Dear EcoNews: Aspiring Cyclist

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Dear EcoNews,

I know that emissions from transportation make up the majority of GHGs in Humboldt County. I want to be part of the solution, but I live in Eureka and it seems like every other week you hear about a pedestrian or cyclist being hit and killed. The people of Eureka seem resistant to making changes to increase walkability and bikeability. How do we make our communities safer for those of us who want to stop driving cars everywhere?


Aspiring Cyclist

cartoon by Joel Mielke


Dear Aspiring Cyclist,

First, you should know that you’re not alone! Research into attitudes about biking shows that most people fall into the “interested but concerned” category. That means if we could get everyone who feels the way you do on a bike, we’d be a big step closer to addressing the climate crisis.

Also, you’re not wrong about Eureka. The California Office of Traffic Safety’s crash rankings currently place it as the third most dangerous city of its size for bicyclists. You might also be interested to know that Eureka is also ranked as the number one most dangerous city of its size for all traffic collisions, so driving in the city is pretty risky too. But that doesn’t excuse the lack of safety for people riding bicycles.

This problem has many causes, but some of the biggest contributing factors involve the way our streets are designed. Eureka has a lot of wide, straight, multi-lane roads that encourage fast driving and don’t provide good protection for people biking (or walking). We desperately need to redesign our streets to slow down traffic, and give some of the street space currently designated for cars and trucks to bikes, pedestrians and buses instead.

My organization, the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities (CRTP), recently released a report called “Elephants in the Road” that provides detailed prescriptions for these kinds of changes that will tackle both the bike and pedestrian safety crisis and the climate crisis in Humboldt (as well as taking on another important phenomenon: the rise of autonomous vehicles). You’re right that the changes we need to make won’t be easy, and there will be a lot of resistance. But that’s doesn’t mean we can’t do it! 

That brings me to my first answer to your question: Nobody can change the world alone. But working together, we can educate and advocate our way to a safer and healthier community. I encourage you to consider joining CRTP, read our new report, and start telling city officials what kinds of changes you want to see for bicycle safety and climate-safe transportation. 

While the real solution to your dilemma requires collective action, there are also things you can do in your personal life to get started. To begin, I would recommend just getting on a bike! Start off with short trips, and carefully plan your routes so that you only bike in places that feel safe and comfortable to you. Believe it or not, there are safe and comfortable places to ride in Eureka, from the expanding multi-use trail network to an extensive grid of low-traffic residential streets. Once you start riding a bike around, you’ll quickly figure out what works for you under current conditions. As the Office of Traffic Safety statistics show, all modes of transportation can be dangerous, but that doesn’t mean we should just hide out in our homes.

Fortunately, this personal action will also contribute in a small but meaningful way to solving the collective problem of bike safety in Eureka. That’s because there is a well-documented “safety in numbers” effect for biking—which means that every new bicyclist on the road in Eureka makes things safer for all the other people riding bikes in the community.

So talk to your city officials, join CRTP, and hop on a bike. That’ll put us several pedals closer to a safe Eureka for everyone!

Colin Fiske

Executive Director

Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities