Tag Archive for CyclingSavvy

Guest post: Letter from St. Louis

It’s been awhile since we’ve heard from St. Louis correspondent Karen Karabell. 

While I don’t always agree with her, I’ve found Karen to be one of the most agreeable people to disagree with I’ve ever encountered. In fact, she’s become one of my favorite people, even if we’ve never managed to close the 1,800 some odd miles separating us. 

I do agree that knowing how to ride anywhere, under any circumstances, makes all the difference in both your safety on the streets, and your enjoyment on your bike. And taking a course in bike safety is one of the the fastest and best ways to get there.


The news this summer from Southern California has been thrilling. Three cycling clubs have offered CyclingSavvy to their members. Big Orange is considering making participation in a CyclingSavvy workshop mandatory for membership.

Wow! Before we know it, cyclists everywhere will recognize CyclingSavvy as a quantum leap forward in bicycle education. Bicycle safety instructors throughout the land will retrain themselves to start teaching CyclingSavvy.

A new tagline for selling truly useful bicycle education that changes people’s lives will be: “Got Savvy?”

Is she crazy?

Those who follow the politics of bicycling might think so. Perhaps you’ve heard of CyclingSavvy, but not actually taken the course. Be aware that much of what you’ve heard may be unintentionally inaccurate at best, and even deliberately misleading at worst.

Such are politics! Be that as it may, things are changing, and fast.

I want to introduce you to Shawn Leight, incoming president of the Institute of Transportation Engineers. The ITE is an international scientific and educational association, with 13,000 members working in more than 90 countries.

I met Shawn through a Facebook post:


The screen shot excerpted above is after our first IRL meeting.

Shawn and I decided to meet the old-fashioned way. We both live in the St. Louis area. For our first meeting, he suggested lunch. I said no.

I prefer not to sit down with a transportation professional until we’ve done something else together: Ride.

I needed to show Shawn that I was a regular human, not a person reeking with ideological certainty cyclist. It worked! Our ride together allowed us to move beyond the caricatures that permeate discussions about bicycling in America.

Shawn and I rode together in heavy afternoon rush hour traffic. I loved showing him how we cyclists can easily share our existing roadway network, especially when we take advantage of the hallmarks of the U.S. transportation system: Communication, Cooperation, and Courtesy.

On one stretch, I controlled our space on a narrow two-lane road without shoulders. I waved on or held back other drivers as circumstances dictated. We received complete lane changes and zero incivility.

He later told me that I earned his respect when he asked if I’d control an uphill travel lane on a busy St. Louis County arterial road. “Heck no!” I responded.

My visceral response assured him that I was not crazy. But savvy cyclists know that my response could not be as simple as that. It never is when the topic is bicycling.

I told Shawn that I would try to find an alternate route. Failing that, I’d take advantage of the “platoon effect” and ride on the road when it was empty, moving to the shoulder to facilitate passing. On the shoulder I’d be slow and cautious! I would monitor conditions constantly in my rearview mirror, ready to bail if an errant motorist headed my way.

This all becomes second nature when you’re riding on a shoulder, or practicing what we now call “Edge Behavior,” thanks to Dan Gutierrez.

Dan has earned a place in history for creating an easy way to think about bicyclist behaviors. He coined the typology “Pedestrian,” “Edge,” and “Driver” behavior to describe how bicyclists operate their vehicles. Successful bicyclists use all three behaviors to their great advantage. We CyclingSavvy instructors show people how to use each behavior safely and effectively.


Unlike any other form of transportation, bicycling is an art. Trains, planes, boats, pedestrians and motorists have fairly standard operating characteristics. But we cyclists have choices.

So many choices! Also: Safety is a product of behavior. This is something that I did not truly appreciate until I got savvy.

Even after I took my first CyclingSavvy workshop, it took me a long time to become a savvy cyclist (but that’s another story).

Before I understood savvy cycling, I was a typical bicyclist, exhibiting what psychologists call “unconscious incompetence.” This is a technical term to describe people who don’t know what they don’t know. The term fit me perfectly when I first went to Florida to check out CyclingSavvy.

I’m not criticizing myself! At the time I simply shared our culture’s prevailing mindset regarding bicycling. Most people are clueless regarding safest and best practices.

Again, it’s not their fault! People don’t know what they don’t know.

