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New paper (accepted 13 May 2020): Unsafe bicyclist overtaking behavior in a simulated driving task: the role of implicit and explicit attitudes

HIGHLIGHTS
 The novel methodology linked 105 respondents’ conscious and subconscious attitudes with a simulated driving task
 Nearly one-half of driving simulator participants “close passed” the bicyclist
 Negative attitudes toward bicyclists predicted passing distance, speed, and time-to-collision
 People with negative attitudes about bicyclists as legitimate roadway users had a higher
maximum speed while passing
 Self-identified cyclists passed at higher speeds, while people who bicycle at least weekly passed closer but more slowly

ABSTRACT
There is extensive literature into the mechanisms of injury in traffic crashes involving vulnerable road users (VRUs), but little research into the social or psychological factors in causation in these crash types. Attitudes and emotional associations can affect how people attend to objects in their visual environment and physical approach/avoidance responses, but few studies have extended these approaches into the road safety domain. Existing driving simulator studies of driver-bicyclist interactions have focused on driver behavior but not underlying attitudes and their effect on safety-related behaviors.

This research explored the impact of implicit and explicit attitudes on drivers’ behavior in interactions with bicyclists. In a driving simulator, various objective measures of safety (e.g., speed, passing distance, crash occurrence) were collected in an overtaking scenario. Participants’ self-reported attitudes about driving and bicyclists were collected via survey instrument, along with an online test of subconscious attitudes called an Implicit Association Test, developed to examine preference between drivers and bicyclists.

Importantly, this study examined not only distance, but duration and speed during overtaking. Results demonstrate that conscious attitudes affect how quickly and closely drivers overtake bicyclists. Participants who hold negative attitudes about bicyclists as a legitimate road user group passed significantly faster, while people with concerns about their knowledge or judgment about overtaking a bicyclist passed further and more slowly. Drivers self-identification as a bicyclist predicted higher passing speeds, while respondents who bicycle weekly drove closer but more slowly to the simulated bicyclist. These behaviors did not significantly differ based on the measure of implicit attitudes. The results of this study provide potential avenues for infrastructure and education interventions to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety. Additionally, pairing driving simulator behavior with attitudinal measures represents a significant methodological contribution.

Keywords: bicyclist safety; driver behavior; driving simulation; road safety attitudes.

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COVID-19 message to students

[NOTE: This is the note I sent to my students via our Learning Management System about our school closure and going to online teaching. It certainly isn’t perfect, but feel free to use and adapt if you want.]

Hi everyone – Ok, first, before we dive in, let’s take a collective deep breath. In through the nose . . . 2, 3, 4 . . out through the mouth . . . 2, 3, 4. I’m not being glib. If you are paying even a bit of attention, it is easy to end up with your shoulders up around your ears and your jaws clenched tight. Maybe that’s just me. But probably not. However, we are all in this together, things are gonna get weird, and we’ll figure it out. The most important thing is everyone staying as healthy as possible (physically and mentally), doing their part to keep from infecting each other, and knowing that the rest (credit hours, grades, defenses, etc) will get worked out in time. No one is getting penalized for what has officially become a global pandemic (which basically means a multi-country novel illness).

1. You should have received the news, but classes are canceled Monday and Tuesday, March 16-17. As of now, classes will resume on Wednesday, March 18. While A&M has not yet gone to mandatory online-only, I am going to teach my classes online starting Wednesday. This will be rocky at first, since converting to online teaching isn’t simple, and I’ve only got a week to figure it out. So I thank you in advance for your patience and assistance.

2. You’ll get more info from me by Monday about what going online means. At this time, I am expecting us to meet as a class at the normal class times. We will be using Zoom. If you have not yet claimed your free Zoom membership at tamu.zoom.us, do that now. We are going to see if video class will work, since I think that makes it easier to stay engaged. If the bandwidth isn’t there as everyone goes online, we will go to audio-only. There will be interactive parts. There will be discussion. It will be messy while we figure it out. But in the scheme of things, the challenges of going to online classes for a few weeks or the rest of the semester is small potatoes. Any time it starts to stress you out (or even before that!) feel free to reach out. 

3. If you are somewhere without a reliable computer and/or internet, let me know ASAP. You can also use Zoom on your phone, so be sure to download the app. 

4. If you have other issues (need for accessibility accommodations, housing/food challenges because of school/travel limitations, etc) and don’t know where to get help, please feel free to reach out and I’ll help you get connected to resources, the best I can;.

5. Don’t panic, but take the whole situation seriously. It isn’t just about protecting ourselves, it is about keeping each of us from becoming disease vectors that spread coronavirus to vulnerable people – older folks, people with illnesses or chronic disease or compromised immune systems, etc. It is about slowing the rate of sickness to keep our medical systems from getting overwhelmed. So do your best to follow sanitation and social distancing protocols, for yourself and others. If you need more resources on any of that, let me know.

