Publisher’s note: “What do you think?” is a new series we’re trying out where we gauge your opinion and ask for feedback on a specific topic. Think of it as our version of those ridiculous and annoying reader polls you see on other sites so often. — Jonathan
It seems innocent enough: When days get shorter and people are commuting in the dark, transportation agencies will often encourage people to wear bright-colored and reflective clothing, use lights, and so on. That might sound like important, common sense information to some of you; but to others it’s a cringe-worthy offense. To them it’s a form of victim blaming that actually results in ever more dangerous streets.
This week, both TriMet and the Portland Bureau of Transportation promoted high-visibility cycling.
TriMet did it as part of their annual “Be Seen. Be Safe.” campaign. I got an email yesterday asking me to enter a contest to win a “bike visibility kit”. The $135 kit includes a flourescent yellow helmet cover, a reflective safety patch, hi-vis gloves, and a rear light. “Make yourself visible to drivers and cyclists around you!” the promotion urged.
Then PBOT’s Active Transportation Division got into the act with this tweet
… which was quickly followed by a number of negative responses from their followers…
I agree that it’s a good idea to remind folks to be as visible as possible while riding. And I don’t think these critics would have any trouble with a general message like that. What gets their dander up is the added suggestion that to conform to expected norms you need to dress like a traffic cone.
After all, in places with very good bicycle safety and high rates of bicycle use, like Copenhagen, people don’t wear high-vis gear. Check out the image below, which shows randomly selected riders from Copenhagen and Portland. Can you tell which is which?
Like the Helmet Debate, this is an issue where people tend to be passionately entrenched on one side or the other.
What do you think? Should we encourage agencies to tone down these types of messages — or stop them altogether? Or is high-visibility gear so important to people’s safety that it should be promoted whenever and however possible?
I think that construction workers wear high-viz for a reason, same thing for hunters and their blaze orange vests. I think we can get the mindset change that the anti-high-viz set wants by enforcing our existing laws: 3 feet to pass, yield to bikes in bike lanes, bring menacing charges for deliberately threatening behavior, etc. If all that happened, then high-viz clothing wouldn’t be any more of an excuse for poor driving than the current requirement that cars need headlights at night.
What Would Vision Zero Say?
Vision Zero says neon isn’t the problem. Vision Zero says serious crashes are unacceptable, and their causes can be identified and addressed in many incremental steps by many agencies. The FAA has applied this lens to aviation safety, with phenomenal success.
“Vision Zero says neon isn’t the problem.”
Exactly. And I might even go one half step further and argue that Vision Zero says the thinking that suggests neon is the problem is a problem, a distraction from the important work we need to do.
When a public agency like Trimet suggests that it takes $135 worth of special equipment to be “safe” I’m left to wonder what in the hell they are smoking. Anything to ignore the real problem, crappy drivers.
For the record, bicycles require a working headlight at night too.
I’m amazed at all the ninjas out there every winter. It’s ironic to me that the front white light is required while the rear red light is optional (reflector needed at minimum), but so many riders choose to outfit themselves with only a rear light.
Here’s the deal, if I’m in a car coming up behind you, my headlights light you up (and if you have even the smallest bit of reflective target, that lights super bright up too). I have no trouble seeing a bike in my headlights. However, in my rear or sideview mirror, I cannot see a bicycle rider without a white light in many cases. There’s been times that I’ve only made out a cyclist because of the silhouette they cast when headlights are behind them.
As far as high-viz clothing goes, it certainly should never be a requirement any more than helmets for adults should be a requirement. That said, personally, I wear a helmet and tend to wear a brighter jacket (no dayglo though) with a reflective accent somewhere – that’s my choice. If people have their working front light and rear reflector/light, there’s no real need for them to do anything special with their clothing.
I do really like using tires with reflective sidewalls though. They’re amazingly effective in both being visible as well as making it immediately understood that it’s a bike in front of the lights that are lighting it up.
Yeah, I avoid day-glo. I do have an orange fluorescent showers pass emergency rain jacket, but I rarely wear it, instead opting for more reasonable attire. Clothes that I can actually wear at work during the day and not look like an idiot.
Also, cycling cleats: just why?
Agreed. One of the less commented-on aspects of biking in places like Copenhagen is that everyone–EVERYONE–has a headlight and taillight, and everyone signals when they turn.
This seems like a sensible precaution, that assumes people will dress like people, and let the vehicle handle the visibility precautions (just as we do when driving a car).
And lots of beater bikes with nonfunctional/deficient lighting.
As a construction worker (and one that often operates heavy equipment) Hi Vis doesn’t work very well. It only works when one is in the headlights, and within roughly the foremost 33% of your field of vision. So in reality you’re already in someones sights if they see you with or without hi-vis.
The further you get from center of the field of vision you (all of us) loose color detection. Feel free to look it up, I’m probably being generous (might be as low as front 15-20%).
And to use construction workers as an example of safety is ridiculous. I wear the gear at work because the fines OSHA can impose are huge.
Myself as an iron worker (mind you one of the most dangerous trades there is in construction) can honestly say that the closest I have come to falling – in well over a decade in the trade, has always been the result of tripping on or malfunction (in these cases they worked too well) of a of said “safety gear”. Never once has it saved me.
And sometimes the safety gear might save you from one situation and kill you in another. For example if you fall with a harness on, you’ll likely survive the fall (if it doesn’t fail—not an uncommon occurrence) but if you aren’t rescued from hanging on the line in 3 minutes, you run the risk of a heart attack upon pickup because the harness blocks the blood flow from legs to the rest of the body and once the pressure is relieved, there is a good chance that it all comes at the heart at once. Three minutes isn’t very long, and in the case of 30 foot fall, you’ll likely survive without safety gear. But the regulations on tying off/harness are for anything over 3 or 6 feet depending on the state. So someone could die from a heart attack from using a harness on a what could have otherwise been a broken limb from an eight foot fall.
For the most part most safety gear and regulations in construction are not designed by people in the field who actually use the stuff and do the work, but by an large is designed by “experts” who work in little cubicles inventing more ways to keep their jobs relevant (be it safety inspectors, safety professionals, or insurance companies)- not very different than the bicycle safety industry as well.
You nailed it. My most reflective cycling clothing is black. Some of my brightest hi-vis stuff I would never wear at night. I recently outfitted my wife’s bike with reflective tires because she was nearly hit at a 4-way stop when the second driver back didn’t see her (bright lights) from the side and rolled a California stop.
When I took LCI training we video’d ourselves riding 500′ away from and back to a stopped car’s headlights. The reflective tires (and my LG jacket) were the brightest things by far (blowing even most lights away!), and the day glo stuff was nearly invisible (hence the name I guess).
I think something overlooked here is that the reflectivity of these materials comes from years of roadway paint research, maybe a bit more effective than your safety harnesses, and trying to solve a general problem with hurling mass quickly forward in the dark. Having been lectured once for wearing a black jersey on a bright sunny day I’m on the fence about PSAs that teach drivers that bicyclists and pedestrians are the problem, but that’s also just noise I can filter out and focus on simply keeping myself as safe as possible at night. Most people will still believe what they want to, and frankly a campaign like this is really just a checked box on some OSHA-like form.
“As a construction worker (and one that often operates heavy equipment) Hi Vis doesn’t work very well. It only works when one is in the headlights, and within roughly the foremost 33% of your field of vision. So in reality you’re already in someones sights if they see you with or without hi-vis. …” gutterbunnybikes
Your opinion, is that hi-vis doesn’t work very well. When you say hi-vis, it seems you’re implying the reflective material, as well as the colors. Depending on situations and conditions, that gear does work very much better in aiding visibility of people using it, than gear that isn’t hi-vis.
With my own eyes, I’ve seen the improvement in visibility the gear can provide. The improvement offered is something I’ve heard many other people speak of as well, as seen with their own eyes. Granted, the gear can’t offer perfect protection against collision. Nor is it really necessary in all riding situations and conditions, though I don’t think safety campaigns maintain that it is. Use of the gear, when and where, is one of the basic bike knowledge considerations, people that ride can benefit from having understanding of.
Some of the other info offered in your comment about construction worker body safety harnesses, was interesting and valuable to know though.
Nitpicking a bit here, but 3 feet to pass isn’t actually a law in Oregon. The law states “safe distance” and 3 feet is is just one guideline that people use.
The law states that passing distance must be sufficient to avoid hitting a cyclist if they were to fall into your lane. I call it Oregon’s six-foot passing law. Too bad it isn’t understood or enforced.
On rural roads with a speed limit of 35mph or higher in OR, people driving motor vehicles must give a minimum of 3 feet of passing space while passing people on bicycles.
Regardless of location (rural, narrow road, etc.) the law still requires essentially six feet of passing clearance, but you make a good point: the rule goes away in the presence of a bike lane (doesn’t matter if a cyclist is riding in it or out of it), or when the speed of the motor vehicle is less than 35 mph.