So, Smarty Pants, what exactly is it that “most people” don’t know yet about bicycling?

Thank you for asking! I’ll be glad to touch on some salient points:

It is possible to ride safely and easily on any urban street, right now.

In CyclingSavvy we give people the tools to do so. We do a whole lot more than this; I’ll write more about that in a minute.

I’ll never forget my conversation with a prominent local cyclist and former board member of the League of American Bicyclists. I was practically begging her to take even just only the classroom session of CyclingSavvy. She refused. She already was an “expert.” She had nothing to learn, especially not from me and my ilk who dared find issue and speak about safety flaws with the special infrastructure that she so fervently promoted.

The conversation did not go well. She finally yelled at me in frustration.

“Education doesn’t work!”

She was right, based on what she knew. As a League Cycling Instructor, I could not make education “work,” either. That’s why I decided to go to Orlando in 2011 to see what this “savvy cycling” thing was about. The experience set me on a whole new path, mainly because it wasn’t about bicycling.

The biggest thing we do in CyclingSavvy is bust myths.

Myth #1: Rules were created for cars. The rules of the road were created long before automobiles were common. In fact, the rules were created in part because of the behavior of reckless bicyclists, who were injuring people in the road and startling horses pulling carriages.


The guy who created the rules was nothing short of brilliant. He devised something so simple and elegant that it would become—and remains—the basis for the most boring transportation network on Earth.

Nothing wrong with that, right? When the topic is traffic safety, “boring” equals “good.”

Myth #2: When operating a human-powered vehicle on the road, it is not safe to mix with faster, heavier, motorized traffic.

I can see how people believe this. Especially because we regularly see bicyclists do all kinds of crazy shit practice all sorts of behavior. But bicyclists usually get along just fine, however they choose to ride.

Remember, we are talking about bicycling. This is an inherently safe activity. Don’t take my word it. Go be a Salmon Wedgie Ninja on any road you want. You probably will be terrified. Yet you will likely get home unscathed.

Myth #3: We must have special facilities in America to ride safely. Nope. As my colleague John Brooking has observed: Educated cyclists do not need special infrastructure. But safely using special infrastructure requires education.

As a corollary, Myth #3.5: CyclingSavvy opposes special infrastructure for bicyclists. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Our job is to show people how to keep themselves safe, wherever they ride.

Myth #4: What is considered “safe” is typically the opposite of safe.


‘Nuf said with the graphic above.

Myth #5: Cyclists cause delay. Ugh. This idea needs its own PR campaign to be dismantled and abolished.

A successful campaign to kill the myth of delay would lead to the demise of many entertaining YouTube videos, as angry dudes start changing lanes to pass, like everyone else.

It is very easy to change lanes to pass bicyclists. Fat chance passing anyone else on the 405/10.


I asked my cousin to send me a photo of his favorite traffic-clogged Los Angeles freeway. We have traffic jams here, too, though none that look as deadening as in this scene from LA.

Whenever I see people stuck like this in traffic, I think:

You all are crazy. I’ll haul groceries on my bicycle any day to avoid that.

Myth #6: There will always be antagonism between motorists and cyclists.

This may be the biggest myth that we savvy cyclists bust, day after day after uneventful day.

We busted it again last month in a CyclingSavvy workshop with novices. Check out what happens when we use “driver behavior” on fast and scary roads:







Well, that’s not exactly true. We get where we want to go, safely and easily.

I have yet to meet a CyclingSavvy graduate who is not thrilled by the possibilities of being empowered to use a bicycle to go anywhere.

CyclingSavvy has a marketing conundrum. I decided to be frank about this in a classroom session held this summer with Shawn Leight at his engineering offices. Joining him was another transportation professional, a magazine editor, and two “regular folk” able to rearrange their Monday afternoon schedules. Yep, that’s five people. We need 500 in these sessions. Thousands!

As we moved through the presentation, they clearly were impressed. It is impossible not to be. CyclingSavvy uses powerful graphics and video to pack practical information into a fast-paced interactive format.

I was teaching alone, and decided to give myself a break by using two videos from the new (and not yet finished) CyclingSavvy Online. This group was impressed—as is everyone we manage to cajole into attending a session.

I asked them: “This is good information, isn’t it?” They nodded enthusiastically in agreement.

