The Milwaukee Ride of Silence will take place on Wednesday May 18th, leaving from the North Shore Wheel and Sprocket in Fox Point at 7pm. The 7 mile long ride is being organized by the Warshafsky Law Firm along with Wheel & Sprocket and riders are asked to ride in silence, like in a funeral procession, both to honor cyclists who have been killed or injured through no fault of their own, and to promote safe habits and mutual respect between people on bicycles and those in motor vehicles.
The ride is emphasizing Wisconsin’s 3-ft law, in which motorists are required to give a cyclist more than three feet when passing. Click here for more information about any of the 10 other Rides of Silence scheduled around Wisconsin. There are 308 rides scheduled around the country. For more information about the Milwaukee ride, contact Todd Hall at Caffeine Communications 847 778 0653 firstname.lastname@example.org
I admit that I am a little bit torn about promoting this ride. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to honor cyclists who have been killed through the negligence of motorists. Perhaps this year more than ever, with the tragic deaths of some high-profile and universally liked local cyclists, the ride of silence may be an important and cathartic way for the local cycling community to deal the loss of friends. And if the event gets media attention and causes even a few motorists to take greater care when driving, that could have a tremendously positive impact.
But there are many different groups of people who ride bicycles for many different reasons. There are road racers, track racers, mountain bikers, commuters and recreational riders. Every group has different agenda but shares a common goal promoting their style of riding and getting more butts on bikes of one kind or another. It’s all good, but my agenda on Over the Bars is to promote cycling as a safe, every day activity. It is my opinion, based on more than a decade as a bicycle safety professional, that as long as you follow the rules of the road and take a bit of care, riding a bicycle in Milwaukee is safer than walking down stairs, driving a car or ice skating. It is something that doesn’t warrant any more extra worry or caution than other everyday activities. I don’t run down stairs holding a sharp knife, and I don’t race through red lights or ride against traffic on a bicycle.
I don’t say that with a cavalier attitude, I say it with conviction based on years of looking at crash analysis, designing bicycle facilities and teaching bicycle safety. It is also my firm belief that the way to get more people riding bicycles is to sell it as fun, convenient, healthy, safe and even sexy, the same way any other activity or product is marketed. The nice thing about selling cycling is the truth in advertising factor. Bicycling will make you happier, healthier, wealthier and sexier. No matter what Madison Avenue says, smoking a cigarette, drinking a Mountain Dew or buying a Corvette won’t.
If my number one goal is to sell cycling as safe and sexy, I don’t think I will get more people riding bicycles if I am always talking about a rare tragic crash or reminding people to wear helmets and yellow vests. That is why I am a bit conflicted about promoting the Ride of Silence. So why am I am doing it?
First, because I am human with feelings, not a marketing robot whose prime directive is to sell cycling for transportation. Second, because I knew Jeff Littmann and have close friends who knew John Harrington. I am personally saddened by their deaths.
The last and most important reason I am promoting the Ride of Silence is that the death of a single innocent person riding a bicycle or walking across the street is one death too many. Driving a car is like carrying a gun, it is a dangerous thing to do. I take the same cautious attitude driving as I do hunting. When I am carrying a gun, I am constantly aware of the awesome responsibility to ensure the safety of those around me. When driving I remain extremely vigilant and drive well within the conditions any my ability to react to unforseen circumstances. If everyone drove their vehicles with that same attitude, far fewer innocent lives would be lost because of simple mistakes and careless behavior behind the wheel.
There is a safety concept called Vision Zero that is gaining popularity in Europe. The idea is simple, life and health should never be traded for other social benefits. Life and health are paramount and should not be exchanged for increased mobility or convenience. Vision Zero also holds traffic engineers and planners share responsibility for roadway safety with roadway users. They should design roads with safety as the prime concern and mobility second. The ultimate goal of the Vision Zero traffic safety program is the elimination of deaths and near elimination of serious injuries.
Those results may not be possible to achieve in the United States or even Europe given human being’s predilection to be selfish, take short cuts and our minimal investments in long-term health, but like a bike team struggling to bridge a gap in a race, we won’t get there unless we all work together and give 100%.