I don’t like these exceptions because a) they mean a driver at any speed, e.g., 50 mph may pass me with no minimum clearance as long as there is a bike lane present (even if I am near the left edge of the bike lane or have temporarily moved out of it to avoid a hazard), and b) 35 mph seems really fast for not requiring any minimum clearance.
I will never be seen wearing Hi-Vis clothing; I ride in my regular clothes and all my lights and reflectors are on my bike, where they belong.
Yup. Lights front and back and reflective sidewalls on my bike. No need to add dayglo silliness to that. I do tend to look for winter gloves with a bit of reflective piping on them to make hand signals a little more obvious though.
Come as you are. To hell with style fascists and safety freaks alike. Wear what you like, it’s fine by me.
My own style is never really down with the construction worker look. Lycra’s great when I’m on the open road in a way that cargo shorts and a wife beater just don’t when I ride my single speed around the city on a hot day. Your mileage may vary.
Well, I like runners and walkers to wear some reflective gear on MUPs so I have no problem asking cyclists to wear reflective gear on roads. It’s a cooperation issue and helps us all get along.
But runners and walkers don’t have bike lights. Light the bike, not the rider.
I run with a headlamp at night. Anything to make me more visible.
I ride along North Willamette Boulevard on my commute. Lots and lots of walkers and joggers wear both hi-vis as well as both red “blinkies” and “headlights” when it’s dark.
i’ve seen an increasing number of runners/joggers wearing head bands with lights, day-glo reflective clothing, and sometimes even a red flashing bike light hanging from a loop on their derrière. i suspect that back packs with safety triangles and red flags could be the next safety innovation for runners and walkers.
As others here have noted, some people that walk and bike, are hip to the effectiveness of hi-vis, reflectivity and lights. Some carry flashlights, lanterns. They put blinkies on their dog’s collar. I see this up on Fairmount Blvd (around Council Crest.).The street does have street lights, but has many dark sections and shadowy areas. In conditions such as are there, the improvement in visibility of someone using the gear, over people not using it, is huge.
Dog eyeballs are retroreflective (for white, not amber, guess how I know), and they hear something as quiet as a bicycle, so they will look and reveal themselves if you are running lights as small as 3 watts. There’s no need for more, unless you are talking about exceptionally careless road users.
For people, pedal reflectors and reflective trim on tennis shoes, or the glow from a cell phone are all adequate. Reflective piping on a jacket or backpack is a huge bonus, but I cannot depend on that.
I share space with pedestrians on various MUPS after dark, and these things are entirely adequate for me, and I wear bifocals. Of course, I may not be typical, because I do actually have zero tolerance for hitting pedestrians, and if I insist that *other* people change their behavior to meet *my* goals, I can be pretty sure that I won’t meet my goals. (A corollary of this is that any instance of “didn’t see” or “almost hit” is MY mistake, not their mistake.)
seasonal speed limit changes?
Or maybe some sort of Rule that would be Basic to every situation, requiring all road users to adjust speed and behavior according to current conditions. Maybe with a snappy name like,… Basic Rule.
Or just keep em low all year long..
If they want to hand out safety advice maybe they should provide some evidence that high-vis actually does something useful first.
If this stuff is so invaluable to cycling safety it should be really easy prove, right?
And watch how much the PPB cares about the safety of cyclists when you call them to report being harassed and/or reckless and threatening driving directed at you as you’re on your bike.
My most recent experience was being refused the ability to report because I waited until I got to my office instead of calling from the side of a road with only a narrow bike lane. They also directed me to a neighborhood policing center for N PDX who never returned my call.
Why don’t we focus more resources on enforcing traffic laws?
I always report these to email@example.com even if there’s nothing they can do.
The incidental economist weighed in on the evidence around this:
Basically, daytime running lights decreased cycling injuries in Denmark in a well designed study by 20%. I run daytime running lights on my car. I run daytime running lights on my bike.
I recently got a dynamo light for my bike, so daytime running lights cost me no effort or extra battery. All good commuter bikes should have dynamos IMO.
I used to have dynamo lights and was a big believer … .Until someone snipped the wire and stole it off my bike while it was parked in NW Portland.
Since that happened, I will never use dynamo lights on my city bike again. bummer.
Even without dynamo lights, there are so many conveniently rechargeable lights available these days, that there’s no reason not to have lights on even in the daytime. I always have lights on when riding in traffic, regardless of the time of day. I have fewer close passes and cars pulling out in front of me compared to when I didn’t ride with daytime lights.
Jonathan, someone tried to steal mine (they must have been interrupted), so I did this: cut up an old inner tube, and wrap/tie it around the light’s base (the part that at attaches to the head tube) so the screws/bolts cannot easily be accessed. Wrap it up like a mummy. Then, take some Shoe Goo and smother the head of the bolt that keeps it in place (opposite side of the head tube). The result is a dynamo light that is a PIA to remove! See pics below:
That’s a great tip Todd, thanks for sharing.
Thanks for that Todd. Maybe I gave up too easily. If I ever get a new front dynamo light, I’ll definitely take some of your tips.
You might try replacing the mounting bolt with a Pitlock, but the mount itself is pretty thin and wouldn’t likely stand up to a bolt cutter. Thieves would still probably snip the wires even if they bothered to notice the connectors pull out from the light.
Jonathan: c’mon now, you’ve already had an entire bike stolen due to absentmindedness. Surely over the long run you’d get more mileage from a dynamo light with some theft deterrent than remembering to take the lights off every time.
My girlfriend is already halfway to a Supernova.
That is a very strong reaction and a complete 180! From “strong believer” to “will never use again”. I am so surprised by this, would you be willing to elaborate a bit more? Do you now use removable lights? Is your unwillingness to buy a replacement light because of cost? What else drove that decision?
Yes. Now I use removable lights.
I never thought someone would snip the wire on my dynamo light. And yes, it’s a big expense to get a new one. Like I said above, I suppose I shouldn’t be so rash and I should try to take some anti-theft measures like Todd has done.
After getting a bike *completely* stripped (never park your bike at a MAX station), I came up with some MacGuyver anti-theft solutions. Mostly Shoe Goo and old tubes.
If I may briefly rant…
We’re doing lights way the F wrong. Lights are cheap. I build my own. Anyone with modest soldering skills can do the same.
PCB is $3 (but you cannot buy fewer than 3).
4 Diodes are $2.
2 small caps are $1.65.
Big cap is $3.60.
1 terminal block is $1.40
This solders into a cylindrical lump that is 110mm x 22mm.
Yes, I have one of these in the seat tube of one of my bicycles.
This converts Hub AC into unregulated DC —
but note that modern high-power LEDs can suck down all the current a hub can supply, so there is no need for more regulation, and the largish cap kills most of the flicker.
White LEDs are $9.17 each. I use two.
Lenses and holders are a $1.50 for the pair, I used two (one spot, one elliptical).
$21.34 for the front lights.
Red, red-orange, and amber LEDs are $3.60 each.
$36.60 for electrical parts and lenses, front and rear.
Get two bell clamps, some aluminum angle, appropriate longish bolts and some nuts, epoxy, and some acrylic mirror from a craft store. That makes your front light, bolted to your handlebars. Your rear light might just be epoxied to an aluminum scrap bolted to a fender. It’s not enough to clip wires (and if they did, just wire-nut or solder them back together again), they’ve also got to undo the two bell clamps, and the resale value on the lights is zip, especially after the bozo thief touches an unregulated battery to them and ruins them.
And this is damn bright; on my main bike, I also have two ambers with lenses in front activated by a toggle switch; those are my low beams.
More here: https://dr2chase.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/lights-for-a-beater-bike/
PCB source: https://oshpark.com/shared_projects/QSplfQc6
I have these cheap lights on two of my four bikes and all three of my kid’s bikes. My other two bikes have more experimental (and expensive) better circuits. One of my children has experimentally tested how the circuit works after it has been soaked in rain water (it continues to work) and one of them has been outdoors in Massachusetts for about 6 years now. There is no off switch; if the bike runs, they run.
The better circuit is better, but more expensive, and not necessarily as water-tolerant.
Ain’t nobody got time for that!
(I mean, I’ve made some of my own lights too. But you can get a great set of rechargeable lights for $70, and for many people it’s worth that $40 price difference not to be messing around with trying to solder things and such.)
Nathan, I do understand that it’s not for everyone, but if you’re going to also recommend cheap battery-powered lights, and also complain about people riding around with undercharged batteries….
When I started building my own lights the choices were not nearly so good, and when I went to put lights on my kids’ bikes (lights that I wanted to always be on at night), I had to consider the cost, possibility of whole-bike theft (we’ve lost two), and durability in the face of the usual abuse. I’ve had notably poor experience with top-dollar equipment and weather. The choice to not include an off switch improves reliability, reduces cost, and increases the chances that my kids will have lights on after dark — it was a happy accident to later learn that this was also a proven safety feature, even in a place where cycling was relatively safe (Denmark, the study is paywalled, but it looks like DRLs cut your daytime with-a-car collision risk by 50% http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.aap.2012.07.006 — and this study was a RCT, not blinded for obvious reasons though they tried to adjust for that, but otherwise the real deal).
