Curb Your Car
Apparently May is Curb Your Car Month in Ann Arbor. This seems like a good idea, after all Spring has finally sprung and most of us could use a good excuse to enjoy the weather while we get some more exercise.
I love bicycle commuting, but it's long been a peeve of mine that Ann Arbor is not more bike-friendly. It really doesn't make any sense that a town like this should be so difficult to bike around. It's getting better for sure, and the folks at GetDowntown have a lot to do with that. You may have noticed the little arrow/bike symbols painted on streets downtown and maybe even the GetDowntown signs posted in strategic locations.
I was poking around their website and noticed that they have something called Bicycle Ambassadors. This is basically a group of volunteers that "engage people directly in a friendly and non-confrontational way to provide information and answer questions on how cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists can share the road." I haven't met any of them yet, but it's an interesting idea and I hope the program becomes successful.
While I think Ann Arbor could use better bike lanes and maybe even some bike-specific traffic signals like you find in the Netherlands, I think the key to better bicycle safety in Ann Arbor is education and enforcement. Pay attention here, I'm about to prove my liberal cred in a big way. The main thing keeping me from biking more in Ann Arbor is that car traffic can be unpredictable and rather hostile to bikers at times. A certain amount of this has to do with drivers not understanding that bicycles have a right to use the roadways including left turn lanes and a safe berth from the curb and parked cars. I don't exactly know what the solution is for this, bike safety should be part of drivers' ed, but public education a la GetDowntown is important for people who are already dricing.
But I still think the largest part of the problem is bad bikers. Drivers in Ann Arbor often don't know how to react around bikes because they have no way of predicting what the cyclists will do. We've all seen the awful bikers who act like Ann Arbor pedestrians. They blow through intersections without slowing down, they ride the wrong way down the street, they make erratic and unpredictable moves, and my biggest peeve - they dart on and off of the sidewalks. And there is basically zero accountability for this. Some enforcement of bicycle safety laws could go a long way toward creating more predictable bike traffic and better bike-car interactions.
That's right, I'm a bicyclist and I think my life would be better if the cops wrote more tickets to bikers. That's how things were when I lived in Lawrence. I was stopped in my first week of college for blowing a stop sign. I didn't get a ticket, but I knew that I could be stopped and they told me it would be $50 next time so you can bet I never rolled through again. They were also strict about using hand signals, riding with lights at night, and staying off of sidewalks. There were regrettably few bike lanes in Larryville and they were even worse-maintained than the Ann Arbor ones, but bicycling in traffic was seldom scary. When you, as a driver, saw a biker, you could predict how they would act and it made you much less likely to do something irrational.
Maybe these Bicycle Ambassadors are supposed to do this without the monetary penalties. I'll be interested to see how it turns out, but my vote is still to get Ann Arbor's bicycle-mounted public safety officers into the game coupled with a public education campaign about traffic safety.