Active Trans and AAA Chicago Launch Joint Road Safety Campaign

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Ad ad from the new campaign.

It’s tempting to be cynical about the Active Transportation Alliance and AAA Chicago’s new “same rights, same responsibilities” campaign, promoting safe behavior by people on bikes and people in cars. After all, cyclists and drivers don’t really have the same rights yet. Despite the growing Complete Streets movement, our nation and our city’s transportation systems still largely prioritize driving over all modes, creating dangerous conditions for bike riders and other vulnerable road users.

And, while everyone should behave safely and respectfully on our streets, it’s far more important for motorists in 3,000-pound vehicles to be held responsible for dangerous behavior than people on 30-pound bikes. Drivers killed 145 people, including eight cyclists, in the city of Chicago in 2012, according to Illinois Department of Transportation stats. Meanwhile, there haven’t been any cases of bike riders causing traffic deaths of others here in decades, if ever. Slogans suggesting that there’s a level playing field, and that lawful biking is even remotely as important as lawful driving, are rather tiresome.

That said, the new safety campaign, with the tagline, “Two Wheels Four Wheels — We All Roll Together,” borrowed from the national advocacy group People for Bikes, should be viewed as a positive development. It’s a politically savvy move for Active Trans to partner with the local brach of the nation’s largest motor organization on such a project. As bike lanes have proliferated and Chicago’s bike-to-work rate has more than tripled over the last 14 years, cycling in general, and Active Trans in particular, have gotten plenty of abuse from local news outlets and on letters-to-the-editor pages. Drivers are freaked out about having to share the road with growing numbers of bike riders, so it’s understandable that the group wants to look like they’re doing something to address their concerns.

It’s great that the local branch of the nation’s largest motoring organization is asking members to drive safely and courteously around bike riders, and promoting the benefits of cycling. “The expanded bike lanes and increased number of bikes on the roads will certainly be an adjustment for motorists,” said AAA Chicago spokeswoman Beth Mosher in a statement. “But the direction Chicago — and so many other cities — is taking to enhance bike lanes and provide healthy, convenient and safe transportation options for all is an exciting one that we all need to embrace.”

The campaign includes ads that will be circulated through social media and at various events. Cards with safety tips for driving and biking will be distributed at events and, best of all, with every Chicago tow provided by AAA tow trucks.

The tips themselves are a bit of a mixed bag. There’s some good stuff there for drivers, including reminders to give cyclists three feet of clearance, and to check for bikes before making a turn or opening a car door. I especially appreciate that motorists are asked to never honk their horns at cyclists, since the noise will be far louder for someone not encased in glass and steel, and may startle them, possibly causing them to swerve into traffic.

While most of the tips for cyclists are solid advice, such as reminders to ride in the direction of traffic and use lights at night, some of the recommendations are a little condescending. “Be a ‘roll model’… Don’t put yourself and others at risk by riding recklessly,” the tip card admonishes. It would be great if the card also told motorists not to put themselves and others at risk by driving recklessly.

I can picture Copenhagen Cycle Chic’s Mikael Colville Andersen, who urges people to “dress for the destination,” before cycling, rolling his eyes at the tip, “Wear brightly colored clothing at all times.” And while bike helmet use is certainly a good idea in a city where dangerous driving is commonplace, the cards inaccurately assert that helmets are up to 85 percent effective in reducing head injuries. Last year, the federal government acknowledged that this off-quoted statistic is greatly exaggerated.

But, overall, the “Two Wheels, Four Wheels” campaign is a good thing for Chicago cycling. You can show support by signing an online pledge to respectfully share the road, and by posting the campaign ads on social media and tweeting with the hashtag #RollTogetherChi. Visit www.activetrans.org/rolltogether to sign the pledge and download the campaign ads.

  • David Altenburg

    So the “tips for drivers” are all things that drivers are legally mandated to do already while the “tips for people biking” can be summed up by “Obey the law. Wear a bunch of extra shit. Look out for the drivers who won’t see you anyway”.