Just to clarify, the lights I recommend are predominantly rechargeable lights with regulated output. Undercharged isn’t an option, because the lights output a mostly constant beam until the battery dies, and they typically have a low battery warning of some sort. There’s a lot of options these days that are low-cost but still very effective. I’d love to see more widespread use of dynamos, but let’s face it, they’re expensive and a pain to install, so I understand why more people don’t use them.
I’ve seen that study before, I do very much agree that having daytime running lights is a good idea; I made a comment somewhere else in this thread about that. I always ride with my lights on regardless of time of day, and encourage others to as well!
As a dynamo user for 20+ years…they were more theft safe than battery lights until recently when two things happened: their price / quality became “high” and the thieves found a market for them. Thieves would steal anything else on my bike but my dynamo set up…
So yes, Jonathan, given them a second chance with the counter measures and perhaps a little less blingy gear…since if you gave up the first time your bike /bike gear got stolen you might be writing a new blog like: [Skateboarding] Portland or similar. ;0
Jonathan, several coworkers have gone to using the Magnic Lights (that are more easily detached and put in a bag). They have all the benefits of dyno lights (powered by the wheel, not batteries) with the benefits of battery lights (easily detached and stored).
I had my local bike shop glue a ball bearing into the screw securing the light to the frame.
sorry but i still believe my commuter bikes are “good” even though they lack daylight running lights and dynamos.
these types of absolute assertions about how other people should commute/cycle are not only somewhat rude but are often based on nothing more than personal opinion and anecdote.
Just say this video yesterday. Give you a chance to see what a driver sees with different options for lights and clothes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZRXlrJ3Mi0
Despite all this cultural commentary, the PBOT tweet actually just succinctly summarizes the findings in this video.
Isn’t winter drab enough without everyone wearing grey and black.
not drab, refined-sophisticated even!
The (perceived) need for high visibility clothing is a symptom of a greater problem with the design of our infrastructure, the enforcement of existing laws, and the sense that driving is the “normal” activity on roadways while cycling and walking are “other” activities that require special gear. By focusing on the symptom rather than the problem itself, we allow the underlying issues to continue and exacerbate.
The inescapable fact is that, in a busy, vibrant urban area, it’s simply not safe to drive faster than an absolute crawl (10 to 12 mph tops) in the less-than-ideal conditions associated with a December night in Portland. Unfortunately, we are not willing to ask that of drivers, so we get these initiatives instead. Hi viz may well be effective as a way to reduce your own personal risk of being struck relative to that of other people walking & cycling, but it will do nothing to increase the overall safety of the system.
“the sense that driving is the “normal” activity on roadways while cycling and walking are “other” activities that require special gear.”
I see your point, but remember that cars have lots of visibility features built in (and required by law) like lights and reflectors. Maybe we just need to make those required on bikes as well.
And I should add: ‘”required” as they require the manufactures to build bikes with those safety features (don’t make the onus just on the rider to fix their errors). Can you imagine if car owners had to go to the store and buy and affix their own array of variable head and tail lights?
I don’t think it makes sense to require they be built in to bikes. There are too many different types of lights for different types of riding. Requiring they be built in will just lead to a proliferation of low-quality, low-brightness lights that don’t actually do much good – places selling cheap bikes will try to minimize any additional cost. The marginal cost of lights in a car are low, especially because the engine’s already providing power. With bikes, you have to consider the weight vs. runtime of the light, how bright it is, etc. A mountain biker and a city commuter’s needs are different, but you can’t just tie it to the bike type, because plenty of people commute on mountain bikes.
I would maybe support requiring that lights to be purchased at point-of-sale or the user showing that they already owns bike lights that they will install themselves.
“A mountain biker and a city commuter’s needs are different,”
Sure but making at least a minimum threshold wouldn’t be that bad, and then people could just add more lights/power as they need it.
Bicycles (not bicycle operators) already are required to have reflectors and lights for low-light, low-visibility operation.
The hi-viz craze is just another marketing campaign capitalizing on the institutionalization of distracted driving and the institutionalization of victims being responsible for others mistakes (‘the rider crushed by the truck was not wearing a helmet’).
No amount of blinkies or hi-viz or reflective garb will protect the vulnerable road user from careless and distracted operation of a motor vehicle.
bikes are not required to have reflectors or reflective materials. moreover, reflective materials do not have to be brightly colored. i use black 3M reflective tape on my bikes and shoes for aesthetic reasons.
I wear hi-vis clothing and use lights because I don’t want a driver who might hit me to be able to use the excuse “I didn’t see him.”
And there is the problem with government agencies running these blame the victim awareness campaigns, they reinforce the idea that it is a reasonable excuse to say I didn’t see them when you hit someone who isn’t dressed like a traffic cone, even if you were doing something illegal at the time of the collision.
So, riders have no responsibility to stay safe? Courts generally assign blame proportional to the actions, or inactions, of the parties involved.
“So, riders have no responsibility to stay safe?
The danger to life and limb emanates in the majority of cases from the person driving the car, either driving too fast for conditions, or failing to pay sufficient attention, or some combination of both. As such, you’d think that the chief responsibility would lie with those piloting the vehicle. As El Biciclero has said here many times, anticipating the need to jump out of the way of an inattentive driver is something we probably would be wise to learn, but this is a defensive strategy rather than, properly speaking, a responsibility of ours when biking.
“Courts generally assign blame proportional to the actions, or inactions, of the parties involved.”
Except when someone was *not* in a car. They get nothing.
But inaction is usually relative to laws not obeyed that contributed to the crash, or actions not taken to avoid an obviously imminent collision — i.e., if there is someone standing in the road, even though they are jaywalking, if you have time to stop, it is against the law to run into them. Dinging cyclists for not being more visible than the legal standard is like dinging drivers who skid for not using a car with ABS brakes. And the legal standard for cyclist visibility is 100% utterly silent on clothing choices, so there is no possible law that dressing in flat black breaks.
In practice (especially in places like NYC) drivers are not even expected to obey all of the laws — most recently, a driver seen on video driving over a little girl legally in a crosswalk with her grandmother escaped all prosecution and had his tickets voided.
Again — and this is phenomenally irritating to me — admitted driver failure to conform to the basic speed law, “I didn’t see him in time”, “the sun was in my eyes”, etc, is considered exonerating, but failure to obey imaginary dress code laws is considered to be contributory. This is a wee bit of a double standard if you ask me.
comment of the week!
I concur, this is the comment of the week, month and year.
can you provide citations suggesting that hi viz clothing significantly reduces cyclist collision risk?
They’ll still use that excuse though.
I think similarly about this issue as I do about the helmet issue. When I’m riding my around-town/city bike, I don’t wear a helmet and I don’t wear clothing that’s specifically high-vis. The reason is because I don’t think riding my bike is inherently dangerous… and I don’t like to play a part in the arms race on our streets. We’ll only have peaceful streets when everyone puts down their weapons and focuses on each other instead of only on themselves. I also think that if we expect people to not see us, then people will not see us. When I’m riding my bike, I expect people to see me and not run into me as long as I’m reasonably visible.
on the flip side, when I go out on my fast road bike on country roads, I always wear a helmet and have several hi-vis jerseys.
NO. WAY! You saying you change your behavior based on variable conditions? Seems like a slippery slope into a relativistic quagmire of possibly good and bad decisions all mingling promiscuously, so… confusing? Who will think of the children? What kind of example does it set for them if they can’t rely on SIMPLE UNCHANGING RULES of ALWAYS and NEVER!?
“…When I’m riding my around-town/city bike, I don’t wear a helmet and I don’t wear clothing that’s specifically high-vis. The reason is because I don’t think riding my bike is inherently dangerous …” maus/bikeportland
Jonathan, riding your bike amongst motor vehicles in use, is what’s inherently dangerous. Maybe though, you’re somehow managing to ride in town, only where motor vehicles aren’t in use.
High-viz can help prevent a crash. Helmets can’t. Helmets signal a cynical acceptance of cars hitting people on bikes — padding the china rather than taming the bull, so to speak. Meanwhile, lights and high-viz shifts some responsibility to car drivers — the bull in the china shop — by taking “he came outta nowhere” off the table as an excuse.
So: while high-viz and helmet campaigns both have troubling elements of victim blaming, I’d much rather see promotion of lights and reflective stuff than promotion of helmets.
It’s a conundrum, though: will we ever reach Copenhagen levels of ridership and safety — levels that make wearing all black reasonable — if people think you’ve got to dress like a lightbulb in order to be safe?
I know one thing: If Trimet really wanted to keep people walking and biking safe, they’d target their safety campaigns at the behaviors that tend to hurt those people: distracted driving, driving under the influence, speeding, and failing to obey crosswalk laws.
“Meanwhile, lights and high-viz shifts some responsibility to car drivers — the bull in the china shop — by taking “he came outta nowhere” off the table as an excuse.”
with all due respect, can you point to a single case where high-viz clothing made a whit of difference in our society’s reflexive predisposition toward exonerating drivers running into or over someone walking or cycling? Your sentence above already concedes that they’re going to run into or over us regardless… but, you opine, just won’t have as easy a time using that lame excuse. I have not seen this in action. Wanda Cortese is just one example. There are many more, even in this thread.
