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League President to Bike Safety Summit: “Achieve zero deaths on our streets”

This morning, League President Andy Clarke is addressing the Bike Safety Summit in Minneapolis, convened by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and the U.S. Department of Transportation. In his remarks, he lauds a new course for transportation in the U.S. — and outlines clear steps to making biking safer nationwide.

(From left) League Andy Clark prepares to introduce Secretary Ray LaHood at the 2013 National Bike Summit (Photo by Brian Palmer) (From left) League president, Andy Clarke, prepares to introduce Secretary Ray LaHood at the 2013 National Bike Summit (Photo by Brian Palmer)

On behalf of the entire bicycling movement, let me say a heartfelt thank you to [US Transportation] Secretary [Ray] LaHood for his remarkable and inspiring leadership of the US DOT these past four years — not the least of which has been his hosting of these two regional bike safety summits. The Secretary has set us on a new course for transportation policy in this country: a course that is built on a foundation of smart local decision-making and investment that results in solutions that serve everyone in our communities; a foundation of safety that demands responsibility from all those who use our roads; and a fundamental belief that transportation isn’t an end in itself – it is a tool to improve the lives of people across our nation.

I also want to thank administrators Strickland, Rogoff and Mendez  for their leadership of NHTSA, FTA and FHWA respectively – and, as we are in Minnesota, it would also be remiss of me not to acknowledge the huge debt of gratitude we have to three Minnesotan members of Congress who have had a profound and beneficial role in improving conditions for cyclists over the last 25 years – Representatives Vento, Sabo and Oberstar.

Mr. Oberstar complained a few years back that I had lost some credibility and authority by virtue of having lost my native English accent. To redress that, I want to draw this audience’s attention to a document released last week in the UK Parliament called “Get Britain Cycling.” The result of a lengthy parliamentary enquiry into cycling, the document has some critical lessons that are extremely relevant in the US context.

First, the document makes it very clear that despite nagging deficiencies in data and disagreement over some of the precise numbers in question, there is overwhelming evidence that cycling is a good thing for any number of pressing reasons; that we would be better as individuals, communities and a nation if more people rode more often; and that the perception that cycling is less safe than it really is significantly stifles the considerable potential to get more people riding. Exactly the same thing can be said in the United States.

Second, the recommendations of this enquiry were divided into five broad topics.

  1. A new priority for investing public funds in cycling should establish a cycling budget equal to $16 per person per year…rising to $32 per person per year over time. We are currently at around $3….for both bicycling AND walking.
  2. We must redesign our roads, streets and communities to make cycling safe, easy and convenient using the best available design standards and operational techniques.
  3. Safe driving and enforcement of lower general speed limits and good driving behavior – including the widespread use of 20mph speed limits in urban areas.
  4. Bike education should be provided at all elementary and middle schools; and adult classes should be made widely available
  5. Political leadership can make this happen – the report calls for a national cycling action plan, the appointment of a national cycling champion, and specific performance measures and targets for cycle use and safety.

We have to adopt the very same priorities for action to achieve ZERO deaths on our streets – or as close as we can possibly get to zero.

Minnesota also points the way forward for us at the national level as it is actually doing many of these things already, albeit on a slightly smaller scale.

The League is delighted to report that Minnesota is our most active state for delivering bike safety education thanks to the leadership of Bike Minnesota and their partnership with the state DOT and health community. Five years ago, there were barely a handful of certified League Cycling Instructors in the state to teach bike safety – by the end of this year there will be close to 150.

MnDOT’s leadership of the statewide “Share the Road” campaign over the years has been exemplary, as has the participation of the state Department of Health and Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota. The health community has enabled Bike Minnesota to not only teach bike safety to kids and adults but also to truck drivers, schools, planners and engineers, and law enforcement agencies, all of whom have a profound impact on the safety of cyclists and for the most part have been operating without a lot of bike specific education or experience. The state legislature also deserves considerable praise for insisting on continued funding for the Safe Routes to School program and full funding for the Transportation Alternatives program.

Whether we look at the United Kingdom, the United States or Minnesota there is an important realization that bike safety is inextricable linked to overall traffic safety. That’s why I am so glad the League has a growing relationship with AAA at the national level, and that we are sharing the stage today with AAA locally. Eliminating distracted, drunken, drowsy and drugged driving benefits everyone who walks, rides or drives our roadways. We have common cause in so many of these areas, and there is so much opportunity for technology — from photo enforcement to in-vehicle technology — to improve safety and not simply enhance the performance of cars. There remains much to be done together in the realm of driver training (and re-training) that benefits cyclists as much as anyone, and we must not be afraid of removing the driving privilege from people who are irresponsible and dangerous behind the wheel of a car.

None of this is exactly rocket science. Even with advancements in technology and research, we know what to do to make our roads safer. We know what works. Two weeks ago in Tampa, this forum heard from a community that has suffered an awful sequence and a long history of bike fatalities – many of the same suggestions were made for improvements. Here in Minneapolis we can see considerable progress being made to encourage bike use and improve bike safety where those measures are being implemented. What makes the difference? Why is Tampa and Florida not able to address these issues as effectively as Minneapolis and Minnesota, and what lessons can we learn from those differences?

Ultimately, we believe it boils down to a couple of simple things:

One, there must be clear performance measures for bike safety and traffic safety that are set at the national, state and even local level. Without performance measures there is no accountability and no incentive to act. 650 people were killed last year on bicycles in the United States – on the way to ZERO such tragedies in the future, we must set targets to reduce this toll by half in 2020 and by half again by 2025.

Second, there must be an effective and broad partnership of groups and interests working together to improve traffic safety and increase bike use – none of us can do this alone, no one group or constituency is either responsible alone or capable of solving this issue alone. In Minnesota and the UK we can see how transportation, health, and education departments are pooling resources and working together to get the job done.

Third, effective and visible political leadership is essential. We have been blessed with Secretary LaHood attention to these issue these last four years and hope that the new Secretary, Mayor Foxx will continue along that path. The leadership of MnDOT and Mayor Rybak  at the state and local level is critical, and as user groups we must be committed to working with those leaders – as Bike MN is doing so admirably here in Minnesota.

We hope these summits result in a clear national action plan for increasing cycling and cyclist safety, backed up with specific performance measures, and the commitment of time, attention and funding to make it happen.

Bicycling is safe, it is fun, and it is healthy. Let’s make sure people can do it safely, for all our benefit.

Click here to read a recap from the first Bike Safety Summit in Tampa, from the League’s Alissa Simcox.


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