Safety and Politics

Do you like to ride your bike in New Haven? You’ll be relatively safe compared to other U.S. cities, at least according to one study.

When they crunched the numbers, Your Local Security ranked New Haven #10 in the nation.

Thanks, Your Local Security, whoever you are!

From their website:

“Your Local Security is a high quality professional review site.The customer reviews you see here are the result of direct feedback from Protect Your Home customers.”

“Protect Your Home is an ADT Authorized Premier Provider”

Now, when they say “high quality professional review site,” what they actually mean is they sift through real customer reviews and post only the most positive ones. It’s not Yelp. You’re not going to see any criticism on Your Local Security. They’ll only post the thoughts of the happiest customers of ADT’s home security systems. Those systems themselves can only be installed by your nearby authorized dealer (i.e. Protect Your Home), hence the naming of the website (Your Local Security).

Still with me?

If you call your nearest Protect Your Home authorized ADT dealer, they’ll send someone to your house to terrify you with worst-case scenarios of break-ins and home invasions, and then they’ll try to sell you something to alleviate the fears they’ve just implanted. Don’t worry, they didn’t event this crude practice. It’s a well-known marketing technique known as The Fear Appeal. It’s been used to sell a variety of products, from deodorant to higher education.

Still, the question remains, why is Your Local Security comparing bicycle safety across U.S. cities? And, why should we trust their results more than those of other organizations who have conducted similar studies?

Just one such organization is The League of American Bicyclists (LAB), founded in 1880. Not only have they done these studies before, it’s the explicit mission of LAB “to lead the movement to create a Bicycle Friendly America for everyone.”

LAB has been ranking “bicycle-friendly” communities (BFCs) since 1995. They’ve even developed a grading system for awards (Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze). Most important, their focus is not necessarily on the grade itself, but on how to improve it. Their established standards offer concrete goals for communities to improve. They really want every place to be bicycle-friendly. In other words, they’re not just interested in scaring individuals in order to sell ‘safety’ products. They actually want to make whole communities safer for everyone.

BFC infographic
Building Blocks of a Bicycle Friendly Community

The results of the most recent BFC application process, released in the Spring of 2018, list 450 communities all of which received at least the ‘Bronze’ award. You may have guessed that there are more than 9 communities ranked higher than New Haven.

In fact, there are at least 128 communities that are considered more friendly for bicycles. They’ve all achieved either the ‘Silver’, ‘Gold’, or ‘Platinum’ award. You’ll find New Haven way down on page 4, lumped in with other ‘Bronze’ communities.

There are some really exceptional cities out there (Gold, Platinum) where the mayor probably rides to work every day. In New Haven, our mayor is driven around by a detective who was reassigned to ‘special’ duty.

But those Gold and Platinum awards only go to big cities like San Francisco, Austin, Madison, WI, or Portland, OR. They have more tax dollars and more power at the state level.

Right?

Well, there are also ‘Gold’ and ‘Platinum’ communities in places like Boulder, CO, Tempe, AZ, and Eugene, OR. These are all small cities like New Haven (population ~150,000).

There are even college towns with nearly identical populations like Ann Arbor, MI and Fort Collins, CO. And, lest we forget, Cambridge, MA….

wtfotos-trolling-tuesdays-college-ivy-league-edition.w1456
Cambridge got the last laugh by building complete cycling infrastructure.

All of these cities have been ranked higher than New Haven by LAB.  Fort Collins even has a Bike Library!

Welcome to the FC Bike Library. The FC Bike Library is a free service for residents, students, and visitors to Fort Collins. Members can borrow a bike for as short as one hour or for as long 5 days. FC Bike Library members can enjoy a variety of bicycles and tag-a-longs for older children.

See, New Haven? You don’t have to charge people to rent bikes. And, if you don’t have to charge them, then you don’t have to make excuses for building new, controversial advertising infrastructure (e.g. sidewalk billboards).

But maybe the worst part about the ‘Your Local Security’ study is that our clueless mayor endorsed the results despite there being something seriously wrong with their formula. She used it as an opportunity to market New Haven, saying “I’m delighted by the extent to which New Haven streets and thoroughfares are safely shared by all users.”

IMG_7222
Mayor Harp demonstrates her tenuous grip of the ‘safe streets’ concept.

Well, coming from someone who is driven around by a chauffeur, I’m skeptical of your ability to assess the relative safety of various road users, Ms. Harp. It reminds me of New Haven-native Robert Moses who infamously redesigned NYC roads, but who never learned to drive himself.

Somebody got their study wrong, and I don’t think it was the bicycle advocacy organization that’s been doing it for 20+ years. I think it might have been the shills for the alarm company who just took their first swing at it.

Here’s our best position as a community: throw away the ‘Your Local Security’ results and focus on those things which LAB and other peer organizations have clearly defined will make our city safer for bicyclists.

We shouldn’t have to cherry-pick stories about New Haven to make ourselves look and feel better. We should all, especially those at the top, be solely focused on discovering proven methods to realize our common goals. Then, reputable reports will highlight the work we’ve done.

Not convinced by LAB’s methods? Here are some other studies ranking bicycle safety in U.S. cities:

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