You’re missing my point, Ruben. I’m comparing increased visibility measures to helmets.
Yeah, a certain amount of reasonable effort to make yourself visible is a good idea, but the bigger part of the equation is the drivers that aren’t paying attention, or just don’t seem to care. Like the Prius just this morning, backing out of a driveway across the bike lane on 52nd. The windows were completely fogged up. All the high vis in the world wouldn’t have helped. I don’t even think a super bright light would have helped.
That said, I do think clothing that stands out during the day, and lights and reflectives at night is a good idea. Helps with the ordinary driver. But the other drivers- you can die on their whim anytime.
I notice that there’s no “Slow Down and See” counterpart to the Tri-Met ad campaign.
And until PBOT gets behind a MASSIVE campaign to educate drivers about their need to yield to peds at an unmarked crosswalks, I really don’t want to be told anything by them.
I’m tired of the mostly one-way tone of this “conversation.”
Trimet gets criticized hard for this, but the reason they don’t have a counterpart campaign to this (and I’m not assuming you’re asking for Trimet to be the agency to do it) is because it’s not their audience. Trimet is looking out for its passengers: people on foot or on bike. They’re the agency serving every corner of the metro area, including those without sidewalks or bike facilities. They’re operating huge machines that can kill. I think it’s a reasonable request from that standpoint. If it gives the impression that we live in a place that’s not safe to walk or bike? Well, I’ll tell you that’s the wrong impression once east Portland looks a little more like Copenhagen.
“it’s not their audience”
I disagree. What about all those bus posters about how many cars are not on the road because of one bus? Are those also addressed to pedestrians and cyclists? What about the fact that their audience might participate in all those modes, including driving?
ODOT, PBOT, what about them? They have similar campaigns that follow the same asymmetric logic with most of the exhortations directed at people *not* in cars.
What I mean is it’s not the audience for that campaign. They may have campaigns geared toward drivers, but I read this one as geared toward transit riders in their role as transit riders.
ODOT and PBOT have a far broader role and can actually build safer facilities. Trimet has to live in the world it lives in, and if it can’t build sidewalks and other facilities across its coverage area, it can at least communicate information it believes will make its customers safer.
“I read this one as geared toward transit riders in their role as transit riders”
Sure, but why?
In my view the more logical approach would be to live down this legacy of blaming the weakest class and acknowledge the fact that speed and attention on the part of people driving is what deserves our attention.
roach would be to live down this legacy of blaming the weakest class and acknowledge the fact that speed and attention on the part of people driving is what deserves our attention.
I agree in the broader scope. As a society, yes. As a city or state transportation department, yes. As a transit district, sure, fine. But if they feel they can make more of a difference (or a more immediate difference) by focusing on their individual riders, that is neither blaming riders nor discounting the fact that speed and attention are causes of the problem. It’s their take on the serenity prayer.
“It’s their take on the serenity prayer.”
If that is the best they can do we need to put someone else in charge of our transit agency. That is giving up the fight before they even finished tying their shoes.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
If that’s giving up, I guess I’m reading it wrong. 🙂
My point was that *as a transit agency* if they feel that browbeating pedestrians is the best they can do then they have misunderstood their position, their ability and responsibility, to tackle this head-on, rather than unimaginatively do what comes easiest, or simply warm up last year’s misbegotten campaign.
This strikes me as a more general problem with our local and non-local transportation authorities. They don’t seem to recognize the position they are in, or have to guts, to articulate a bolder vision, to throw their weight around a little when it comes to *policy* matters, to changing the inequities in the present.
I think you’re right about that…however, I’m highly motivated to reduce my own personal risk of being struck 🙂
Here is another way to think about it. Dark clothes are like camouflage at night. If you want to avoid being seen, dress in dark clothes. If you want to be seen, dress is bright/reflective clothing.
My opinion: I want to be seen so I wear a bright yellow construction vest, bright yellow backpack cover, bright yellow helmet – all with reflective striping. Top it off with helmet mounted lights (front and back) (and also include bike mounted lights as well). I ride on dark, roads far outside the city core where there simply aren’t many bicycles and cars don’t expect them.
So I prefer not to camouflage myself. I want to be seen. If somebody else doesn’t want to, I’m okay with that to. But if you expect other (cars and trucks) to share the road with you, it’s best to give them a fair chance at seeing you. How can a car share the road with something that can’t be seen?
Well hang on, now. It’s false that a person “can’t be seen.” Otherwise, you know the Pentagon would throw big money around to equip a stealth army of super-soldiers with that magic combination of bikes/walking shoes and ordinary street clothing.
Really, it’s that people in cars are overdriving their (often age-glazed) headlights and the prevailing conditions in violation of Oregon’s basic speed rule. (See http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/TRAFFIC-ROADWAY/Pages/speed_zone_program.aspx#The_Basic_Rule)
So, let the “can’t be seen” hyperbole perish and let the outreach campaign fit the crime.
Yes, Even the kid on a BMX bike or skateboard wearing jeans and dark hoodie with no reflectors isn’t invisible. I SEE them all the time. I see pedestrians in dark clothing at the time too. The fact is I see them. They can be seen. It may take paying attention, but they are visible.
I don’t advocate purposely dressing in dark clothes. I think it very sensible to have some light color at least. I have no problem with people who chose to wear something reflective, or lights. But letting drivers off the hook for the basic rules of 1) paying careful attention to the road environment and 2) driving within the limits of visibility gravels my butt.
I am not arguing. I agree that its the drivers’ ultimate responsibility to see, but I do not trust them to do so. A conundrum: how do you know you saw ALL the dark dressed PEDs? I have seen a few at the last second (luckily) but maybe there have been others that weren’t on a collision course ( but could have changed course abruptly) that I never knew were there…
Notice, I didn’t say whether I wear reflective gear or use lights (a lot of the time for the first, always for the second) nor do I discourage other’s or say it is a bad idea to wear reflective clothing.
I try to drive very cautiously especially in the dark. I very frequently see people and things that apparently campaigns like this suggest I can’t see. I see garbage cans, tree limbs, people, mailboxes, tree and a host of other things that aren’t covered in reflective tape.
I did have a moment of less than perfect attention recently heading east on turning right onto 20th in the early evening, just past dusk but not quite fully dark. There was a cyclist on 20th I didn’t *notice* until the last second, but when I saw him, I did see him. I should have seen him earlier. I agree it would have helped had he had lights. Also, I can’t really figure out where he came from because I wasn’t that distracted. I speculate he may have come off the sidewalk along Weidler and turn with me into the street on 20th, but really, I didn’t notice him because I wasn’t looking, not because he was invisible. Like I said, I saw him just fine when I swerved to avoid him.
Should read “east on Weidler”
The answer, according to Oregon’s basic speed rule, is that you slow your speed as appropriate for the conditions.
Keep in mind that the scope of the question in the original post was particularly about agencies and the content of their outreach campaigns. An answer to that may be easier to reach compared to “What about all facets of the high-viz issue?”
“Dark clothes are like camouflage at night. If you want to avoid being seen, dress in dark”
If anything, the few studies that have been carried out that address this suggest that hi viz clothing has little impact on driver visual *perception* at night.
Moreover, a cochrane review indicates that there is essentially no evidence that hi viz clothing impacts cyclist injury collisions.
I bought a bright yellow, low end Showers Pass rain jacket last year, and I love it. I’m not going to wish the cars away. The fact is Tri-Met is already under-serving the community and not everyone can ride a bike. The streets in Portland are absurdly narrow, and some roads-Skyline and Germantown are two in my area- are so dangerous that speed limits need to be lowered. And we’ll all help work on this and other safety issues, and over time we’ll see some progress. Do you really need to impress the world with your personal style while you commute? And why would I ever get on a bike in my nice clothes ( that aren’t my fine cycling threads)?
“Do you really need to impress the world with your personal style while you commute? And why would I ever get on a bike in my nice clothes ( that aren’t my fine cycling threads)?”
Fine for you if you want to wear bright yellow casual wear. I prefer to look more stylish so I light up my bike instead of me. My bright front and rear lights, plus spoke lights and reflective tires are plenty bright for my low-key commute. If I spent more time on heavier traffic roads, I’d add front and rear blinkies on my helmet.
As for the dig on nice clothes, I ride in dress clothes every day because it’s the nature of my job and there’s no reason to carry a whole change of clothing when I’m only riding 5 miles. I’d rather save pannier space for my laptop, groceries and other things I might pick up on the way home.
I find these Trimet ad campaigns offensive, especially in light of incidents like their driver Sandi Day running over 5 people walking with the walk signal in a crosswalk while she was making an illegal left turn. Shortly after that incident I began seeing a poster on bus shelters with the orange don’t walk hand and the phrase, “Waiting won’t kill you.” It is absurd, crossing against the light is no where near the top of the pareto for pedestrian injuries and deaths, far more often the pedestrian is crossing legally and hit by an illegally turning vehicle. I think that what we really need is a “drive legally” kit for Trimet drivers before we have the “hi-viz” kit.
