San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Cycling

Initiative highlights Costa Rica's need for roadway respect of cyclists

Mi familia me espera.” My family awaits me. That’s one of the main messages shared recently on social media, cycling jerseys and other merchandising items as part of a campaign to raise awareness among motorists about the need for respect for cyclists on Costa Rica’s roads.

The campaign is a joint effort by private companies Safetti Costa Rica, Garnier & Garnier and ACONVIVIR, a citizen group that promotes the rights and duties of all those who use the roads.

Safetti Costa Rica manager Jorge Carvajal said the company’s main goal is to raise awareness among motorists so that they not only see someone riding a bicycle, “but also see a human being – a mother, a father or a son whose family is waiting for him at home,” he said.

Statistics from Costa Rica’s Traffic Police show that 69 cyclists died on the roads in the past two years, about 10 percent of all deaths in traffic accidents. The number so far this year, according to a report on Friday, was nine cyclists killed.

The campaign also seeks to raise funds for ACONVIVIR’s activities, which include educational talks at companies and with citizens groups regarding road safety, the benefits of bicycling as transportation, and the need for civility and respect on the roads.

ACONVIVIR visits communities throughout the country to deliver lectures to local residents, and the group donates reflective vests and helmets to people unable to afford them.

The group’s most recent event took place on Feb. 21 with a recreational bike ride through the Orosi Valley, in Cartago, during which members donated their security packages to locals.

The campaign includes selling a special pack for cyclists that has a cycling jersey displaying the campaign slogan, “My family awaits me,” and others such as, “I’m somebody’s dad,” and “I’m somebody’s mom.” They also display “Respeto” and “Dame 1.5 m,” asking motorists to respect a 1.5-meter (5-foot) distance when passing.

Tico cyclist Paolo Montoya shows the jersey people can buy to fund educational campaigns of group ACONVIVIR.

(Courtesy of Mi familia me espera Costa Rica)

The pack also includes a drawstring bag, a bicycle cleaning kit, a water bottle, deodorant, beverages, snacks and other items.

ACONVIVIR President Mauricio Alvarado said the group will receive part of the funds for each pack sold to “help us keep working on our campaigns to promote better roadway safety, better safety infrastructure and legislation for cyclists and more support for the sport.”

The campaign has been endorsed by renowned Tico athletes such as triathlete Mauren Solano, cyclists Paolo Montoya, Federico “Lico” Ramírez – Costa Rica’s former Cycling Tour Champion – and Andrey Amador, who last year became champion in Spain with his team Móvistar and was 4th overall at the Giro d’Italia.

The campaign aims to boost the use in the country of bicycles as a means of transportation. According to the Program of Urban and Regional Planning of the Greater Metropolitan Area, people on bicycles represent only 2 percent of travelers on the country’s roads, and ACONVIVIR is hoping that figure will increase to 10 percent by 2030.

Those interested in purchasing the packs or participating in future bike tours can contact Safetti Costa Rica at: 2276-4400 or by email at: ventas@safetti.cr.

Contact L. Arias at larias@ticotimes.net

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Guanacasteco

I think that road biking is such a big thing in Costa Rica that it would be worth creating a roadway specifically for biking. It would augment the green reputation of the pais. You cannot teach most Ticos to respect others on the road. It is not possible…

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Ken Morris

The more you get into planning for bicycle transportation, the more you realize that on-road cycling is the only solution.

There are instances in which separate “bike boulevards” can be part of the solution, but these are fraught with difficulties. Once built, they are rarely maintained well enough to enable cyclists to use them safely, and they invariably attract pedestrians–mothers pushing children in strollers, people walking their dogs, skateboarders, etc.–that impede bicycle transportation. Not least, how many of these designated cycling roadways will really be built? Bicyclists want to go everywhere everyone else wants to go, not only where a handful of routes let them go. Thus, you’re going to have cyclists on the street anyway.

Bike lanes are sometimes sensible improvements, but hardly a panacea. Not only are they also invariably poorly maintained, but the physics of motoring results in dangerous debris ending up in the bike lanes. Of course, they are also disrespected by both motorists and pedestrians. The motorists use them as free parking and the pedestrians as sidewalks.

Worse about both solutions is that most bicycle crashes happen at intersections, and the most common remark of a motorist after crashing into a cyclist is, “I didn’t see him!” You just can’t get bicyclists safely through intersections, must less enable them to make left turns, unless they are on the road and in the line of sight of motorists.

The only solution is therefore to put bicyclists smack dab on the road with the motorists, at least if we want to encourage bicycle transportation. If we’re content with recreational riding or sports cycling, off-road provisions are fine, but we’ll never get bicycle transportation until we realize that the slogan, “Same roads, same rights,” is true.

The challenge is how to achieve on-road cycling. Part of meeting it is a moral campaign like this one. Raising awareness can help. Correspondingly, enforcement of traffic laws can help. Motorists are by current law required to give bicyclists they pass a meter’s breadth. Few do.

However, as a general rule these sorts of solutions aren’t very effective. The only really effective solution (to any traffic engineering problem actually) is to design the roadways to encourage and perhaps force vehicles to behave in the way you want.

For example, it is well-documented that posted speed limits don’t have much of an effect on reducing motorist speeds when the roadway makes faster driving seem easy and safe. To reduce speeding, it’s much more effective to do something as simple as make the road curve rather than go straight, since motorists voluntarily slow down for curves.

