Don’t punish the cyclists

Last month, Oregon Rep. John Davis introduced a bill that would require all cyclists to wear reflective clothing when bicycling between sunset and sunrise. Failure to do so would be a class D traffic violation which would carry a maximum fine of $250.

Portland is an outdoor kind of city. People go hiking, they enjoy the outdoors and they ride bikes. Bikes are seen on the road year-round, and yet in 2013, nobody died on a bike in Portland.

It seems that this is a strength-in-numbers correlation. Nobody died on a bike because there are a lot of bikes on the roads, and drivers are aware of them. With drivers being more cautious and aware of their surroundings, fewer people are going to die.

The more barriers we put up to cycling, like mandatory reflective gear, for instance, the less people will cycle.

In Australia, it is against the law to ride a bike without a helmet. A survey conducted by the Cycling Promotion Fund, in conjunction with the National Heart Foundation, found that 50 percent of Australian adults would like to cycle for transportation but currently do not. Of that group of people, over 15 percent don’t ride a bike simply because helmets are required by law and they don’t want to wear one.

It has also been shown that Brisbane’s bike share program is only receiving 5–10 percent of the total bike trips they would expect, compared to other cities that have implemented bike share programs. This has been attributed to the helmet requirement. People aren’t going to hop on a bike share bike to get across town if they need to buy a helmet first. This is a barrier that is preventing huge amounts of people from getting on a bike. Strength in numbers means safety.

According to a Reuters article from August of last year, “experts say no fatalities have been logged in any U.S. public bike share program since the first one launched in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2007.” No fatalities in New York. None in Boston. None in Minneapolis or Denver. No fatalities. It seems that the more people you have on bikes in a city and the less obstacles you put in place to get people riding, the safer it becomes to ride.

Just look at The Netherlands. Huge numbers of people ride bikes over there as one of their main modes of transportation. Nobody wears a helmet, and they especially don’t wear reflective gear. In fact, people just wear their regular clothing. Yet very few people die. It is absolutely safe to ride a bicycle in the Netherlands. Children ride their bikes alongside their parents. The elderly ride their bikes to get groceries. Everyone rides bikes.

The Netherlands has invested in bicycle paths separated from cars, ensuring that everyone can get around town safely on a bike. The fact that there are thousands of people on bikes in the city at any given time means that those in cars are aware and cautious. Both modes of transportation are legitimate, and each are given the space to exist safely.

Cycling is good for the environment. It’s good for the environment and for people’s health, it’s fun and reduces stress, and it’s safe, especially in large numbers. Oregon needs to make cycling more accessible, not less so. Reflective gear laws that carry a huge fine are going to deter people from cycling. If this law gets put in place, it’s going to lessen the amount of people who ride bikes, and this is going to make cycling more dangerous for those who continue to do it.

Instead of punishing cyclists who already have a hard enough time competing with cars for road space, we need to invest in better cycling infrastructure. But that’s an argument for a different time.