Are any public awareness campaigns effective?
I was always more the Cowboy than the Construction Worker.
On a personal level, it really depends on where I’m biking. When I was living in outer East Portland, I had a hi-viz vest on myself and my bags, and reflector pant leg cuffs on both ankles. I was dealing with really terrible shoulders and high traffic volumes at high speeds, and very sparse street lights to get to and from my job at the airport.
Once I moved to SE and a different job, I (now that I think about it) subconsciously stepped away from it. I feel safer on these streets that have better infrastructure, more street lights, and lower traffic speeds.
(Then again, I did just buy a fantastic rain cloak from Cleverhood that has reflective threading in it… soooo…)
But to each their own. If it makes you feel safer, go for it. But it shouldn’t be a requirement by any means.
I never wear hi-vis – I have bright enough lights on my bike. I don’t like the idea that I need special clothing just to not have people driving not run me over. Where does it stop? Should I wear hi-vis when I’m walking? When we encourage use of hi-vis, it gives the impression that cycling is inherently dangerous and discourages people from starting up riding.
The burden of responsibility should lie with the one with the ability to cause the most harm. Blame the car drivers for not seeing people riding bikes, not the person riding a bike for not being visible enough.
“it gives the impression that cycling is inherently dangerous and discourages people from starting up”
Replace bike with car (plus a contextual change): …seatbelts and airbags “give the impression that driving is inherently dangerous and discourages people from starting up”
I myself don’t buy into the concept that cycling is totally safe. Until I do, I plan to continue to look to ways to make it safer. If others see my actions as implying that cycling is dangerous, so be it. Same goes for airbags, anti-lock brakes, seatbelts, child seats, back up cameras, etc. when I drive.
Those things are on the car and add essentially no burden to your life when using the car. The high-viz gear is “supposed” to be on your person, and adds the significant burden of either (A) looking like a complete dork constantly or (B) carrying high-viz everywhere, taking it on and off when getting on and off your bike, and still looking like a complete dork when on your bike. These things don’t matter to some, but to be realistic, they matter to a sizeable majority of people and always will.
To counteract the obvious response of “What’s looking like a complete dork compared to your life?” – the comparison is invalid because we shouldn’t be in danger of our lives every time we go somewhere by bike. Government’s proper role in this topic is to change infrastructure and driver behavior so people biking and walking can go places in peace. It is not to harangue people who are doing what gov’t supposedly wants (biking and walking!) into accepting another burden above and beyond the already-heavy burden of inadequate infrastructure and aggressive driving.
My response was intended to address the issue of giving the impression that it is “inherently dangerous and discourages people from starting up”, not what is stylish or easy.
Since I already own a car, driving will always allow me to be both more stylish and it will also be easier than biking.
Run for office.
Thanks, I’ve considered it. I understand that it’s politicians who get to (and have to) make these kinds of decisions. Don’t think it’s a good fit for me but I personally would like BikeLoud to grow into something of a political force to influence who is elected and how they behave.
“Those would would give up essential cycling safety, to purchase a little temporary cycling couture, deserve neither safety nor relaxed-fit neutral earth-toned organic cyclismo apparel.”
“Same goes for airbags, anti-lock brakes, seatbelts, child seats, back up cameras”
but all that stuff is to protect the occupants from speed (their own or other automobiles). As we’ve had plenty of occasions to learn here, the dangers are modally very lopsided.
Wearing high viz stuff is different in that it isn’t designed to protect me from myself or from others who are biking, but fromubiquitous the horseless carriages. See the difference?
Maybe if you’re the driver, but what about the passengers, some of them still in carseats?
How about anti-lock brakes, traction control and back up cameras. Those all benefit all users of the road when somebody makes a mistake. (although I seem to be the only one on this forum that ever makes a mistake on my bike)
The point is, as others have already noted, of the 317 possible things to organize a campaign around, what do Trimet & ODOT & plenty of others (predictably) focus on, year after year after year? Oh, right, the same thing the city fathers of Fox Point wrote into law*; something that asks nothing of anyone in a car, whose speed and level of attention are implicated in upwards of 70% of crashes.
This is not Vision Zero, folks.
Here, so you will feel better: https://vimeo.com/112875858
I think that a lot of driver indifference has to do with the relative safety of driving. Cars are now over engineered to take so many different kind of impacts – obviously saving lives is a good thing. Crashes that would have killed driver and passengers decades ago are common walk always/minor injury accidents now. The safer you feel the more likely you are willing to take on risk. (There are studies which correlate this data with helmet use on bike riders as well.) Sometimes a little fear is a good thing, it keeps you honest.
Biking always has been safe. Throughout the last few decades (as long as they’ve been keeping stats) your odds of hurting yourself on a bicycle are pretty much 50/50 that a car is even involved. A little common sense improves your odds of injury incidents by 50% over those that don’t have any.
If you think riding a bike is inherently dangerous how do you explain the injury fatality rates on Citibikes in NYC? Few helmets, rookie riders, rough streets and traffic, hardly any injuries and only a finger or two worth of fatalities.
“…we shouldn’t be in danger of our lives every time we go somewhere by bike. …” alex reed
“…When we encourage use of hi-vis, it gives the impression that cycling is inherently dangerous …” Adam H.
Who told you that? It’s nonsense. Biking is dangerous where motor vehicles are in use. Hi-vis is one of the visibility aids that can mitigate some of that danger. Learn what situations and conditions hi-vis can be effective in aiding visibility of yourself to other road users, and use it there.
“Biking is dangerous where motor vehicles are in use.”
Thanks for that, wsbob.
Wsbob – my personal moral compass combined with an appreciation of the huge societal benefits of cycling, and the impossibility of truly widespread cycling without a near-seamless feeling of safety and comfort, told me that we shouldn’t be (or feel) in (significant) danger of our lives while biking.
“…we shouldn’t be (or feel) in (significant) danger of our lives while biking. …” alex reed
Nevertheless, people biking alongside and amongst motor vehicles, are in significant danger, and none of the huffing and puffing in the world is likely to change that equation very soon, at least not here in Oregon and the greater U.S.
You don’t want to aid road users driving motor vehicles, in seeing yourself as you, as vulnerable road user, walk or bike on the road? Fine. That’s your choice.
Why so dichotomous?
because it is so dangerous you either apprise them of your vulnerability through dayglo (prudent/alive), or you don’t (imprudent/dead).
What about all the in-between possibilities?
– Biking isn’t that dangerous, after all.
– We don’t have much evidence that day-glo/high-viz/retro-reflective stuff makes much of a difference to the wearer’s chances of being hit.
– Not to mention the myriad dynamic feedback loops we unleash by hewing to this line that would have us make up for inattentive/overconfident driving by emulating poisonous insects in our clothing choices.
“…We don’t have much evidence that day-glo/high-viz/retro-reflective stuff makes much of a difference to the wearer’s chances of being hit. …” watts
Maybe you and your group of “…We…”, whoever that is, are only concerned with considering the question of whether or not collision rate of motor vehicles with vulnerable road users, is reduced, through vulnerable road users use of hi-vis and reflective material; that is, as a condition of you and your group supporting the use of those materials by vulnerable road users.
“Maybe you and your group of ‘…We…’, whoever that is, are only concerned with considering the question of whether or not collision rate of motor vehicles with vulnerable road users, is reduced, through vulnerable road users use of hi-vis and reflective material; that is, as a condition of you and your group supporting the use of those materials by vulnerable road users.”
Well, excuse me, but what other reason could there possibly be for anyone to don such garb (much less exhort others to don it) it if were found that it had no effect on their chances of being hit?
“…it if were found…” watts
Found by who or what? Let me guess: you’re thinking about some study or another.
From first hand observation of their experiences while driving, friends and acquaintances relate how the use of hi-vis gear by people as vulnerable road users, helps them to see vulnerable road users far more readily and easily. That to me, equates to fewer close calls, a reduction in potential for collision, and helps reduce tension and anxiety amongst all road users. Very good reasons for the use of hi-vis gear by vulnerable road users.
I’ve noticed this before: you privilege your friends’ anecdotal experiences driving around Beaverton over studies that purport to examine the question at hand. We’re not going to make any headway this way. Have you read any of the studies folks are citing here? Why do you feel qualified to dismiss their findings? Overrule them based on your friends’ eagerness to validate their desire to see others take more responsibility?
The only time I’ve ever been hit by a car was in daylight, while wearing bright orange, with 600 lumen lights on. The driver simply was not looking where they were going.
Rob, threats — no matter how small — are not tolerated on this site. I hope you understand — Jonathan
Whoa there stallion, don’t kick wsbob in the head just because he made you mad. Trying to convince people through civil discussions on the internet is productive, while I don’t think yelling at wsbob on the internet is.
Methinks wsbob is BP’s sacrificial lamb… 😉
Alex Reed at: http://bikeportland.org/2014/12/12/think-encouraging-high-vis-gear-115550#comment-5986395
Alex…thanks for weighing in. I believe your comment’s previous location was eliminated when bikeportland’s staff did a judicious bit of content moderation.
