I came the closest I've ever felt to being killed on a bike today, and the blame lays at the feet of the city and the VHB planning firm for putting bad infrastructure on Olney Street. The Providence Police Dept. deserves a healthy helping of blame too.
I was going down the hill with the sharrows, and I heard a loud motor behind me, and a police car passed me on my left going what I would estimate to be 45 mph. The police car gave me about 1 foot of space in passing, when the appropriate thing to do would have been to go my speed in the sharrows and respect that I had the right-of-way, and even the most liberal interpretation of the law would only allow the car to pass at a minimum of three feet.
But then as the police car passed, things got worse, because--egged on by the example of the police-a private motorist decided to kick on his motor and revv behind me. I was just approaching a gap in the parked cars, so I decided to get out of his way and pull to the right, but he had already decided to pull to the right in order to pass me (any driver knows passing on the right is illegal). So I looked over my shoulder and saw him almost hit me, but he swerved back in time to go around on my left. As he passed he yelled "Get the fuck out of the road, you fucking idiot! Get on the sidewalk!"
Thank you Providence Police Dept. for leading the way by example.
Sharrows belong only on streets where the speed limit is 15 mph--by the street's design, and by police enforcement. We failed in the first test because of VHB and the Taveras administration, which have failed in their responsibility to provide safe places to bike. I'm sorry, I appreciate that Mayor Taveras has been far more open to biking than other past mayors, but his administration needs to answer for its poor bike plan. We failed in the second because police in this city apparently feel they can drive as fast as they want in non-emergency situations without lights or sirens. Just yesterday at my new apartment on Doyle Ave. I watched a police car come up the street just as fast without sirens or lights. It ran the light at the top of the street.
The bike plan says it wants to "debunk" the notion that cycling has dangers. Debunking the dangers of cars to bicyclists is like "debunking" the danger of guns--it's a "cars don't kill people, people kill people" attitude. But the actual facts are apparent. While bicycling is more likely to be beneficial to one's health than harmful due to the effects of exercise and the relative rarity of serious crashes overall, the safety ranking of pedestrians, bicyclists, and car drivers are exactly opposite of what VHB cites. Pedestrians are at the greatest risk, bicyclists second-most, and drivers least. Contrary to the "vehicular" school of bike advocacy--act like a vehicle, and you'll be treated as one--the League of American Bicyclists--which originally popularized vehicular cycling through their 1970s president, John Forrester--found that 40% of crashes Correction: As pointed out by RI Bike Coalition president Matt Moritz, the statistic is 40% of fatalities, not 40% of all crashes.* happen when cyclists are hit from behind. Being hit from behind is the leading cause of accidents. But biking and walking aren't what's dangerous--cars are what's dangerous. Any approach to fixing this problem that doesn't rein in that problem will fail.
Despite the U.S.' singularly depressing problem with gun deaths, there's no good reason not to go on living your life. People who walk or take transit should realize this most of all. I've had more than a few strangers give me unsolicited advice to stay out of this or that neighborhood because the people are dangerous and will harm me, but in very few cases has their advice borne out. We recognize that guns are a problem, but we live our lives. Yet, you hear people in the biking community say that we shouldn't talk about the dangers of biking. It makes it "weird", it makes us "stand out". There is a problem with dangerous driving, and there is a problem with bad engineering, and the public needs to know that and demand action. That's not the same thing as crawling into a hole and not walking or biking until the change comes. My experience is that many drivers are courteous, and that biking as a whole feels safe to me, and statistics support that conclusion in some ways. But instances like this should make us stop and think--do we really want to stand idle and allow crappy planning to rule our lives?
*Nonetheless, as I said in the comments, 40% of fatalities being hit from behind underlines the same point as 40% of crashes in total being from behind--it perhaps emphasizes and strengthens my point. If 8% of crashes are cars hitting bikes from behind, but 40% of fatalities are represented by that number, some simple math tells us that that type of crash is five times as likely to be fatal as the baseline for other types of crashes. It's important to note that a more detailed reading of the report puts these types of crashes as more common in non-urban settings--perhaps what weekend warriors on rural roads should worry most about--and that makes sense given that those roads are faster and may have blinder curves, leading to truly "accidental" crashes. But just anecdotally, I can say that the scariest near-crashes (so far) that I've had have all involved from-behind situations in urban settings, because in all those anecdotal cases I've been using the vehicular advice to "take the lane" and had a driver not appreciate my right to do that. Drivers have many times--many, many, many times--revved at me, laid on the horn, cursed, and even sped up and stopped short over and over as if trying to run me off the road when I've followed the vehicular school of "taking the lane". What I find most naive about the educational role that so many bike advocates push for is that telling motorists that we have the right to be on the street seems unlikely to me to affect the behavior of people who are willing to risk vehicular homicide in order to get their way on the road. It's like teaching a shark to be a vegetarian. Only institutional change--different roads, very strong enforcement policies on drivers, etc.--will change this.
I've tried to balance the statement that biking is a healthful activity with the reality that it is far more dangerous than it should be--the best summary I can make is that for biking advocates to adopt the statement that "biking is safe, period" as their mantra is to signal to politicians that there isn't much left to do. How can we blame them if they respond accordingly?