The same line of thinking needs to be applied to roadway design hospitable to bicyclists. Generally you don’t want motorists to be able to go too fast, so even curving roads helps. Beyond this, speed humps (not bumps, which can cause cyclists to crash) really help slow traffic voluntarily. Meanwhile, you need wider lanes than are customary for motor vehicle only traffic to enable motorists to pass cyclists without running them off the road.

It’s only when the traffic engineers start designing the roads with bicyclists (and pedestrians) in mind will bicycling become viable. Building separate bicycling infrastructure is about like these clowns building pedestrian overpasses and then wondering why the pedestrians don’t use them. They don’t because pedestrians (and bicyclists) want to go everywhere motorists want to go too, and to be able to get there with the same ease and convenience as motorists.

Slow pokes like me may only go 8-10 MPH on our bicycles, but 12-15 MPH is not uncommon. I haven’t seen data on San José, but these are average motorist speeds in some large US cities. Basically, urban motor vehicle traffic doesn’t go especially fast anyway, on the average. Designing roads that force motorists to slow down when they could go fast, especially with lanes wide enough to enable them to pass cyclists, isn’t really much of an impediment to them. The mix can work in a way that keeps everybody happy and safe.

Plus, roads are public space–not the sole province of the 25% of Costa Rica that drives–so why shouldn’t they be designed for the other 75% too?

Meanwhile, it’s a global embarrassment for a country that professes to be environmentalist and humanitarian to have such horrible air quality and so much carnage on the roads.

And Costa Rica even has an excellent climate for bicycling.

It’s just a matter of confronting the challenges in a way that promises success. Too many pro-bike initiatives don’t really have a prayer of succeeding, even if implemented.

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Hachi Ko

Ken Morris…

You make some good points. I agree with about 25% of what you say, but I disagree with about 75% of it.

Of all the places in which I have lived, Southern California had the most logical system which I have ever witnessed. SoCal handled the issue primarily by widening roads slightly and incorporating dedicated Bike Lanes. I think that Bike Lanes are the most economical, most easily implemented, and fairest solution to this issue.

In my mind, Motor Vehicles and Bicycles will never successfully exist as equals. Cars and Trucks are designed to move at speeds which are far greater than the speeds at which Bikes are designed to travel. That’s the advantage of Motor Vehicles, and that’s why people own and operate them. However, I also believe that motor Vehicles and Bikes can co-exist, not as equals, but using a fairly-implemented “share the road” concept. The Bike Lane concept in California worked very well, at least in the area where I lived.

Cars travel 5 to 10 times faster than Bikes, and in any collision between a car and a bike, the car will always win. Therefore, we need to segregate them due to the speed difference, and reduce the potential for collision as much as possible. Bike Lanes do this, when used properly.

Slowing cars down serves no useful purpose. It negates the entire purpose of the car and frustrates drivers, which actually makes the situation even more dangerous. We need to safely allow Bikers free access to the roadway system, while not impeding the progress or efficiency of Motor Vehicles.

Even if Bike Lanes are implemented on a nationwide basis in Costa Rica, a broad, sweeping change in the basic, core attitudes of both car drivers and bikers is needed. Drivers need to respect the space provided to the Bikers, and the Bikers need to respect the space which makes the fast, efficient movement of Motor Vehicles possible.

Unfortunately, today, in 2016, here’s what I see, whenever I get in my car and drive in Costa Rica: The roads are filled with 6 basic groups of “Users”… Large Commercial Trucks, Personal Motor Vehicles, Motorcycles, Smaller Motorized Bikes/Mopeds, Bicycles, and Pedestrians. And those 6 groups all act — mostly — as if they exist in completely different dimensions or on completely different worlds. None of those 6 groups, for the most part, ever acknowledge that the other 5 groups exist… it’s like they’re invisible. That’s absolutely ridiculous, and incredibly unsafe. THAT is the primary factor which MUST change, if Bicycles and Cars are ever going to safely share Costa Rica’s roads.

I am a Car Driver, and I Freely Admit that Motor Vehicle operators are FAR more guilty than Bicyclists, when it comes to courteously sharing the roads with other users. I see drivers disregard the safety of bicyclists on an almost daily basis.

However, bicyclists are not perfectly innocent, either. The most common problem that I see is a bicyclist climbing a steep, narrow, two-lane mountain road. The biker usually pedals vigorously, which results in that “side-to-side” motion which we’ve all seen when watching the Tour de France on TV. This motion effectively prevents the cars stuck behind the bike from passing the bike, unless the car moves almost completely into the oncoming lane. Of course, on a road like this, the bike is traveling at a speed less than 10 miles-per-hour. So… it’s usually only a matter of a few minutes before the bike has a “Tail” of at least 15 cars and/or trucks. That’s not “sharing the road”… that’s a single biker impeding the efficient progress of 15 vehicles. I find myself in this situation… in my car, stuck behind a very slow, mountain-climbing biker, with 15 to 20 other cars/trucks, at least once per month. I’m not going to risk my life, the life of my family, and the life of the biker, by attempting an unsafe pass in this situation. However, when I look at the cars in front of me, and when I look in my rear-view mirror and see the cars behind me, I can tell that at least 10 of those drivers are seriously considering a very daring Pass. At that point, I usually back off of the car in front of me by two additional car-lengths, thinking to myself, “If the worst happens, we’re all going to die.” If a heavy 18-wheeler suddenly appears, traveling in the opposite direction, while a car is attempting to pass in the oncoming lane, that laden, downhill truck is going to reduce the biker and all of the cars behind him to a blurb on the evening news.

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