Why can’t we do as the Germans do? (1)

(1st in a series on Walkability and Bikeability)

Bill Bettermann, avid cyclist and outdoor enthusiast, is Manager & Senior Computing Consultant at Lehigh University. His rotator cuff was torn off the bone by this accident, and he undergoes surgery next week.

 Gadfly has been meaning to open a thread on walkability and bikeability, and this message from his friend and former colleague is a good opportunity. Gadfly has a few notes on this subject in his files that he will pass along in the next few days to prime discussion, but he invites responses on the general area of walkability and bikeability. That would include ideas about a pedestrian bridge, for which preliminary investigation dollars have recently been allocated.


Accidents happen, anytime, anywhere.  Thankfully, many, if not most, accidents are nothing more than petty annoyances.  I worry, though, about accidents that rise above the petty annoyance threshold.  In almost any situation, I find myself wondering, “what if ‘this or that’ happens?”

Interestingly, I don’t think about the potential for accidents when I ride my bicycle.  That is not to say that I do not take every precaution before, during, and after a ride.  I check the tire pressure, charge my several lights (one facing forward, three facing back), and am on my way.  I ride often on the weekends, usually heading to Nazareth, Moore Township, and beyond, from Bethlehem Township.  On the weekends, most roads that I ride are infrequently traveled by car.  Yet, I know that I need to pay attention to every curve, hill, or turn, because I do not want to find myself straying too close to the middle of the road.  One never knows.

I also ride to work on Bethlehem’s south side two or three times a week when the weather cooperates.  That cooperation is defined by temperatures above freezing and no precipitation.  I have a route that takes me along Easton Avenue, then Butztown Road to Linden Street, and eventually across Fahy Bridge.  Most days it is a fun ride, with the glaring exception of Easton Avenue.  The return home is a bit different.  Fahy Bridge to Center Street, to Elizabeth Avenue / Easton Avenue.

What do those details have to do with accidents or my willing consideration for the ugly outcome of an encounter with an automobile?  Because I know that every parked car I pass on Center Street might have an occupant who will open his or her car door at the exact moment I am next to the car.  Or because a car might make a right turn without putting on the turn signal, giving me no warning of its intention.  Or because of the driver who figures he or she can make it through the red light opposite my direction without interruption.

If I thought about these and many other potential encounters, I would never ride again.

On June 20, I was riding to work and nearing the intersection of Easton Ave. and Santee Road.  As I was riding west, down the slight grade toward Santee, I did see the school bus waiting at the intersection.  However, I could not tell if there were any cars waiting to make the left onto Santee.  When I was within feet of Santee, I noted that there was a car waiting to make a left . . . and it did.  I had just enough time to apply my brakes but not enough time for it to make much of a difference.  I plowed into the side of the car.  I don’t know, or remember, the details of the accident.  I do know that I landed on my left side, my bike adding to the weight of the fall.  I do know that my right shoulder flew into the side-view mirror.  The mirror won.

I do know that a few angelic souls stopped, came to me, and asked if I was okay.  They called the police and EMS.  An extraordinarily wonderful lady sat next to me as I laid in the intersection.  I did not think I broke anything, but I could not be certain.  All I knew was that I did not black out and that the lady was as sweet and kind as anyone could be.  She stayed until the EMS arrived.  I asked for her name, but the events that came after —  the ride to the hospital, the stay in the emergency room, the many x-rays — resulted in her name flying out of my memory.  I do know, though, that I will always be grateful for her kindness.

Why did the accident occur?  It really was not anyone’s fault.  It was, however, an accident I never contemplated.  That accident contrasted dramatically to a trip I recently took to Germany.  In Germany, bike lanes exist in every town and city.  The lanes are exclusive for bicyclists.  Pedestrians cannot use them, nor can cars.  Many similar bike paths connect towns, resulting in easy commutes for those who do not want to drive.  In Bremen, I walked along a sidewalk and noticed a billboard that kept count each time a cyclist rode by.  By noon that day, the count exceeded 2,000.  Year to date, in October, the count was more than 2 million.

Why not here?  Why can’t the municipalities, counties, or states, in the U.S. give greater accommodation to alternative travel?  As gasoline prices rise and commutes grow longer (not in distance, but in volume), why can’t those who wish to ride do so without fear for one’s well-being?

A city that invested so much time, resources, and influence to renovate so much of the south side, all seemingly for the sake of a casino, should be able to give some consideration to those who do not want to be beholden to their cars.


3 thoughts on “Why can’t we do as the Germans do? (1)

  1. Bill, first and foremost, a complete speedy recovery. Before I begin, a disclaimer. I am an opponent of Rail to Trail. IMO the track infrastructure is far to valuable an asset to lose. Although I have no objection to bike lanes, in Allentown they were applied without any thought. For example, there is a bike lane on Martin Luther King Drive west of Schreiber’s Bridge. This section of the road is so narrow, that it presents hazard to passing cars, much less for a cyclist. I consider the bike lane there an attractive nuisance, inviting an accident. The same can be said for the bike lane on Turner Street in center city. In the enthusiasm for bike lanes, common sense must prevail.

  2. Best wishes for 100% recovery. I’ve only had 1 semi-serious car-bike accident, when I was sideswiped by a car on 7th Street in Allentown. The woman was talking on her mobile and/or just didn’t believe in sharing the road. I too had a [less-serious] rotator cuff injury that took about 6 months of PT.

    Bethlehem likes to think it’s a very walkable & bikeable city. It is not.

    Pedestrians have to contend with irregular sidewalks with height differences of 10–15 cm, some of which have persisted for a decade or more. Also with curb ramps constructed at a 45° angle and with frequent sidewalk closures. Rarely does the contractor limit the closing to the time it’s actually necessary—but a big thank you to Ondra-Huyett—they actually move the fence in to the building wall when they’re not actually working on that face of the building. [the former Lehigh services building on the SS]

    Cyclists have to deal with clueless motorists: those too busy texting or talking on the phone, of course, but also with a city that doesn’t properly maintain the sharrow markings and sometimes placed them far too close to the parking lane, as in some blocks of 4th Street. And, of course, no bike lanes. In reality, it’s difficult to construct a good, safe system of bike lanes that don’t dump cyclists into an intersection that’s even more dangerous because motorists tend to be less aware of cyclists if they’re not in the roadway. I don’t think we want to turn this over to PennDoT or the City planners! (Especially seeing how they handled the rooftop addition in the Benner monstrosity at 3rd & New.)

  3. Bill, good luck with the surgery! And thanks for posting on this important topic. In the City of Bethlehem, I think the issue of safe cycling routes is one that needs real thought, planning, and investment, not the occasional accommodation that is seems to get right now. Are there cities like ours that are doing it well? I wonder if there is someone involved in the successful development of safe cycling routes in other cities who we could bring in to give a talk? I’m thinking of someone like the Jeff Speck of cycling.


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