Governing Magazine has an interesting story up on the effort many cities are making to add good bike infrastructure to their streets.
Among cautionary recommendations to, among other things, establish good measurements of success and to be prepared to remove lanes if necessary (both of which I think are fair), the author – Alex Marshall – says the following:
[P]ursue legal changes, typically at the state level, that will put more responsibility for accidents, and thus for safety, on people driving cars. Countries renowned for the quantity and quality of their biking, such as Denmark and Holland, do have lots of bike paths and lanes. But cyclists there also freely mix with car traffic with a self-assurance that is startling to an American. The reason the bicyclists are so bold is that those countries and much of the rest of Europe initially place the blame for an accident between a motorist and a bicyclist or pedestrian on the motorist. It’s a standard sometimes known as “default liability.”
I think this idea is not appreciated enough – not just the legal implications of what he describes, but the social/cultural implications. This kind of policy would be the legal structure that finally confirms that roads are meant for everyone.
As recently as a week ago a friend of mine related a story where he was told to “ride on the sidewalk” by a passing motorist. In this case, my friend was actually able to speak with the driver and let him know that riding on the sidewalk was both illegal and dangerous; the driver, to his credit, was surprised but friendly, and just told my friend to be careful. Fortunately, this guy was able to receive some education, but its still largely the case the people behind the wheel feel as if the automobile is the default mode, and everyone else who uses the road does so on an at-your-own risk basis.
Infrastructure aside, the legal structure to make more dangerous vehicle responsible for the damage they cause would be a welcome improvement to bicycle culture, in both Southwest Virginia and beyond.