“biking is dangerous where motorvehicles are in use”
biking is not particularly dangerous when motorvehicle speeds are low or when motorists are accustomed to cyclists. perhaps this, in part, explains why portland is among the safest cities to bike in both americas.
I was posting this stuff on twitter. Construction workers that work on the roads wear high-viz and they get hit. Hunters wearing high-viz get shot. The thing is these organizations should not make it seem as if it is bullet proof because it is not. If high-viz coloring was the answer then our motor vehicles would be high-viz and our ditches would be high-viz and the little white high-viz line used to mark bike lanes would be enough but it isn’t.
Yes, and people in hospitals die. Does that mean that going to the hospital doesn’t reduce your chance of death? No one (except you) is suggesting that high-viz results in no chance of getting hit; the idea is that it might improve your chances.
I think these ad campaigns are simply lazy and ineffective. They don’t convince anyone of anything. Thus, while I am annoyed that they think people not supporting the status quo should walk around town looking like fools, I also don’t care that much, because I think most people see it for the stupid and unconvincing idea it is. What a waste of time and ad space.
What will save lives is to slow traffic down. Thin roads out. Lower speed limits around stores and put in speed deterrents. stop all traffic when pedestrians are in the road. Make it illegal to turn right on red because there may be pedestrians in the road. But those that drive motor vehicles don’t want to hear any of this they would rather keep on killing people and blaming the dead. I mean come on people think about this people hit buildings! Should buildings be painted high-viz too?
Meh. Too much grar grar amongst the peanuts on this one.
Do what makes you feel comfortable. But for some folks, agida is confort.
My problem with the high-vis is the over saturation aspect. Roads these days are smothered in signs and warnings and lights and so on. Drivers have become so numb by it all now we have to have absurdly over-the-top flashing crosswalks (with islands and pavement markings) just to have a safe ped crossing. To me high-vis clothing is yet another symptom of that problem. What comes next when everyone everywhere has high vis clothing (not being entirely hyperbolic, as more peds on the sidewalk and motorcyclists are wearing it, then those crossing or riding the stret are less likely to stand out). So yeah, I want to be seen by a car, but I’m drawing the line at lights on my bike.
Lights are great because all road users are required to have them (save for people walking on the sidewalk), so drivers see a light coming at them and know it’s another person.
Give out car kits that include a defogger, window cleaner, a lock box for cell phones, and a sticker to put in the front windshield reminding drivers to watch for vulnerable road users.
Don’t forget a polishing kit to remove the glaze that dulls headlight lenses after a few years.
Even though hi-viz is of very limited value at night, my jackets are hi-viz with reflective elements. I wear riding clothes anyway – hard working bodies deserve comfortable clothes – so having the tops hi-vis is almost hard to avoid 🙂
From the standpoint of seeing peds, I have to admit I love the ones who have a few reflective elements in their clothes. I see them way earlier and can give them far more space.
The other morning I cruised through a cross walk and only realized as I went by that there was someone who had started to enter it then pulled up to let me go by -5am, no streetlights and he was wearing all dark clothes, I didn’t see him against the dark background until I got really close.
The lesson is clear – you want someone to give you the space you’re entitled to, help them see you. Lights are good (day and night), in some cases reflectors are better. Hi viz I can take or leave.
Don’t want to get mugged? Don’t go out at night! Thank you for helping us keep the city safe!
I think of the case of Michael Cooley in 2013 and read how much reflective clothing he wore and multiple lights on his bike and he still got hit from behind. I don’t mind wearing reflective clothing but sometimes think that in certain situations it does not help at all.
(insert standard claims establishing cycling bona fides)
I don’t know about all you guys, but even with what I presume to be higher than the norm attentiveness to the presence of cyclists and pedestrians, with my aging eyeballs and rain on the windshield (or my night-riding specs), I’ve seen dark clad un-lighted road users way too late more often than I’d like.
I want to give all those out there less able or less inclined to see me every chance I can. To my mind there’s a big difference between blaming the victim to absolve the wrong-doer and raising awareness to aim for success.
I surprise myself with my Pollyanna-ish attitude today…
The logic not used in this discussion really helps me to understand why ‘muricans vote against their own interests repeatedly. I chaperone a down-syndrome client on his bike rides around town. He and I both were resistant to wearing safety vests at first, but once we started, we got so much more respect and deference in traffic that I would literally not leave home without them now. The trouble is, I can’t prove we were not-killed because of the vests.
“we got so much more respect and deference in traffic ”
too bad you weren’t able to get that before.
That is a problem that will get worse as more people follow your lead.
Some people are paranoid enough to put reflective tape and extra lights all over their car / bike / body before going anywhere. Some people are vain enough to buy a sleek black coupe / bike / jacket and just take to the streets. I’m definitely in one group, and I find the other deeply weird.
I’m definitely in one group and I find both groups deeply weird.
And some of us happen to actually like day-glo. Maybe I look like a dork, I don’t care, I like bright colors…. especially in the the dull gray days of winter.
A friend of mine was hit and injured, thrown off her bike, by a car turning into New Seasons on Williams. Last week. Broad daylight. When the safety improvement project was already “done” at that location.
I was at the bins yesterday. Saw three visi-vests. Bought them. Will be trying them out.
The real reason trimret mounts these campaigns is in order to show proactive regard towards it’s effect in the social milieu. This will give them points for a legal defense when someone sues for getting run over.
The campaigns are out of touch. You can’t take every day cycling seriously while simultaneously promoting the use of these clown costumes.
I figure if I wear high visibility clothing and have multiple blinking lights it will help Ray Thomas get my heirs an extra $200,000 in damages because the jury will disregard the motorist’s claim “I didn’t see him.”
Hmmm….while your assertion would be difficult to prove or disprove without a carefully constructed trial that would probably be unethical to carry out, it flies in the face of logic and reason. While some drivers are clearly unable to perceive and thus unable to avoid hitting a cyclist no matter how brightly lit or neon-clothed the cyclist may be (for example, the driver who is texting or who is turned around attending to unruly kids in the back seat), many other drivers are just unable to clearly see – because it’s very dark, or it’s rainy, or there are confusing or blinding lights from surrounding cars or businesses, or any combination of these. A brightly lit or conspicuous cyclist in this situation would clearly have an advantage over one who was in Ninja mode.
I nearly hit four pedestrians last month who tried to cross right in front of me while slowly creeping my car across an intersection in the Alphabet District. It was rainy, it was dark, and they were all stylishly wearing black. They blended into the surrounding murk almost perfectly and had I been doing more than 3 MPH it would have ended badly – and there’s nothing wrong with my vision. I’m totally convinced that I would have seen them much earlier than I did had they been wearing something, anything, that was bright or reflective.
So one way to look at this is that Oregon’s basic speed rule worked when obeyed.
Yes and no. Had I been driving at 5 MPH (instead of the 2-3 MPH that I was) I would have clipped one of them, even though 5 MPH would be in compliance with section 1 of OR 811.100. That is the “basic speed rule” to which you refer, yes?
Um, where do you see reference to 5 mph in section 1 of 811.100? ‘Cause I don’t see it. BTW, the code is a little easier to skim here: http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/811.100
Precisely. The code doesn’t say what is reasonable and prudent for a city street like the one I describe, other than mandating a limit of “Fifteen miles per hour when driving on an alley or a narrow residential roadway” and that one must not drive “at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard to all of the following:
(a) The traffic.
(b) The surface and width of the highway.
(c) The hazard at intersections.
(f) Any other conditions then existing.”
So are you arguing that had I driven 5 MPH on that street instead of 3 MPH I would have been in violation of OR811/100(1)?
Sure, nothing in the code rules out that possibility. In your reading of the code, how do you arrive at 5 vs 3 mph as some kind of line in the sand?
My point is that it is quite possible to hit a pedestrian driving only 5 mph. Especially if the pedestrian walks suddenly into a dark street wearing low visibility clothing. Yet a 5 MPH speed would likely NOT be in violation of the OR basic safety /speed law. Unless you ascribe to the self-fulfilling prophesy that any sped is illegal if it results in a auto-v.s. pedestrian collision.
It’s quite possible to hit someone while driving at *any* speed, depending on conditions. You keep bringing up 5 mph as a touchstone, but that has no support in the code. However, with “suddenly,” you did bring up something useful.
814.040 ( http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/814.040 ) describes legal responsibilities we actually have while on foot, rather than the imaginary ones about gear and clothing. Among these is not to “suddenly leave a curb or place of safety.”
So yeah, balanced against consideration of a driver’s speed in prevailing conditions, someone on foot who crosses “suddenly” might be at fault.
And so, if public agencies insist on targeting their outreach to what people do when they’re *not* wielding the destructive force of 4,000 lbs, they should at least emphasize actual, not imaginary, responsibilities under the law.