    I appreciate the need for more education, but it’s lacking here. For instance, a large number of conflicts I’ve had with drivers are those who don’t understand why I’m taking the lane. That’s something that could be resolved with education about the door zone and what the law actually mandates, but there’s nothing here about that. Instead it’s just a bunch of fluff about how we should all try to get along, and “While we’re at it, cyclists, can you please wear this?”

    Given the lack of substance, it’s very disappointing that Active Trans is adding legitimacy to a lobbying group that actively opposes making the streets safer for cyclists. (http://usa.streetsblog.org/2012/10/25/aaa-revives-offensive-against-safer-d-c-streets/ )

  • Active Trans is, at the end of the day, a political organization, and they choose their words as such. But it is annoying to be told to wear bright clothing while biking (or walking for that matter), while drivers are not told to buy light-colored cars. That already ignores the ‘same responsibilities’ mantra they are taking. The only duty for bike riders is to have a front white light and red rear light, which I think all bikes should be sold with anyway (otherwise, it’s considered an ‘accessory’).

    Besides, I’m sure any bicycle rider who has a wide assortment of clothing can tell you that it doesn’t matter if they have yellow pants and a neon green shirt on, or a nice black coat. Many drivers will still treat you like you aren’t even there.

  • You need to make a distinction between the national AAA organization and AAA Chicago, which are pretty reasonable, and the D.C. branch, which is sort of a rogue, backwards faction. For example, which the national org put out a heartwarming share-the-road video last year, the D.C. branch was fighting smart parking reforms, and they whine about just about every new PBL in that town: http://usa.streetsblog.org/2013/03/06/aaa-still-up-to-its-old-tricks-fighting-progressive-transport-policy/

  • CL

    That’s because you can’t miss a car that has all of its lights on, while bikes are a lot harder to see at night — those tiny rear reflectors are nothing compared to a car’s lights. Drivers don’t need to buy light-colored cars because cars are very, very easy to see.

    But I have found myself startled to realize I’m behind a bike on a dark stretch — and dark-colored clothing makes it that much harder to spot a cyclist from a distance.

  • Not true, really, the only thing that makes cars more “visible” is that you can hear them. If you can’t see a bicyclist while driving you are going too fast.

  • BlueFairlane

    I don’t agree with this assessment at all. The sound of a car tends to blend with all the other city sounds to me, and it’s rarely been enough to tell me where that car was. Headlights and tail lights, on the other hand, are designed to be seen, literally, from miles away.

  • David Altenburg

    Ok, I stand corrected. I wasn’t distinguishing between them at all.

  • Pete

    If you’re riding a bike, it is imperative that you make yourself as visible as possible and do everything you can to ensure your own safety. Go well beyond what the law requires, even though it’s way more than what most drivers of cars would ever do for themselves. Why? Because its clearly in your best interest. There are a LOT of idiots behind the wheel who have no business controlling a multi-ton piece of steel, and you are at a huge disadvantage in a collision. Sure it’s not “fair”, but staying alive and unhurt is more important.

  • tooter turtle

    I agree that cyclists should do what is in our self-interest, even if it is not required by law. So making an effort to be visible makes sense. But it does rankle that the burden of protecting ourselves from inattentive or incompetent drivers is assumed to be ours alone, not shared with those who operate the vehicles capable of killing us.

  • tooter turtle

    The advice I would give to drivers is: Give cyclists plenty of room – they often have to maneuver around obstacles you can’t see.
    The advice for cyclists would be: Signal all your maneuvers. Make it easier for drivers to treat you courteously by being predictable.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    One night I pulled out of a street parking spot on Ashland Ave and nearly hit a biker. Black bike, black clothes, no light. He was traveling at a good rate of speed for a biker. If I had injured or killed this biker, certainly my responsibility. As a driver I believe bikers need do do everything the can to be visable. I carry a $2.5 million dollar rider on my policy. In 35 years of driving, no claims. If you were the rider and injured, you may never be made whole by the settlement. Death, while the settlement may ease the buden on you family, it will never ease their grief. Will I go to jail? Probably not, unless I can be shown negligent by impairment or or being reckless. Would a jury find me reckless, probably not. In the end, while I do my best to drive safely, carry high value insurance, when bikers don’t feel the need to contribute towards their safety by following simple rules or have inexpensive gear, I think you make it more difficult for drivers to support your cause.