“Yet nobody wants it,” I said, “because they don’t know what it is.”

This isn’t exactly true. There certainly is a buzz among the cognoscenti. Yet with fewer than 100 people in the nation certified to teach, it’s not easy to find a CyclingSavvy workshop. Now we can point them to CyclingSavvy Online, which offers this information to anyone with Internet access.

The early reviews are impressive and encouraging. I recommended CyclingSavvy Online to my sister, who bought a recumbent tricycle this summer.


I have no doubt that many will find the online course useful. And that others will not believe a word, until they try CyclingSavvy strategies for themselves.

Safe traffic cycling is totally counter-intuitive (see Myth #4). And people are not convinced by argument. People are convinced by experience. The rearview mirror on my helmet convinced me that what we teach are safest and best practices.

We savvy cyclists want everyone to discover what we know: That bicycling can be easy and fun and safe, wherever one chooses to ride.

(Dude, I’m not talking about riding on freeways. Stay. Off. The. Freeway.)

It is a challenge to counter experiences people refuse to let go of. I don’t even waste my breath trying anymore. Still, I am heartbroken each time I am regaled by someone who has tried bicycling on the road, and therefore is certain that it is not safe. By golly, she was riding in a bike lane and some idiot cut across her path and turned right in front of her. She could have been killed!!!

CyclingSavvy Online saved my sister from the terror of that experience.


She took her recumbent this summer to the Gulf Coast, affectionately known as the Redneck Riviera. She was triumphant as she later described her experience on Perdido Beach Boulevard, the main drag with its commodious bike lanes:

“Because of those videos, I knew that I had to get out of the bike lane before every intersection so that I wouldn’t be right hooked!”

This observation made me think of my conversations with the traffic engineer, Shawn Leight.

He believes everyone should be accommodated; it doesn’t have to be an “either-or” proposition.

“Our transportation system is big enough to have bicycle facilities for those who want to use them and at the same time support bicyclists who prefer to ride as part of traffic,” Shawn said.

I understand Shawn’s perspective. I am grateful that he insists on inclusivity. Other influential engineers and advocates have ignored or dismissed us because we already know how to keep ourselves safe (i.e., the “strong & fearless” hogwash).

What is wrong with EVERYONE knowing how to keep him- or herself safe? Yes, I’m shouting, for a good reason:

BECAUSE of the rise in facilities, our job as bicycle safety educators has become more important than ever.

Mighk Wilson, executive director of the American Bicycling Education Association, has said it best: “We cannot design ourselves out of the need for education.”

Shawn points out that transportation safety for decades has been built upon three Es: Education, Engineering and Enforcement. “We all can accomplish a lot more with engineers and educators working together,” he says.

We savvy cyclists add a few more Es to the list. We frankly want nothing less than to change the culture. We want to make bicycling as easy a choice for everyone as motoring.


It is obviously a big conversation, and we’re having it! I cordially invite you to meet Shawn and Mighk—and people from all walks of life who are passionate about the topic—the old-fashioned way this fall in St. Louis.

The ABEA is holding its first national conference, but second confab. The first gathering led to the formation of the ABEA and I Am Traffic.

At I Am Traffic 2 we are building upon our successes and strategizing for the future.

Nothing beats face-to-face conversation…and bike rides, and parties. Let’s have fun getting savvy!

Speaking of which: I’m looking for a marketing genius or two to enroll in a CyclingSavvy workshop. There’s a workshop being held in St. Louis right before IAT2.

The marketing genius will get savvy, and then create the campaign demolishing the myths surrounding safe and easy bicycling. This campaign will cleverly show people how to protect themselves and control their space.

I can’t help but think of the marketing wizards who made “Got Milk” an unforgettable idea.


Got Savvy, anyone?


Morning Links: Savvy cycling in OC, keeping bike theft petty, and riding with the Ovarian Psychos

One quick scheduling note before we get started, as the Orange County Bicycling Coalition is holding another bike safety class later this week.

Orange County Bicycle Coalition

Cycling Savvy: Safe and Legal Cycling Class

Location: Jax Bicycle Center in Irvine

Thursday, November 12 6-9PM

Saturday, November 14 8-3PM

$75 for 3-part course





The LA Times looks at how the effects of Prop 47 are helping to keep petty criminals on the streets, including a meth head bike thief. Although they get one thing wrong; it was the state legislature that increased the threshold for felony theft to $950, prior to the passage of Prop 47. Thanks to Gil Solomon for the heads-up.

