My grandfather told me the biggest weapon I would ever own was my car. He was an expert on weapons. The walls of his dining room, bedrooms, and hallways held a variety of decorative and functional rifles. Some obviously had no practical value — wide blunderbuss style pistols and antique muzzle loading rifles. As a child, every trip to his house revealed a new style of firearm.
Every time I cross Depot at Main, I see a half dozen people with their heads tilted down to use a smart phone. This wouldn’t be a problem except they’re typically driving a 5,000 lb. weapon into one of the area’s most gnarly intersections.
When my work schedule allows it, I commute the 18 miles between my office and home by bike. This ride affords some of the most stunning scenery lower Michigan has to offer: bucolic farmland, sheep gathering under the shade of a tree, herons eating breakfast in an idle field. I’ve surprised deer and groundhogs lurking along the side of the road. If I’m lucky, I get to watch the Amtrak train rush toward Chicago or Detroit.
I’ve done the math. Commuting by bike just about doubles the time it would take me to drive. (It takes roughly the same amount of time as an express bus that runs directly from Chelsea to Ann Arbor when you include walking time.) I do not have to pay for parking and there are no toll roads — so fuel is the only cost I eliminate by biking. So, yeah, it’s not like I’m saving a huge amount of money. And I’m not the fastest rider on this route. Tri-athletes and “serious” road bikers whiz past my chunky 29′er as I grind along my path.
But when I arrive at my destination I feel a deep sense of satisfaction.
And I want to help other people appreciate the clarity and fulfillment that come from bike commuting. To do that, I need to do one of two things:
- Remove all the 5,000 lb. weapons (i.e. cars and trucks).
- Help people understand that biking is actually safe.
I could point to the data, the fact that over 30,000 Americans die in traffic related accidents each year compared to about 700 cyclists. Or the statistics that show biking actually produces a net increase in your lifespan in spite of all risks. But the data show people don’t care about data.
People do care about experience. And the experience of riding a bike in traffic can, at times, feel intimidating and nerve-racking. The most common feedback I hear when I tell people about my commute is about its danger. One person referred to a 7-mile stretch of country road along my route as “suicidal”. No one denies that drivers far too often give cyclists the bare minimum clearance needed to pass at high speed. I believe the concept of Safe Passage is critical to fixing this experience.
Safe Passage goes beyond the idea of “sharing the road” which is effectively a suggestion not to cause a collision intentionally. Safe Passage inherently requires a degree of respect for all travelers, regardless of their chosen mode or vehicle. Safe Passage cannot exist without the dedicated attention of every traveler to the situation. While some accidents are truly unavoidable, the combination of respect and attention creates a situation where all travelers become aware of the situation and prepared to act in a civil way.
There is no technology that will instantly reset an individual’s perception of biking as a dangerous activity. However, there is power in words, and the idea of Safe Passage may be able to gradually improve the experience of on-road cycling for the people who are willing to give it a chance. If you believe in Safe Passage, then I urge you to find ways to incorporate it in your travels, habits, and conversations in the future. The only way that this idea works is if we all agree to grant Safe Passage to everybody else on the road.