Drivers beware: bicycles are everywhere. There is no escaping it. When you least expect it, bicycles will appear, somewhere near. They will stalk you in the daytime. They will haunt you in the night. They will populate your daydreams – and become your darkest nightmare. Take care! Bicycles are everywhere.
Look to the front.
Look to the rear.
Look to the left.
Look to the right.
Be bright! Check once. Check twice – to save a life!
The City of Newton, Massachusetts is on a roll with rotating, flashing, bicycle safety signs. Not long ago, their intrepid foray into the realm of flashing signage was featured in my post Proof of Motorist Inattention.
Their first sign was complex, with three rotating messages: “Share the road with bicyclists; use caution while turning; it’s the law.”
This complexity may have been a bit too much for drivers to digest. Therefore, the Newton powers that be put their heads together and created a new and improved flashing sign. This one had only two pointed messages: “Bicycles are everywhere; check twice to save a life.”
When I saw this sign (shortly after I had complimented the other), I wondered whether someone from Newton had been reading my blog, and possibly reading my mind too. Just a couple of weeks after the first flashing bicycle safety sign had been removed from the intersection of Beacon and Hammond Street, I was riding my bike on Beacon Street towards Brookline.
In the dark, three cars whizzed by me at the speed of light. The last car came close to grazing my arm. My bike wobbled as I fought to hold steady in its wake. Just then, it occurred to me that Newton needed a flashing sign in this direction. Only the cars entering from Brookline into Newton had been educated (with the previous sign). Something had to be done about cars already in Newton, heading towards Brookline.
And, lo and behold, not a week after I uttered this prayer, a sign appeared on Beacon Street going in the opposite direction from the first one. As an aside, Newton authorities must think that people only encounter bikes on the stretch between Hammond Street and Langley Road (from Chestnut Hill to Newton Centre) because both signs were strategically placed there. They ought to mosey on down to Waban (at the other end of Beacon Street) where cars use the straightaway for solo drag racing, narrowly dodging bicycles to avoid using their brakes.
Dedicated blogger that I am, I made not one, but two trips to photograph this fascinating second generation flashing sign. During the day, cyclists could be seen riding on both sides of the street. But at night, the sign blazed in its full glory. The intensity of the glowing orange letters was enough to imprint warning messages on drivers’ minds for the rest of eternity – or at least for the next three minutes.
Immeasurably impressed by this sign, I wanted to shake the hand of the person or people who were responsible for bringing it to fruition. Yet, I had no idea how to find them.
I considered calling City Hall. But, what would I say? “Hello. Can I speak to the brain behind the rotating, flashing, bicycle safety signs?” This would probably cause the receptionist to hang up on me. I needed something better. I contemplated “Can you connect me to the office of the flashing bicycle safety sign slogan designer?” The latter sounded much more like a government job, so the receptionist just might pause to consider who I was looking for.
If I found the originators of this sign, I would congratulate them for their innovative spirit. A year or two ago, Newton scattered Share the Road signs around the city. All drivers promptly ignored them.
Either they didn’t bother to read the signs or they didn’t understand how they were supposed to “share” the road. A driver would have to know something about the cycling life to understand a cyclist’s right use the road. Many drivers don’t know this.
Conversely, flashing signs spell things out for drivers. There is no room for laziness or stupidity.
What’s more, the sign designers took a different tack, possibly due to an encounter with inflammatory journalism or online comment sections where drivers routinely excoriate cyclists. Instead of asking drivers to share the road, which implies giving something up, they were asking drivers to be heroes – to save a life. Yes, drivers, if you don’t mow down cyclists, you can be great humanitarians. This is very clever, really.
Flashing signs also have a pacifying effect on drivers. They slow down noticeably when passing such signs. This, even when the do-it-yourself radar gun – located below the flashing messages – is malfunctioning and doesn’t measure their current speed. Maybe they think it’s a trick, so they slow down, just to be on the safe side.
Whatever the reason may be, Newton seems to be onto something. Ever since they installed the first flashing sign, I’ve been on the lookout for flashing bicycle safety signs in other towns where I ride.
No matter how hard I look, the only flashing signs I find are related to roadwork. What a disappointment. Wouldn’t it be great to see this level of commitment to cyclists throughout Massachusetts (or the whole country)?
I can only imagine what it would be like if flashing bicycle safety signs were everywhere. They could be – because, as we now know – bicycles are everywhere.