Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dutch Cycling Safety: Regional Plan Association Senior Fellow gets it (mostly) wrong

In the August 2012 Governing, which describes itself as "... the nation's leading media platform covering politics, policy and management for state and local government leaders", Regional Plan Association Senior Fellow Alex Marshall gets it wrong about what makes cycling safe in the Netherlands (and Continental Europe).

In his story in Governing, Marshall praises "strict liability" in the Netherlands (and elsewhere in Continental Europe), claiming that  "... it’s not the bike lanes that keep cyclists safe..." but that "Ultimately, if we are to be safe, we need the driver to look out for us, not for us to look out for the driver."

Marshall gives the following description of "strict liability":  "It means that if you, the driver, strike a pedestrian or cyclist, you are automatically at fault, even if the walker or cyclist literally jumps out in front of you. "

Marshall thinks that "Strict liability" is a kind of Commandment - learned, or even genetic - that  governs the behavior of drivers (and cyclists towards pedestrians) and that it is the primary method for keeping cyclists (and pedestrians) safe in the Netherlands. This is simply not the case, but to be fair to Marshall lots of people get this wrong (hugs). 

Fortunately, two of the three leading bloggers* of Dutch cycling education, David Hembrow and Marc Wagenbuur, describe the reality here in a comprehensive blogpost from the beginning of this year, "Campaign for Sustainable Safety, not Strict Liability". I won't excerpt it so it does not get misunderstood (!), so please read it now, in its entirety.

I agree that drivers in the USA have much less legal liability then they should, and am happy that groups like Transportation Alternatives in NYC have lately become emboldened to take on the NYPD (and Mayor Michael Bloomberg) and their inability or unwillingness to enforce current laws in a new campaign and recent report, but am frustrated that senior experts like Marshall believe more than anything in repercussion-based mobility safety. However, I am sure that they are willing to learn what really works!

* The other leading Netherlands-based blogger is Marc van Woudenberg, who also produced this introduction video for the Dutch Cycling Embassy, the "... portal to Dutch expertise on cycling".