  • Bikes legally need lights at night. That’s it. I won’t comment any more.

  • BlueFairlane

    It is incumbent on all people in all modes of transportation to do everything within their ability to mitigate the inattention or incompetence of others. This is simply a consequence of living in a world with other people.

  • “There are a LOT of idiots behind the wheel who have no business controlling a multi-ton piece of steel”

    They can be filtered off the roads partially through more stringent licensing, mandatory driver’s education prior to obtaining the license, and increased enforcement (something which the Chicago Police Department has avoided talking about for years).

  • Anne A

    So it would be nice if drivers would USE their headlights and maintain their headlights and taillights, instead of driving around with burned out bulbs.

  • Anne A

    I think that asking drivers to use and maintain their headlights, taillights and turn signals (and pay appropriate penalties when they don’t) is much more relevant in the category of “same responsibilities.”

  • Anne A

    I agree with you – when it’s a situation where the cyclist has lights and reflectors and has otherwise done reasonable things to be visible.

    I’ve had situations when I was driving at or under the speed limit and encountered a cyclist with no lights or reflectors wearing dark clothing. The only way I’ve spotted them before hitting them was that they were silhouetted by lights (car headlights, street lights, or lighting from nearby businesses). Some of those were very close calls, and I make a practice of watching for cyclists when I’m driving. In a few cases, the cyclist was also salmoning, giving me almost NO time to safely react and avoid a collision after spotting them.

    Bike ninjas make the rest of us look bad in the eyes of the general public.

  • BlueFairlane

    It is true that some percentage of vehicles operates with a bulb out … but there are still other, redundant lights on a car that still make it visible for thousands of feet. I never see a car running completely dark. I doubt such a vehicle would make it very far, even in this city.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    The halogen bulbs used almost never burn out these days. Also is easiest moving violation to get pulled over for.

  • Anne A

    What about the drivers who go around WITHOUT headlights turned on? I’ve seen that soon many times. Maybe people don’t do it in your ‘hood, but it is not an unusual problem.

    I also see drivers going around without functioning brake lights, or with only one functioning brake light. Makes me long for the days when this backward state actually had annual safety inspections for vehicles. Losing those was definitely a step backwards.

  • Anne A

    When cops actually take the time to pull someone over for that. Considering the number of vehicles I see out there with one or more burned out headlights or taillights, I’d say there isn’t enough enforcement on that particular safety issue.

  • Anne A

    I think this is highly subjective. My experience has been that, in a quiet place, for a person with reasonably sensitive hearing, they can hear a car approaching and possibly get some sense of its direction and speed. In a noisy location or for a person with some degree of hearing impairment, this may not be possible.

    My neighborhood is very quiet much of the time, especially at night, so I can almost always hear approaching vehicles, even hybrids or electric cars.

  • R.A. Stewart

    Agreed. I think Driving While Black or Brown and Driving While Young and Male are still the most common moving violations for which people get pulled over in Chicago.

  • R.A. Stewart

    Every time visibility goes down, whether from dusk or bad weather, I see numerous vehicles without lights. It’s not unusual in the city even at night.

    I’m old enough to remember when that was something you saw only occasionally. It was customary to flick your own lights off momentarily, and the other driver would always turn on their headlights. I expect that was technically illegal, but it’s a moot point now–I haven’t done it for years, because they *never* catch on any more. I mean, literally, never. It’s scary to reflect how much more clueless, self-absorbed, or inattentive, or some deadly combination thereof, drivers have become in the last ten years or so.