Better Bike offers a ice a nice reflection on the LACBC’s recent volunteer bike and pedestrian counts in the LA in three very different area, with very different results.

Los Angeles broke ground Saturday on a new two-acre park at the confluence of the LA River and Aliso Creek in Reseda, including a three-quarter mile bikeway which will eventually connect to the LA River bike path.

A reporter for the LA Times gets a new perspective on the city by riding with the Ovarian Psychos.

La Cañada Flintridge votes to create a greenbelt along Foothill Blvd, with a bike lane on one side and a bike path on the other.

A Santa Clarita woman made her getaway by bike after overpowering a person at a market to steal a bag of groceries. Thanks to Megan Lynch for the link.



Who says a bunch of kids can’t accomplish anything? The state has approved a $2.37 million grant for a sidewalk and protected bike lane submitted by a group of Santa Ana teenagers.

Security cameras caught a man riding his bicycle through a playground full of kids at an Escondido elementary school with a stolen rifle slung across his back, and two more guns in his bag.

A 90-year old San Diego driver hit a pedestrian, 12 parked cars and a bicycle before continuing on to crash into a fire hydrant.

An Oxnard cyclist was seriously injured in a collision Sunday night.



The Texas driver who killed four people when he plowed through a crowded street at last year’s SXSW music festival has been sentenced to life without parole after being found guilty of capital murder.

Bystanders team up to save the life of an Illinois cyclist after he has a heart attack. It may not seem like it sometimes, but there are a lot of good people in this world.

Bikeshare continues to spread across the US; Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University is the latest college to open their own system.



A new foldie is specially made to fit in crowded apartments.

A British Columbia mayor is more open to improving bike safety after experiencing a dangerous riding route himself. Getting elected officials out on bikes is often the key to winning them over; maybe Paul Koretz and Gil Cedillo would finally see the light if we could get them to ride Westwood and North Figueroa with us.

Caught on video: Take a heart-pounding ride down the slopes of Whistler BC.

The Guardian tries out that glow-in-the-dark spray-on paint from Volvo, and decides it’s not such a bright idea.

A pair of British transportation consultants say “bleedin’ obvious” solutions aren’t necessarily the best way to improve road safety.

One British borough has seen a 250% increase in bicycling over the past eleven years.

London’s Design Museum will celebrate the evolution and symbolic power of bicycles.

Cycling Weekly looks at the central climb on Italy’s il Lombardia bike race, the last of the five one-day Monuments each season, where a museum at the top honors the Madonna del Ghisallo as the patron saint of bike riders. Call me superstitious, but I never get on a bike without my medal in her honor.

Turkish women call for improving the country’s streets for women riders.

Zambia’s sports minister says cycling should be embraced for physical fitness, as well as sport.

Yet another tack attack Down Under, as at least 40 Aussie cyclists had their tires punctured by tacks while on a ride to protest whoever has been spreading them on a secluded road for the last year.

Kiwi men are three times more likely to ride to work than women, and the gap continues to grow despite a nearly $300 million investment in bicycling infrastructure.

A new Filipino romantic coming-of-age film aims to inspire viewers to reduce fossil fuel emissions by taking up bicycling.



Apparently, the solution to conflict between bicyclists and motorists isn’t safer streets, it’s mindful conflict resolution mediation. Scientists somehow conclude that walking to a transit station is healthier than just walking, or bicycling for that matter.

And a Canadian study that says the way to reduce bicycling injuries is to ride like a woman; somehow, I don’t think that will help.

Guest post: Taking the lane — a CyclingSavvy instructor explains her objection to bike lanes

I’ve often said that I can learn more from those who disagree with me than those who don’t. 

Case in point, today’s guest post from St. Louis CyclingSavvy instructor Karen Karabell. I disagree — strongly — with the idea that it’s riskier to ride in a bike lane than in the flow of traffic, which contradicts both my own experience and most, if not all, of the studies I’ve seen.

So I invited Karen to explain her approach to bicycling, and she graciously agreed, as follows.


Oh, the wonders of the Internet, abolishing time and space in nanoseconds!