Totally agree with this. There seems to be an assumption in some of the comments that people driving their cars just don’t care about their human-powered brethren. I think most people honestly don’t want to hit cyclists or pedestrians, and operate their cars in a legal manner (obeying speed limits, not impaired, not distracted, etc.). But the fact is that it is just plain hard sometimes to see. I recently drove on SE Stark out east of 122nd. In the space of less than 5 minutes, I encountered 4 people on bikes, none of whom had lights or anything else to let me know they were there.
I don’t think it’s blaming the victim to remind people that they can be difficult to see, even if a person is driving in a super-cautious manner as you described. Part of “sharing the road” means sharing the responsibility to be seen.
“I don’t think it’s blaming the victim to remind people that they can be difficult to see, even if a person is driving in a super-cautious manner as you described. Part of “sharing the road” means sharing the responsibility to be seen.”
When was the last time you heard of someone ‘driving in a super-cautious manner’ running over someone else?
But the difficulty of seeing them, and the related risk of hitting and injuring them, is a function of the way cars are designed and the speeds at which they tend to be driven. These two factors are not the responsibility of someone on a bike. If everyone drove convertibles with the tops down (= easier to use your senses in traffic as a motorist that way), and drove at a speed many are now advocating for in cities the world over (= 20’s plenty) most of this problem would vanish.
It is not my responsibility as a member of traffic who eschews the car to make up for limitations that derive from how cars are designed and how they are driven.
“many other drivers are just unable to clearly see – because it’s very dark, or it’s rainy, or there are confusing or blinding lights from surrounding cars or businesses, or any combination of these. A brightly lit or conspicuous cyclist in this situation would clearly have an advantage over one who was in Ninja mode.”
Those are exactly the conditions that call for throttling one’s speed until one *can* see clearly. Exhorting pedestrians or those of us on bikes to take care of this mismatch is disingenuous and shifts responsibility in ways that other societies with lower injury rates in traffic wouldn’t be caught dead espousing.
Interesting that Trimet is trying to get people riding bikes to change their behavior… Perhaps the agency could also devote some time to educating their drivers to be a bit kinder to people on bikes. I’ve had many close encounters with buses that obviously saw me in the first place.
All I hear about is bright. Don’t know how many “bright” lights I’ve seen out there that are barely visible because they are a single LED. A larger illuminated area works better than than these pin point lights.
I can’t count the number of taillights mounted on racks that are covered by the cargo being carried.
Amazed at the number of lights that at one time were visible but no longer because of dying batteries or covered by dirt.
Lights with nearly-dead batteries are a huge pet peeve of mine. I often see people with their Plant Bike Super Flash that hasn’t had new batteries since they bought it 3 years ago. It’s still flashing, but barely! More lights are using regulated outputs now, especially rechargeables. People complain that they have to recharge them so often, but the reality is that if you weren’t replacing the batteries in your old lights that often anyways, they probably weren’t very effective! A larger surface area and multiple points of light are important. Few lights have a large illuminated area, although there are some new ones coming out that do.
My commute is a dark road with very little shoulder. When I drive I am very careful to interact safely with all other users. It is really frustrating to see (or not see) people walking and biking in dark clothes with no lights or reflectors. I never drive my car without lights, likewise my bike has lights and I carry a light when I walk/run near traffic. Even if I “shouldn’t have to” it isn’t difficult to go the extra mile to make myself more visible to other road users.
Robert Hurst, in “The Art of Urban Cycling,” discusses the INVISIBLE STYLE of cycling: choosing routes and tactics so one can see but not be seen.
Definitely no lights whatever, especially at night.
This seems outrageously perverse, but is congruent with RH’s philosophy of the cyclist’s (sorry, JM) absorbing ALL RESPONSIBILITY for her own safety.
The INVISIBLE STYLE epitomizes paranoia. No uncertainty whatever. Best suited for absolute control freaks.
Back in the day when I was commuting I experimented with INVISIBLE STYLE in the quiet streets near my house at night. I concluded that it was indeed safer in that environment, because one actually can more readily detect cars by their headlights: illumination of an intersection when they approach on cross-streets; reflection off the front rim when they approach from behind; when they approach from ahead, duck and dodge. Obviously not a good idea when taking the lane on a high speed arterial, or even staying in a bike lane.
As in all urban cycling, riding fixed amplifies safety and control.
Comment on references above to “air-bags” in cars:
No such things! But explosive-bags abound! Originally these nefarious devices were inflated by sodium azide monopropellants, developed to power the control fins of the Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missile. Sodium azide is extremely toxic, even in small quantities on exposed skin, so it is no longer used. The recent spat over deaths in cars from mandated explosive devices relates to ammonium nitrate, the same stuff used to blast TriMet’s tunnels through the West Hills.
Can you imagine trying to market explosive bags as “safety devices” in cars? Can you imagine the stupidity of motorists charging about at speed with multiple explosive devices inside their cars?
Now try to imagine that they actually care about seeing us!
I am of two minds about this one. I wish drivers would pay better attention. The only time I have been struck by a car was when I was wearing my EN 1150 certified hi-vis reflective vest (standard requires both). But, if it is chilly/slightly damp, I’ll wear that vest anyway. I find myself living in that vest. If it is grey and cloudy/rainy, I’ll run my generator lights (front and rear) all day.
I am also a randonneur, and we’ve got very specific reflective gear requirements for night and gloomy conditions riding. Even when I’m not on a rando ride, I find myself at most one reflective ankle band short of compliance.
I know these aren’t magic clothes. But still.
Bikes should be required to run effective lights at night just like any other vehicle on the road. Every night I see cyclists who are simply invisible, running no lights and blacked out like a U boat. I’ve almost been hit by them while riding, I’ve almost hit them while driving.
High visibility clothing should be up to the individual, just like people are free to buy black cars or red cars as they wish. I wear a yellow jacket for commuting, but I shouldn’t be required to.
“I see cyclists who are simply invisible..”
You don’t “see” any contradiction in this? Really?
There is a fact, even in dark clothing people are not invisible and they are certainly no more invisible that garbage cans, mail boxes, tree trunks, curbs, ….. Pay attention and don’t overdrive one’s headlights.
If you put a black garbage can in the road, it would get hit.
The argument by ninja cyclists that drivers simply need to not outdrive their lights is fantasy land thinking. The reality is that drivers drive at speeds that are safe based on certain assumptions. One is that there will not be dark, unlit, non reflective objects in the road. If you want to deliberately test those assumptions, be prepared to be hit. Complain about it all you want. A police officer, prosecuting attorney, or jury won’t care “how they do it in Copenhagen”.
A friend of mine was driving on a freeway bridge on a dark rainy night, doing about 60 mph. A man in a dark coat walked out onto the bridge, climbed into the traffic lanes, and stood there waiting to commit suicide by car. My friend didn’t hit him. Because she was in the lane next to his. Had he been in her lane, she would have hit him or crashed her car with her child in it, trying to avoid him. Was she “overdriving her lights?” Not according to how people actually drive in the real world. She was driving at a speed that would allow her to avoid slow traffic, stalled cars, things people expect to find in the road. Not to avoid a person who was deliberately making himself both camoflauged and in a position to die.
A cyclist wearing black, with no lights and no reflectives, on a dark and even rainy night, in the road, is doing something quite similar to the suicide on the bridge. The cyclist isn’t intending to get hit, but intentions count for very little. And, again, outside of the bubble of bike thought that is Bike Portland, no one cares “how they do it in Copenhagen”.
Try that logic on a moose in Maine, and get back to me. Drivers get used to overdriving their lights because there are no consequences to them. Add consequences, and the behavior changes.
Fair enough, but I knew a guy in college in Maine who hit a moose. I saw his mother crying; but nobody went to the moose’s funeral.
“She was driving at a speed that would allow her to avoid slow traffic, stalled cars, things people expect to find in the road.”
But you will admit that her chosen speed reflects cultural norms rather than the kind of sentiment that inspires Vision Zero; a perhaps unconscious risk calculus: How fast can I get away with going. Just note how people drive on the freeway in thick fog or when it is raining really hard. Our cultural norms reassure us as drivers that everything’s going to be fine, that nothing unexpected is going to slow us down or get in our way. None of this is helpful to the lit or unlit, reflectorized or unreflectorized child, dog, moose, boulder, adult. Nor is it a moral way to act.
You wrote: “If you want to deliberately test those assumptions, be prepared to be hit.”
I don’t think that is fair. You are, perhaps unwittingly, reifying that kind of driving as not just normal—which we know it to be—but as appropriate. Your pragmatism can easily turn into exoneration. And just because juries affirm this sort of behavior tells us nothing about whether it is just or right to drive in those reckless ways, whether as a society we can do better, should do better.
Can’t really drive 40 mph on the freeway. You’ll get rear ended before long. Like it or not, that’s reality.
And people who ride ninja, night after night on the road, will eventually, probably, get hit. Again, like it or not, that’s reality.
In these comments, we spend a lot of time talking about how we think things should be, or how they are in Copenhagen. That’s great, and in 5, 10 and 20 years they will be more and more that way. But if you ride on the street, day or night, rain or shine, every day, and want to keep doing it for 5, 10 and 20 years, then it is best to consider the reality of our roads today.
