Blaming Bicyclists and Pedestrians

By Dom Nozzi

I am thoroughly convinced — particularly in cities — that if we are to experience any meaningful improvement in bicyclist and pedestrian safety (i.e., a long-term, meaningful reduction in crashes), it is very important to emphasize the significant role played by dangerously high average speeds by motorists — especially inattentive motorists. From my point of view, that means that the most effective safety tactics come from a very strong emphasis on traffic calming, and a strong call for streets to move away from the exceptionally counter-productive “forgiving street design” paradigm (which is responsible for a great deal of excessive speeding and inattentive driving).

One hundred years ago, Americans almost universally blamed motor vehicles for crashes, and there were strong calls to force lower motor vehicle speeds. It was considered an outrage and a violation of citizen rights to insist that pedestrians cross at crosswalks. Nearly all parents felt their kids had a right to play in streets, and were angry that high-speed motor vehicles were denying that right.

Indeed, in strong contrast to today, police reports 100 years ago nearly always blamed motorists rather than bicyclists & pedestrians for crashes. This is despite the fact that if anything, bicyclists and pedestrians behave much more safely today.

I believe we should return to those attitudes. And consider the current high-speed and inattentive motoring situation to be something we, as a civilized society, cannot tolerate.

Effective safety improvements come not only from reduced motor vehicle speeds (due to calmed, shared, attentive streets), but also, importantly, from “safety in numbers.” Given how important I believe “safety in numbers” is for increasing bicyclist and pedestrian safety, those interested in dramatically improving bicyclist and pedestrian safety must urge the use of effective bicyclist and pedestrian inducement tactics.

In other words, to really improve safety, we need scarce/priced car parking, higher densities, attentive/shared/low-speed streets, mixed uses, proximity, high-cost gas, priced roads, and converting one-way to two-way.

How many bicyclist and pedestrian safety advocates use or advocate these tactics? How successful have conventional bicyclist and pedestrian safety tactics been over the past several decades in the US?

While research is an important way to get a handle on crash details, an enormous problem we have is that such research needs to rely heavily on police reports regarding crashes. As we know, such reports tend to be highly unreliable as to cause of crash and who is responsible. If we compared today’s police reports for crashes with police reports from 100 years ago, there would be a stark difference in causes and responsibility.

It seems to me that a paradigm shift is necessary before we can rely on such things as police reports.

I think American roads would be dramatically safer if we followed the European lead of building shared streets. Streets that obligate motorists to drive slowly and attentively.


Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.


Or email me at: dom[AT]

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Filed under Bicycling, Urban Design, Walking

2 responses to “Blaming Bicyclists and Pedestrians

  1. oldguy

    Spent time as both a motorist and cyclist observing my fellow travellers (this include self-evaluation). I would concur the leading issues are excessive speed and inattention. I’m especially wary of motorists who sacrifice proper control of vehicle path to the need for speed. My least favorite close call is nearly meeting the front bumper of a car cutting the corner on a turn because the driver couldn’t be inconvenienced by slowing down.

  2. Keep up the good work, bookmarked and referred some mates.

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