Thanks again for your adaptability on this. We’ll try to have fun with the opportunities and challenges presented by online interaction for class, and we’ll figure it out.

See ya on the interwebs.

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Editorial Choices Affect Perceptions of Traffic Crash Responsibility

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The Structure and Function of Cities syllabus

Here is a link to my Fall 2019 syllabus for The Structure and Function of Cities. I completely revamped this class for this semester, drawing heavily from the Critical Pedagogies database ( https://criticalgeopedagog.wixsite.com/repository/urban-geography-1) and the advice and recommendations of my colleagues Amy Coplen, Dillon Mahmoudi, and Anthony Levenda. Feel free to use any of it that you want, and I welcome comments or recommendations for additional or substitute readings (the reading list starts on page 4).

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Crash reporting study (Ralph, Iacobucci, Thigpen, & Goddard, 2019)

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Silence on race, and the co-opting of language, in bicycle planning and advocacy (book chapter excerpt)

[Author’s note: The following is an excerpt from my chapter Theorizing bicycle justice using social psychology Examining the intersection of mode and race with the conceptual model of roadway interactions in Bicycle Justice and Urban Transformation: Bicycling for All?. The book is currently expensive and so I am sharing a pre-publication version of an excerpt of my chapter.]

This book, Bicycle Justice and Urban Transformation: Bicycling for All?, starts by problematizing the invisibility or denigration of certain types of bicyclists in the “dominant trifecta of advocacy, engineering, and policy” (see Introduction). Research, too, is guilty of excluding race from data collection, analysis, and theory. Even as the idea of “equity” has entered the vernacular of bicycle planners and advocates, equity is often conceived of from a modal standpoint, not a social or racial one. Whether because of the lasting impact of environmental determinism, discomfort with asking what are seen as “sensitive questions,” privileging the expertise of a White, middle-class viewpoint (Vivanco, 2013), a lack of understanding about the potential impacts of social identity, or likely, a combination of these, race is often absent from many studies of bicycling planning and safety, which has the effect of erasing it entirely. In their critique of traditional travel behavior approaches, Skinner and Rosen call for a more inclusive and mutable approach that shifts the focus away “from the circumstances and choices of an archetypal individual towards an understanding of the varied conditions in which differently-placed people negotiate transport problems and choices” (Skinner and Rosen, 2007, p. 85). Yet even they, while explicitly mentioning age, gender, employment, and geography, subsume race under “and so on” (p. 85).

The 2012 book City Cycling (Pucher and Buehler, 2012), which covers a broad range of topics and is aimed at practitioners, is imminently readable and useful on a variety topics, but is virtually silent on race. There are chapters devoted to women and cycling, and children and cycling, respectively, but no chapter devoted to the experience of racial minorities or a discussion of intersectionality beyond those somewhat narrow gender and age discussions. It is unlikely that this reflects any conscious choice to exclude issues faced by bicyclists of color, nor a conscious dismissal that they matter. Rather, it may reflect what the introduction to this volume describes as a common practice of privileging certain experiences when experts “lobby for changes derived from their own qualitative experiences of bicycling”. Many of the dominant voices in bicycle planning and research are themselves bicyclists, and have firsthand knowledge of the vulnerability of being a bicyclist. But engineering, planning, and bicycle advocacy are all spaces historically and presently occupied largely by White men who do not face structural and individual discriminations based on their gender, race, or other social identities. Thus, they may not even conceive of the idea that drivers might enact racially biased behaviors on top of modally biased ones.

Even recent sociological works like the excellent Cycling Cultures (Cox, 2015) speak very little to the ways that social identity, especially race, intersect with bicycling as a mode. While the introductory chapter lays solid groundwork for considering the social nature and the potentially problematic “travelling body” of bicyclists (Cox, 2015, p. 7), most of the curated chapters use words like “minority” (p. 20), “sub-culture” (p. 29), “diversity” (p. 43), “marginalized” (p. 69), and “colonized” (p. 71) primarily to refer monolithically to bicycling as a mode and to problematize automobility and car culture. While addressing automobility is necessary for improving safety of all bicyclists, this co-opting of language often used to understand structural racism can itself erase the presence of other social identities, including race, that intersect and may dominate over someone’s modal status. After all, a “cyclist” who otherwise has dominant group membership (i.e. White, male, cis-gendered, middle- or upper-class) can walk away from their bicycle and shed that “marginalized” modal identity, while a person of color or anyone who does not fit the default social status cannot shed their multiple stigmatized social group memberships.