On this site, Ted Rogers wrote: “A St. Louis cycling instructor claims that bike lanes are dangerous with no evidence to back it up.”

With lightning speed these words made their way to me (that instructor). I was indignant. I never said that bike lanes are dangerous. I said that riding in a bike lane is more dangerous than riding in the flow of traffic. I complained to Ted that he misquoted me.

Exhibiting the generous mark of a mensch, he invited me to write a guest post to clarify.  He wrote: “I personally believe riding in a bike lane is safer and more enjoyable than riding in the traffic lane, and have expressed that opinion many times. It would be good to have someone explain the other side of the debate, and you are clearly very articulate and able to do it without being argumentative—which seems like a rare quality these days.”

Thank you, Ted! Here goes…


I cannot count the number of times this image from a Los Angeles Metro Bus has crossed my Facebook feed. “Did you see this?” one friend after another asks.

The vision promoted on the back of this bus is wonderful. “Every lane is a bike lane” is a powerful statement promoting cyclist equality on our public roadways. I am all for that!

My friends know that I am no fan of bike lanes. But before explaining why, I want to make an observation about our fellow road users:

Every second on this planet,

millions of motorists are driving along

and NOT hitting what is right in front of them.

Motorists do not hit what’s in front of them because that is where they are looking. I know. This sounds like a “duh” statement. But consider the illustrations below. The green area represents a motorist’s primary “Cone of Focus”:

Courtesy of Keri Caffrey

Courtesy of Keri Caffrey

As speeds go higher, a motorist’s “Cone of Focus” diminishes:

Courtesy of Keri Caffrey

Courtesy of Keri Caffrey

As I’m sure is true for all of your readers, I was heartbroken when I learned of the death last December of Milton Olin Jr., the entertainment industry executive who was struck and killed by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy on routine patrol. Milton Olin was riding in a bike lane on Mulholland Highway.

We need to recognize a simple fact about bike lanes. They tend to make the people in them irrelevant to other traffic. When you are not in the way, you are irrelevant. At low speed differentials, irrelevancy might be OK. But at high speed differentials, the slightest motorist error can be devastating.

The speed limit on Mulholland Highway is 50 mph.

The last place a cyclist should be irrelevant is on a high-speed arterial road.

Regarding cyclist positioning on roadways, CyclingSavvy founders Keri Caffrey and Mighk Wilson made a remarkable discovery.

On roads with good sight lines—typical of most arterial roads—cyclists who control their travel lanes are seen by motorists from 1,280 feet away. Cyclists who ride on the right edge of the road—where most bike lanes are—are not seen by motorists until they are very nearly on top of them—about 140 feet away.

This is profound. We discuss this when we teach CyclingSavvy. The classroom session is incredibly engaging. Our participants soak up the information that we present. They understand exactly what we are talking about regarding traffic patterns and simple-to-learn techniques that make riding a bicycle in traffic very safe.

Most of them, however, don’t believe us—until we take them out on the road and show them.

After a classroom session last summer, a St. Louis newspaper columnist wrote: “The motorists in the training session are the rational, responsible ones. But what about the others—the ones who are speeding, talking on their cell phones and eating French fries, all at the same time?”

I loved that! In every session since, I have brought up his observation. I tell our students: “I would rather give those motorists the opportunity to see me from a quarter-mile away, rather than 140 feet!”

Being “in the way” works. Even the multi-tasking French fry eaters change lanes to pass.


Last fall one of my favorite arterial roads was put on a “road diet” and striped with bike lanes. Manchester Road in the City of St. Louis used to have two regular travel lanes in each direction. It was easy to ride on. As I controlled the right lane, motorists used the left lane to pass.

Unless motorists are making a right turn, they don’t like to be behind cyclists. Yet I rarely experienced incivility on Manchester, because motorists could see me from many blocks away, and changed lanes well before they got anywhere close to me.

Now, when riding in the new bike lane, many motorists are so close that I could reach out my left arm and touch their cars as they pass. The bike lane places cyclists much closer to motorists than do regular travel lanes.

It is my understanding that in southern California, there are bike lanes that are eight feet wide. I have been told that these wide bike lanes are well marked, so that motorists merge into them well before reaching intersections to make right turns. That sounds lovely! I can envision bike lanes such as these being useful, especially on arterial roads with few intersections or driveways.

