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.