Portland State study shows cyclists’ bad behavior

By Peter Suciu, from Detroit, MI | Monday, January 2, 2012 12.00pm

Portland, Oregon is one of the most cycle friendly places in the United States, yet according to the theory of a recent college behavioral study, such friendliness could make some riders a little too lackadaisical with the laws of the road.

In the Natural Science Inquiry class at Portland State University students were asked to use scientific methods to analyze and consider trends in a natural environment. What could be more natural than bikes in Portland? Thought Aaron Cole and three other students, who monitored three intersections on the PSU campus to study bicyclists’ behavior for their project.

The findings showed that those on bikes ignored stop signs far more than those in cars, with 56 percent of cyclists ignoring stop signals or traffic lights compared with just seven percent of motorists. But does the city’s bike friendliness really a source of the problem? Cole isn’t sure. “The city does support bicyclists, but the perception of motorists and pedestrians who witness violations occur does more damage to the image of the bicycle community in Portland than anything else,” Aaron Cole told BikeRadar, noting that he was surprised that riders were so blazon. “For the intersection of SW 6th and Mill, it was a surprise, as the bicycles are forced to share the road due to absence of a bike lane.”

Cole said that the study did not identify specific types of riders, and he added that he observed basic, “every day riders” breaking the law. The findings didn’t sit well with some riders, especially those who felt the Cycle Track, which runs alongside the road, is a special circumstance. “It was suggested, though never expressly stated that it was exempt from the standard rules,” said Cole. “The lack of information and nature of the Cycle Track has likely led to some of these perceptions.”

Cole also has what he says are mixed feeling on what the study will or even could lead to. “On one hand, I hope that this will gain some attention from people in the right places, leading to increase safety awareness or perhaps clear policies that would limit potential incidents. On the other hand, I am well aware of some of the bicyclist feelings toward this study.”

There was according to Cole comments in the class, as well as in response to local media coverage, which attempted to shift the blame away from bicyclists running red lights and bring up how dangerous motor vehicles are to bicycles.

Cole counters to say that the latter aspect had absolutely nothing to do with our study and instead tried to derail its focus. “We encountered a great deal of criticism during and after our study, primarily from bicyclists that felt our study was severely flawed,” admitted Cole, adding, “One local bicycle business even went so far to say that all of our data was ‘junk.’ Meanwhile, support for this has been seen from those who don’t ride bicycles. The Portland Police Bureau was supportive during our interview, and many drivers commented how they witness the same thing.”

And yet, even from cyclists Cole adds, the support was there. “Not all bicyclists were critical of this study, and many supported it and admitted there was a safety concern.”

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