: 1) greater public investment in bicycling (especially as investment in bicycling is dwarfed by what is spent on driving), 2) lower speed limits of 20 mph in urban areas, and 3) more safe-cycling education in elementary and middle schools.


4. A Bike-Sharing Boom

Enthusiasm for bike sharing was on full display at the summit. According to Secretary LaHood's Fast Lane blog, "As of April 2013, 41 cities in the United States have or are launching bike-shares, and that number is only expected to increase in the coming years. So here at DOT, we've taken to calling 2013 the Year of the Bike Share."

The BWTC allocation of federal pilot program funding for Nice Ride Minnesota was one of the first, perhaps the first, use of federal transportation dollars (in the case of BWTC, $2.79M through Federal Highway Administration) for bike sharing. Today, the U.S. DOT is a vigorous supporter. The Department of the Interior and Federal Transit Administration have also made a sizable public investment to our public bike-sharing system in the Twin Cities as transportation connections to the Mississippi River, while Centers for Disease Control through Minneapolis Health Department invested federal funds to expand Nice Ride and other bike/walk assets in North Minneapolis. And of course as noted at the summit, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota has been a committed title sponsor of Nice Ride and a great proponent and funder of active transportation. This combination of taxpayer dollars and private dollars has been essential. The public-private partnership supporting Nice Ride has effectively birthed a transportation system that has become a model for communities all across the country. Nice Ride makes bicyclists more mainstream on streets across Minneapolis and in Saint Paul, adding to the safety-in-numbers phenomenon that is well documented here.


What Still Needs Work: Representing the Diversity of Our Bicycling Community

There was good attendance at the Bike Safety Summit, characteristic of the avid bike community that shows up, even on short notice, for an all-day Monday event. I was disappointed, however, in the lack of diversity among attendees, which would erroneously seem to signify that bicycling here is just for white people. My personal apologies for inadequate event outreach. We will thrive as a livable community only when we have a broad voice in all layers and levels of the conversation.

And we know that people of color are bicycling and are affecting the culture and vision of bicycling in our communities. I am heartened by some important recent indicators to that effect. For example, the April 26 SPOKES Bike Walk Connect Spring Kick-off event in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis was a rockin' celebration of the bike/walk center based in a heart of the city's East African community.


SPOKES Spring Kick-off in the Seward neighborhood, Minneapolis


Planning in earnest begins this week for the Urban Bike Fest on July 20, hosted by the Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota as part of the annual Rondo Days festival in Saint Paul. The Urban Bicycle Festival celebrates the diversity of cycling, with strong roots in the African American community, and creates engagement, sharing, and education.

 Community members enjoying Urban Bike Fest 2010


Omitted acknowledgments

I do not think at any point in the day Michelle Pooler of MnDOT and Shaun Murphy of the City of Minneapolis were acknowledged from the podium, but they did extraordinary work in planning this event with very quick turnaround with the U.S. DOT headquarters. Many thanks, Michelle and Shaun! And sincere thanks to the other fantastic partners, agencies, and individuals who made the Midwest Regional Bike Safety Summit possible.


For more coverage of the summit see MPR and Twin Cities Daily Planet.

More from the U.S. DOT on the 2013 Midwest and Southeast Regional Bike Safety Summits: http://www.dot.gov/bikesafetysummits



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