“Can’t really drive 40 mph on the freeway.”
Do you mean under adverse conditions I mentioned above?
It doesn’t sound like you’ve actually tried this.
I have—in good weather, too. It works just fine. There’s no iron law of speed here, even though many/most people drive as if there were.
“And people who ride ninja, night after night on the road, will eventually, probably, get hit. Again, like it or not, that’s reality.”
No they won’t. And for the same statistical reasons most people get away with texting while driving, or speeding when they can’t see what is in front of them or around the next bend.
“we spend a lot of time talking about how we think things should be, or how they are in Copenhagen. That’s great, and in 5, 10 and 20 years they will be more and more that way.”
Not if we keep flogging these tedious, misguided campaigns.
“But if you ride on the street, day or night, rain or shine, every day, and want to keep doing it for 5, 10 and 20 years, then it is best to consider the reality of our roads today.”
The reality of our roads is the result of all our little behaviors, overlaid onto our autos-first infrastructure. I don’t think you can separate how we, all of us, conduct ourselves today from where we want things to be. Of course we need to be mindful of the inadequacies, the injustices, the bad judgements by those who trot out one more iteration of this campaign, but that isn’t the same thing as acquiescing to their views of who bears responsibility for avoiding poorly lit colissions.
Vision Zero, which appeals to me much more than your vision, pulls no punches, identifies the problems, and seeks to root them out, tomorrow.
Can a hospitalized cyclist send his medical bills to Vision Zero?
A “vision”, of the future, has little relevance to how one should equip and protect oneself, today.
John Liu –
I guess we just think differently about this. You are focused exclusively on the short term. I prefer to keep my sights on the larger picture, the reasons we’re having this discussion in the first place. If we don’t then we’ll be fighting over crumbs, losing in court for the rest of our lives.
Every action we take now has a small effect on the long term prospects: we accede to and thereby reify the unequal terms, the tilted playing field, or we fight back, refuse to play that game.*
*And, again, we’re talking here about a campaign, not what I or you or anyone else might do biking around town. I have and wear a reflective vest too, use bright lights with rechargeable batteries. But I see those actions as distinct from these campaigns, which misconstrue the problem and shift blame.
“Can a hospitalized cyclist send his medical bills to Vision Zero?”
I think you have this backwards. In places where Vision Zero is being implemented cyclists are, for the most part, bicycling not being shoved into ambulances. We need to get out in front of this and stop playing defense.
“And people who ride ninja, night after night on the road, will eventually, probably, get hit.”
given the pandemic numbers of ninjas riding around SE portland why is it that PDX is not carpeted with ninja ghost bikes? those ninjas must be really, really lucky!
“Again, like it or not, that’s reality.”
Also “physics” (see oregonian comments).
Try I-5 at about 7-9 am….lots of folks wishing they could go as fast as 40.
I rode 365 in the mornings between the ages of 12-16 as a paperboy in the early 80’s in the Detroit burbs. My only safety device, a squirt gun filled with ammonia and water for the persistent dogs. Hit once by a guy coasting his car out of his drive way (he was having an affair). Didn’t hurt and the Schwinn Cruiser laughed the collision off. I was Ninja as all get up at a young age, and I was all over the roads in all kinds of traffic.
Didn’t have a car in my twenties and rode all over Portland in the 90’s. Never got hit once. And mind you still didn’t use any safety gear, and I had no infrastructure. Never hit once and a nearly daily decision of mine at the time was do I lean into that rear view mirror of the parked car, or do I have room in the lane (which in when I learned to take the lane and everything got easier).
As to your last point.
More people cross the Hawthorn Bridge on a bike on a busy day than die in bike and car collisions in this entire country over a decade.
More people cross the Hawthorn Bridge on a bike every three months than are injured on bike (auto and non auto) across this whole country in a year.
You’re right this isn’t Copenhagen, they don’t have people whining that they aren’t Amsterdam. Your whole attitude is horrible, and you excuses are thin. Your right you should act realistically, but it’s your perception that isn’t very realistic.
Riding a bicycle is a safe activity with or without helmets, lights, and and what not. And the more that the stats come in the safer it looks (even I was amazed at the accident stats for the shared bike systems).
“Riding a bicycle is a safe activity with or without helmets, lights, and and what not. And the more that the stats come in the safer it looks (even I was amazed at the accident stats for the shared bike systems).”
If bicycling on Portland streets is categorically a “safe activity”, then why do we need any more bike lanes, cyclepaths, greenways, lower speed limits, driver education, or anything else? Most of the policy and infrastructure discussion on this blog would then be moot.
Bicycling (in Portland) is pretty safe, to the degree that many of us ride every day, but clearly it can be, and should, be safer. One thing an individual can do to make himself or herself safer, is to be visible through lights, reflective, and if desired, hi-viz clothes. Helmets too.
“One thing an individual can do to make himself or herself safer, is to be visible through lights, reflective, and if desired, hi-viz clothes.”
But you are glibly overlooking the fact that studies cited here in this thread seem to find very scant evidence that this is true.
Some of us (like myself) don’t think we need any bike specific infrastructure. I feel more comfortable in the lane of traffic than I do on any shoulder with little stickmen in peril images painted on them. Infact statistically bike infrastructure doesn’t improve safety much if at all. But it does improve the public impression of safety which gets more riders on the street.
That are only two proven things that improve bike safety….more riders (which the improved impression of safety provides), and lowered speed limits. That’s it.
If we want to see more inexperienced, cautious, young, and old people cycling then we need to dramatically improve their “perception of safety” (e.g. comfort level). And while one can insist that riding in the lane in PDX is relatively safe, the vast majority of people are still not comfortable cycling a foot or two away from inattentive caged primates.
“…garbage cans, mail boxes, tree trunks, curbs, …” Paul in The ‘Couve
All of which, are located off the the road, and none of which are people, walking and biking along or across the road as vulnerable road users.
I don’t want to promote hi-vis clothing for everyday bicycle city riding. I believe having pedal reflectors, frt. white light, and a rear red light is enough. I have seen video of myself riding from front and back view, my visibility is more than adequate. This is with dark clothing on myself, and the above equipment on the bicycle. I prefer all lights to be solid, and on at all times. I am not a fan of blinking lights.
I am in the family that all bikes should be sold with basic safety equipment such as lights. This should be requirement for bicycle manufacturers. This could be handled in a variety of ways for the consumer, once the industry creates standards.
I am a big fan of dynamo lighting, which I have on my dutch style bicycle, that I use each day. I also understand that dynamo is out of the range of some riders budgets. Use the lighting that fits your situation best.
I would like to see federal standards on lighting brightness output. I like how Germany has set standards.
You can be seen very clearly with the right gear on your bicycle, without the hi-vis clothing. This still creates a problem. The bicycle safety equipment costs money, and not everyone has the money to buy this equipment. So other community outlets would be helpful, not everyone can walk into a for-profit bicycle shop, and buy whatever they need.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to read an account of a car crash where it was said “the car was black so reduced visibility was a factor” or “the bumper on the modified pickup truck was much higher than the car it hit, causing extensive damage and injury” No different than accounts saying cyclist wasn’t wearing helmet or reflective clothing and implying culpability, but we can’t expect automotive users to be held accountable for their choices leading to damage and injury. Because those things can’t be helped right? And it’s a motorists right to own a hard to see car or a vehicle with bumper height dangerous to other road users… yep.
LOVE the Bike Loud tweet response! I’m on the side of those offended by this kind of nonsense. Using bright front and rear lights at night is a no-brainer. Dressing in neon orange or yellow… no thanks.
Want to add that lights front and rear work, for both riders, and joggers. I almost hit an unlighted jogger from behind while cycling on the waterfront. Unblinking lights fore and aft help you gauge velocity of everyone your meandering around. Maybe some amount of reflectivity helps, but its not as consistent as a light.
I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation safety course a while ago; I remember they stressed “always assume the cars don’t see you.” Those bikes are bigger and more lit up than ours. So anything we can do to help get seen is worth doing.
The best way to avoid “blame the victim” is don’t become a victim in the first place.
Saying “don’t become a victim in the first place” is just more victim blaming.
If you make it home safe, of what are you a victim?
You could use the same logic for getting cancer.
Um, not following your analogy. My question contained no logic, it was a matter of definition — if nothing bad happens to me, then I’m not a victim of anything.
While I often choose brightly colored clothing when cycling, I always assume that other roadway users cannot see me. Therefore, I want every edge I can get in being seen.
One of the differences between us, and European cycle commuters is that in many places (such as Italy) motorists are criminally prosecuted if they injure a cyclist or pedestrian. The caveat being, that cyclist or pedestrian had to be shown as acting within the relevant laws. Thus, if hit within a bike lane or posted crosswalk, it will be up to the motorist’s legal counsel to prove that the ‘victim’ was in the wrong. Otherwise, their client will be facing jail time.
evidently you are unaware that jaywalking is legal in most of continental europe and the UK. at one time it was also not a crime to walk across a road in the usa too.