But this is not what we have in St. Louis.

The “new” Manchester Road in St. Louis (October 2013)

The “new” Manchester Road in St. Louis (October 2013)

Does this bike lane look encouraging? People who are afraid to ride in traffic don’t want to ride here, either.

Riding in a bike lane requires more cycling skill than riding in travel lanes. That’s why CyclingSavvy can teach novices to ride in regular traffic lanes, even on arterial roads. It’s easier and safer.

No discussion about bike lanes would be complete without reference to “right hooks” and “left crosses”—new phrases in our lexicon, thanks to bike lanes.

The last time I rode in the bike lane on Manchester Road, I was in the way of three right-turning motorists:

  • The first apparently did not see me. She would have right-hooked me, had I not slowed down to let her turn in front of me.
  • The second motorist saw me and stopped in the now-single travel lane, holding up a line of motorists behind him as he waited for me to get through the intersection. I stopped, too, because I wasn’t sure what he was going to do. He smiled kindly. We shook our heads at each other as he waved me on. I proceeded with caution.
  • I can’t remember the circumstances in which the bike lane put me in the way of the THIRD right-turning motorist. By this time I was disgusted, and emotionally spent. It is exhausting to be on the lookout at every single intersection and driveway when using a bike lane on an urban arterial roadway.

Travel was never this difficult on the “old” Manchester Road.

As cyclists, being in a bike lane increases our workload. We ideally need eyes in the back of our heads to constantly monitor what is happening behind us. I use an excellent helmet-mounted rear view mirror. I would not dare ride in a bike lane without one.

When I am controlling a regular travel lane, I find that I never need to exercise white-knuckle vigilance. Mindfulness, yes. Unfortunately there are a relatively small number of psychopaths and other unsavory types piloting land missiles on our roadways. It may seem counterintuitive, but lane control actually gives cyclists more space and time to deal with these rare encounters.

In a bike lane I have learned to ride at no more than half my normal speed to compensate for potential motorist error. My normal speed isn’t that fast—about 12 to 18 mph, depending on conditions.

This self-enforced slowdown for safety is irritating. I have somewhere to go, too! What makes people think the time of a motorist is more valuable than that of a cyclist?

We cannot ignore the danger of getting “doored,” another terrible feature of many urban bike lanes. Keri Caffrey has done a brilliant job illustrating the reality of space in a typical bike lane:


Traffic engineers would not dream of manufacturing conflict between two lanes of motor vehicle traffic by placing a right-turn lane to the left of a through lane. Why is this acceptable when one of the lanes is for bicyclists?

An engineer friend who is painfully aware of the quandary presented by bike lane design argues that municipalities have a responsibility to warn users of their unintended risks, much as the pharmaceutical industry already does regarding the potential side effects of their products.


On the bright side, my husband has taught me a great technique. We use bike lanes as “Control & Release” lanes.

“Control & Release” is a CyclingSavvy technique. We teach cyclists how to use lane control as their default position in managing their space on the road. But we also teach them how to determine when it is safe to move right and “release” faster-moving traffic.

How does this work with bike lanes? Because of traffic signalization, motorists tend to travel in platoons. Even the busiest roads have expanses of empty roadway, while motorists sit and wait at traffic lights.

When we are on roads with bike lanes, being aware of the “platoon effect” allows us to use the regular travel lane and ride happily along at our normal speeds. We typically cover a city block or two without having any motor traffic behind us. When a platoon approaches, we move over to the bike lane and go slow, very slow if it’s a door-zone bike lane. It takes only a few seconds for the platoon to pass.

Once they pass, we move back into the travel lane and rock on.

Harold Karabell using the regular travel lane in Buffalo, NY, but moving over to the door-zone bike lane as necessary to release motor traffic behind him (July 2013)

Harold Karabell using the regular travel lane in Buffalo, NY, but moving over to the door-zone bike lane as necessary to release motor traffic behind him (July 2013)

Because bicycling is very safe, accidents are rare, even in bike lanes. But the next time you hear about a motorist hitting a cyclist, pay attention to the details. Where was the cyclist on the roadway? Was the cyclist on the right edge of the road? If he or she wasn’t breaking the law—for example, by riding against traffic, disobeying signals or riding at night without lights—very likely the cyclist was riding near the right edge, where bike lanes are.

