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Changing the Car Culture: Is this the century of the bicycle?


Tragedy struck the cycling community once again when Australian tourist Madison Jane Lyden, 23, was killed while biking around New York City late Friday afternoon. Lyden was riding her bike when she was hit by a garbage truck after swerving into its lane while trying to avoid a livery cab that had cut her off in the northbound bike lane. The driver of the garbage truck was charged with driving under the influence; he admitted to police that he had been drinking beer prior to the accident. Lyden is the ninth cyclist to die in New York City this year; 23 cyclists were killed in 2017.

Bike lanes in NYC are meant to make it safer for the growing number of commuters, tourists and residents who are pedaling around the city. Mayor DeBlasio’s Vision Zero Plan added 66 miles of bike lanes last year alone. But the lanes are being used as drop lanes, parking lanes, idling lanes, etc, by drivers and delivery personnel. In Atlanta, although the percentage of commuters who bike to work is still a small proportion of the total number of overall workers, the number of bicycle commuters has increased by 60% over the past decade.


Motorists and cyclists do not always share the roadways willingly. Particularly in crowded urban areas, motorists tend to see cyclists as interlopers slowing down their progress and impeding traffic on roads meant for motor vehicles. This attitude persists even though most state laws classify bikes as vehicles and mandate that they travel on the roads in the same direction as other traffic and follow traffic signals. The tension between cyclists and motorists and the problems associated with them sharing congested roads are reflected in the national statistics on the accidents between the two. In 2015, there were 818 pedalcyclist deaths, which represented 2.3% of all traffic fatalities that year; 70% of these fatalities occurred in urban areas. Most of these fatalities occurred at non-intersections, and only 3% occurred in bike lanes. This latter statistic supports the development of bike lanes to promote safer cycling. An unfortunate overlying statistic is that alcohol was involved in over one-third (37%) of all fatal crashes, either on the part of the motor vehicle operator or the cyclist. This was, in fact, the case in the fatal crash of Madison Jane Lyden, the Australian tourist.


Europe is investing in the future by investing in bike-friendly, non-motor vehicle policies and infrastructure designed to ease traffic and tourist congestion as well as climate concerns. London announced a plan to spend a billion dollars on bike highways and cycling infrastructure. Oslo is working to transform its downtown into a car-free zone by 2019. German cities are testing out bike-based cargo delivery services. Of course, bike-friendly policies have made Copenhagen and Amsterdam cycling havens and models for aspiring cities around the world.

Since Henry Ford introduced the Model T a century ago, the U.S. has been obsessed with cars. The car culture in this country means that the U.S. lags behind other countries for biker-friendly infrastructure and policies. One startling statistic shows what happens when allocation of resources favors one mode of transportation over others so heavily: the U.S. has 4 million miles of roads, but fewer than 200 miles of protected bike lanes.

However, due to an increased interest in biking for recreation, transportation and commuting, some U.S. cities are investing in bike-friendly infrastructure. Atlanta is one such city. The construction of the Beltline is a huge benefit to cycling; 22 miles of urban rail is being rebuilt as a transformative pedestrian and biking loop, and as it takes shape, it is sparking real estate speculation and civic pride. In addition, the Atlanta Regional Commission is promoting and investing in the “Walk. Bike. Thrive!” initiative to build bike infrastructure over the next 25 years. Changing urban sprawl and a culture heavily dependent on motor vehicles does not happen overnight, but these kinds of policies and investments are excellent beginnings.


The most important thing cities can do to make cycling safer is to construct protected bike lanes. Protected intersections, with physical barriers and wider turns for drivers, are also excellent methods of increasing cyclists’ safety. Creating alternative parallel routes for bikers by developing rail and utility easements into efficient infrastructure for cycling is another way to physically separate bikers from drivers, reducing the traffic congestion on roads that can lead to the kind of accident that killed Madison Jane Lyden. This is exactly the concept behind Atlanta’s Beltline—development of the urban rail line into a pedestrian and biking loop.

Big cities that want to encourage cycling need big-picture reform of our whole automobile culture. Road space and resources must be reallocated to more efficient, healthy and safe forms of transit such as cycling, mass transit and walking.


The following 10 safety tips reinforce the fact that bikes are vehicles under Georgia law and as such, cycling safety often depends on following the same rules of the road as cars do:

  1. Stay Protected: Put on a helmet.
  2. Act Like a Car: Drivers know how other drivers act; just because you can doesn't mean you should weave through different lanes. If you're predictable and check around for traffic, you will be much safer.
  3. Keep Visible: If a car can see you, the driver is not as likely to accidentally hit you. If you must ride at night, wear reflective clothing and lights.
  4. Keep Focused: Don't chat on the phone or wear headphones on a bicycle.
  5. Look, Signal, Look: Use your hand signals to inform drivers where you intend to move next. Be sure to make eye contact as you signal, and watch before making your turn; never assume the driver will stop.
  6. Obey Traffic Laws: This one goes hand-in-hand with acting like a car. Obey the same laws and signs as the car would.
  7. Avoid Obstacles: As long as you're alert, you'll see obstacles ahead of time to avoid.
  8. Check Bike: Is the bicycle properly comfortable and set up for your ride?
  9. Stay With Traffic: If you will ride your bicycle like a car, you must move in the same direction. Moving against traffic will distract you and other drivers.
  10. Double-Check Bike: Make sure your wheels and breaks are fine.


If you or someone you know has been injured in a cycling accident, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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