Effective Cycling (EC) is a school of thought about bicycle safety. There's a national accreditation program based on its concepts, and people authorized to teach EC are called Effective Cycling Instructors (ECI's).
There's a whole lot I like about EC, especially the classes, which go way beyond how to avoid collisions and include such things as mechanical safety (making sure you know how to put your wheel on correctly so it doesn't fall off), and riding skills such as holding a straight line while you're looking over your shoulder.
However, I have different opinions from EC in a few key areas, which is reflected in my page on How to Not Get Hit by Cars. The fact that I disagree with EC wouldn't be a problem, except that I get a near-constant barrage of angry and insulting emails from rabid EC-ers telling me that my advice is "foolish", "stupid", "fundamentally flawed", etc. EC-ers can certainly have their own opinions on bike safety, but I wish they didn't feel it necessary to lash out at those who aren't part of their religion. * I * never write scathing emails to EC webmasters slamming THEIR sites, so I wish they didn't feel it necessary to belittle my own work.
But beyond the fact that ECers harass me, here's what's REALLY crazy about the criticism they send me:
(By the way, if you're an EC-er who thinks you can do better by responding to the actual points on the page, please don't bother; I've heard those too, ad nauseum, and I just disagree.)
So where do I depart from EC? In these areas:
EC says "Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles." What they're saying is that a bicycle should behave like a car. In fact, they put it plainly on one EC-style site, with very first thing on the page being "BICYCLE = CAR" in great big letters. [I had to remove the link because that site is no longer up.]
I disagree strongly. A bicycle is not a car, nor should it behave exactly like one. There are a dozen important differences, but let's consider the most important one: the danger to the operator. Most motorists who die in collisions are out on the highway, where speeds are much greater. In the city where traffic is slower, motorists usually don't die when they're in crashes, and they may not even get injured at all. The same is not true for cyclists. Even at slow speeds, cyclists can EASILY break bones or even die in a collision. Motorists take more risks in the city because usually the only serious damage would be to their car. Cyclists don't have that luxury. Cyclists have to be MUCH more careful, and that can include staying out of the way of cars instead of demanding your roadspace as though you were a car. My response to the "cyclists fare best..." mantra is, "Sure, cyclists have a right to the road. But that's a small consolation when you're dead."
Finally, I hate to point out the obvious, but with all the "bike = car" people attacking me, it's evidently necessary: just because bikes have similarities to cars doesn't make them the same. Sure, you can point to commonalties such as the fact that they're both vehicles which provide transport, they have wheels, they're subject to the same laws, etc. But to be fair, you have to look at the DIFFERENCES also -- the risk to the operators differs greatly, bikes don't threaten the lives of motorists, bikes are infinitely more maneuverable, bikes weight a fraction of what cars weigh and take up a fraction of the space, etc. Saying a bike should act like a car is like saying that a flamingo should act like a gynecologist. Sure, they both have central nervous systems, eat food, reproduce, get frightened when threatened, etc. Does that mean they should act the same way? Hardly.
Carrying this idea to its logical conclusion, EC opposes bike lanes! Why? "Because a bicycle is a car, stupid, so it doesn't NEED a bike lane!" Never mind that the #1 reason that more people don't ride is because they think cycling is dangerous, and that the #1 thing that would make them more comfortable is bike lanes. Not to mention the fact that bike lanes help keep slower traffic (bikes) to the right, allowing cars to easily pass, allowing bikes and cars to easily co-exist. The website of John Forester, founder of EC, contains intense criticism of bike lanes and those who support them.
EC says "Be predictable." My feeling is, if you put yourself in a position where a motorist has to PREDICT what you're about to do, you're a prime candidate for getting hit. If you're forcing a motorist to see you and slow down to avoid hitting you, then they'll definitely hit you if they don't see you. My philosophy is to assume that cars CAN'T see you, or make sure you're in a position where they don't HAVE to see you and figure out what you're doing. More on this on my safety page.
EC effectively equates obeying the law with being safe. The dangerous message that this sends is that as long as you follow the law, you'll be safe. Wrong. You can easily get killed while following the law perfectly. In fact, considering ALL of the local serious adult cyclists fatalities or injuries I tracked in Austin for the last several years, not one involved the cyclist running a stop sign or red light.
As a corollary, EC says that breaking the law is unsafe. That's often true, but not always. Of course, I don't advocate breaking the law, but it's frustrating that EC-ers can't recognize or admit that there are situations in which breaking the law carries no safety risk. Safety philosophy should be focusing on SAFETY ITSELF, and not some SECOND-HAND, alleged relationship to safety.
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