We who care about bicycling want more people to choose bicycling, especially for transportation. Half of all U.S. motor trips are less than three miles in distance. This is very easy to traverse by bicycle—usually just as fast and sometimes faster than using a car. Can you imagine the transportation revolution if Americans left their motor vehicles at home and used their bicycles instead for short trips? I for one would feel like I was living in paradise!

But how do we get there? Professor Andy Cline argues that we are making a grave mistake in our attempts to channelize and “segregate” cyclists from motorists. Indeed, as we are reframing U.S. roadways to accommodate bicycling, he warns that we must avoid “surrendering our streets.” This is what we are doing when we ask for cycletracks or special paint markings on the edge of the road.

If we keep asking, we are eventually forced into the bars of our own prison. California is one of eight states that require cyclists to use bike lanes when the lanes are provided.

If we would connect the dots and learn just one thing from the hundreds of bike lane deaths over the last 20 years, it would be this: Attempting to segregate by vehicle type does not work. It just makes transportation more difficult for both cyclists and motorists.

Make no mistake: Bicycles are vehicles. Most states define them as such. Some states define the bicycle as a “device.” But in all 50 states, cyclists are considered drivers.

What excites me is the vision put forth by I Am Traffic. We believe that people will choose bicycling when they feel expected and respected as a normal part of traffic.


We recognize that we are outliers. We are not waiting for a future in which we hope to receive the respect of the culture. We respect ourselves now. We exercise that self-respect by participating in regular traffic, like any other driver.

Our experience has convinced us that cycling as a regular part of traffic works beautifully.

In a Utopian world this is well and good, a friend likes to say. But what if everybody starts using bicycles in traffic? How will motorists react then?

Our desire for on-road equality has been compared by some to the struggles fought by African Americans, gay people or other maligned minorities seeking acceptance and equality. On only one point does this “civil rights” comparison resonate for me: The prejudicial assertion that cyclists cause delay to other drivers.

Cyclists causing delay is a myth that must die. This pernicious stereotype oppresses us.  It simply is not true. As cyclists traveling solo, with one other person or even in a small group, we are incapable of causing significant delay to other road users.

The truth about on-road delay is just the opposite. Last December Harold and I were in Dallas. As our friends Eliot Landrum and Waco Moore escorted us to dinner, we were caught in one of that city’s routine traffic jams:

Evening rush hour on Oak Lawn Avenue in Dallas (December 2013)

Evening rush hour on Oak Lawn Avenue in Dallas (December 2013)

Lest anyone think that we cyclists were causing delay, I put the kickstand down on my bicycle and walked behind Waco, Harold and Eliot to take a forward-facing photo:

Forward view of rush hour on Oak Lawn Avenue

Forward view of rush hour on Oak Lawn Avenue

City lights and welcome company made this evening lovely. Otherwise, this was just another routine ride for cyclists who practice driver behavior.

Motorists delay motorists. The sheer number of motorists is what causes the most delay on our roads. Many things cause momentary delay, such as traffic signals, railroad crossings, and vehicles that make routine stops, like delivery trucks–and city buses.


In a snarky moment I remember responding to one Facebook friend: “Thank God every travel lane is not a bike lane!”

Yet this marketing campaign from the City of Angels made my heart soar.

It will be a great day when every cyclist can—without fear or risk of harassment—use any traffic lane that best serves his or her destination.

I envision our existing roadways filled with people using the vehicles that best serve that day’s transportation needs. More often than not, these vehicles will be bicycles—because who needs a two-ton land missile to go to work, or buy a loaf of bread? I envision the people of Amsterdam and Copenhagen flocking to the United States to ask how we did it. How did we get cyclists and motorists to integrate so peacefully and easily on our roads?

We have discovered that when cyclists act as drivers, and when all drivers follow the rules of the road, traffic flows beautifully. This is simple. This is safe. This offers a sustainable and inviting future.

But don’t take my word for it. Come ride with me!


13 Karen_Karabell_IMG_1858Karen Karabell is a mother, business owner and CyclingSavvy instructor in St. Louis who uses her bicycle year-round for transportation. She is passionate about helping others transform themselves, as she did, from fear of motor vehicle traffic to mastery and enjoyment. 

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