In Mobilities, the sociologist John Urry states that a “[mobility] turn is spreading in and through the social sciences, mobilizing analyses that have been historical static, fixed, and concerned with predominantly a-spatial ‘social structures’ ” (Urry, 2007, p. 6). The corollary is also needed: to move away from a-social spatial approaches and incorporate tools from the social sciences. Planners, engineers, and anyone advocating for and promoting bicycle transportation must be willing to confront the potential impacts of racism in their work. A practical approach to bicycle planning and promotion must include “the social dimensions and tacit meanings people make” about their everyday travel (Vivanco, 2013, p. 10).

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Thoughts on the bicyclist typology (the short version)

I posted this recently on the ABPB listserv in response to what I felt were some alarming* comments about how bike facilities aren’t needed in downtowns where auto traffic is *only* 30 mph, or that people should feel comfortable mixing with buses because bus drivers are professionals (true, but buses are still HUGE from the perspective of a bike). I thought I would share my short but impassioned plea here:

We need to stop talking about the bicyclist typology like it is aspirational. The “strong and fearless” category is not (nor do I think it was ever intended as) a more enlightened place to be on the spectrum. We need to stop talking to people about bicycling like things will be great in some future state: “it will be fun/easy/convenient/safe when you are fit/confident/experienced enough.” We need to design and build facilities that meet people where they are, and quit acting like they just need a nudge along the typology. When many people see the “strong and fearless” designation, what it means to them is “fit but reckless.” And that’s a pretty rational thought, in the US context. With our current facilities, no amount of education or encouragement is going to transform a sizable amount of the US population into people who want to mix with buses going 30 mph, nor should it. Traditional traffic engineering gets criticized (and often rightly so) for prioritizing efficiency over safety, but this strong and fearless mentality prioritizes machismo over progress. It only alienates many of the people who we say we are trying to reach. And if it continues to infect our approach to design and engineering, it won’t make them safer, more comfortable, or more likely to ride, either.

*alarming in that they were coming from bike planning/engineering professionals, and I felt perpetuated the same old vehicular cyclist mentality that keeps US bicycling as an unsafe, unattractive mode for many.

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On distraction and other bad behaviors . . .

Something I tweeted yesterday is getting a bit of notice, and I thought it warranted a bit more context than 140 characters can provide. While I try (mostly) to keep my tweets to the informative and/or humorous and/or contemplative, more emotional content is sometimes unavoidable, especially since spending a lot of time in a complex, contested environment (the roadway) with high stakes (my life) in a vulnerable state (my mode, often bicycling in particular) means spending a lot of time with heightened adrenaline levels and a hyper-vigilance over my safety.

So. Here is what I tweeted:

“My bad behavior while bicycling could get me killed. Your bad behavior while driving could also kill me. I’m always the vulnerable one here.”

I originally thought the word “distraction” instead of “bad behavior,” although obviously I opted to broaden the thought to include more behaviors. A huge percentage of what people call “bikelash” (as in backlash against bicycling) centers on people’s perceptions of bicyclists as law-breaking, unpredictable, self-centered roadway users (lots more on that in future posts, and my future research). But what prompted the tweet was actually distraction.

Yesterday I was bicycling along (I typically ride between five and fifteen miles on my ebike on any given day, going to work/school, meetings, events, out with friends, shopping, etc), lost in my own thoughts, and realized as I crossed through an intersection that I had failed to scan the side streets for oncoming traffic.

Here is the thing: I did NOT have a stop sign at the intersection. The side streets did. But my faith in drivers stopping at stop signs is fairly weak, especially because the risk is so high – unless the driver’s speed is very low, if I get hit by a car, I am likely to be badly injured or killed. Having the right-of-way won’t save me on my bike, so I ride like I’m playing a game of chess, trying to see five moves ahead, watching everyone around on me on the road. And this chess game feels like life-or-death, because it is.

Someone on twitter pointed out that my bad behavior might not only get me killed, it would affect the driver who killed me. That is true. But that was not the point of my tweet, and I probably muddied the waters by choosing to say “bad behavior,” especially since daydreaming on a pleasant ride on a quiet street shouldn’t have to feel like bad behavior. My point was that, my momentary lapse in judgment or poor choices, if they result in a crash with a car in particular, are likely to get me killed. I am very unlikely to cause any bodily harm to a driver. But a driver’s lapse in judgment or poor choices are also likely to get me killed, and unlikely to cause them any bodily harm – so no matter who is at fault, the bicyclist is going to suffer the physical harm. Hence the term “vulnerable road users.”

Traffic crashes that involve physical or emotional harm are terrible things. I don’t know anyone who would argue differently. My point was about the differential in the likelihood that someone’s bad behavior would cause physical harm, and who would suffer that harm. When one person is riding atop 25 pounds of steel or aluminum, and another person is cocooned within 4,000 pounds of steel and glass, the consequences of our actions are never going to be equally distributed.

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Hello world!

This page is under construction. I guess that is obvious. But stay tuned, things are finally happening!

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