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FHWA Home / Safety / Pedestrian & Bicycle / Report of Focus Group Discussions in Washington, New York, Miami, and Los Angeles

Report of Focus Group Discussions in Washington, New York, Miami, and Los Angeles

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Detailed Findings From Bicyclist Focus Groups

Where and how often Hispanic bicyclists ride

Participants reported a range of bicycling behaviors. Many rely on their bicycle as a means of transportation to get to and from work, to run errands, and for leisure activities or exercise. One participant reported using his bicycle for work as a bicycle courier in New York. Some participants combined their riding with other forms of transportation (e.g. the bus), and were more likely to use alternative transportation in bad weather or at night. They reported biking anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour per day, with the exception of the bike messenger who reported riding eight to ten hours each day. Although most riding occurs during the day, one participant did enjoy riding at night, when there was less traffic. There was a wide range of rider characteristics, with participants having been bike riders anywhere from a few months to 25 years. Some participants believed that Hispanics were more likely to ride bikes than other ethnic groups, because they tend not to own cars as frequently.

"I take the back roads, where I usually take more time, but it is safer." — Miami bicyclist

"I go daily to the supermarket; since I'm not working I usually go everywhere on my son's bicycle." — New York bicyclist

"I'm a messenger. Because of my job, I use the bicycle every day, and, on the weekends, I also use it to go to Central Park." — New York bicyclist

"Normally I [bike] during the day. At night, I won't try it ... [I ride] about 40 minutes to an hour." — New York bicyclist

"Generally, I ride during the day, but I also ride at night ... it is nicer to ride at night, and there is less traffic. On the weekends, it's dangerous because there are more people." — New York bicyclist

"I hate to drive, so I have always tried to live in places where I can use my bicycle." — Washington bicyclist

"I use the bicycle every day to go to work or to the supermarket. I live in Washington and about two years ago, my car was stolen, so now I use my bike, because I can go anywhere faster that way." — Washington bicyclist

"I ride to work every day ... I also go to my friend's house, because I don't have a car right now." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"I ride my bicycle every weekend and some nights during the week." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"[Hispanics ride bicycles more often] because of necessity." "Because they have no cars." — Los Angeles bicyclists, in conversation

General awareness of traffic signs and regulations

Participants in all cities reported that they are familiar with some aspects of the traffic system, including traffic signs, signals, and laws. However, their knowledge was somewhat vague, and many had questions about whether their recollections of the law were correct and what specific things the law required. For example, is it legal to ride on sidewalks? This is in contrast to pedestrians, who generally reported that they know the laws, but do not always follow them (an exception is that crosswalks were not well understood by either group). Other bicyclists had an awareness of the law, but reported that they felt safer sometimes breaking the law, e.g. riding against the traffic flow, riding on sidewalks, or crossing in the middle of the street.

"I think that there is not much promotion or education to the individual in order to use a bicycle." — Washington bicyclist

"We don't have specific laws here; the bicyclist is the one that has to have open eyes and ride their bicycle as if they were driving a car." — Miami bicyclist

"I have seen signs to be aware of the children, dogs, or the ducks, but never for the bicycles." — Miami bicyclist

"Normally, [bicyclists use] the same signs as the cars: stoplights, stops, pedestrian pathways." — Washington bicyclist

"I don't know if the same laws for the pedestrians apply to the bicyclist, like the Yield [sign]." — Washington bicyclist

"I thought that it was prohibited to go in the opposite way of the traffic." — Washington bicyclist

"I never know if when I ride on the sidewalks, if this is okay or not." — Washington bicyclist

Sources of information about traffic signs and regulations

Participants in these focus groups reported that there are several disparate sources of information for bicyclists about traffic laws and signs, but there is nowhere they can acquire general information on this topic. They mentioned that they currently receive information from the news, bicycle associations, newspapers, the Internet, police officers, or through personal experience. The groups felt that biking rules are not well publicized; several participants even questioned if such rules existed. Group members were interested in learning more about biking laws in general; in particular, they want to know more about their rights as bicycle riders. They would like such materials to be available to them in Spanish.

"My mother always told me ... you have to ride in the same direction as the cars, you have to observe the traffic laws and be defensive." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"I saw the bicycles on the bus." — Miami bicyclist, reporting how he heard about a change in a local law

"I receive a magazine on bicycles, and they say that you are considered as a car and they say what you should do and not do." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"I read in the newspaper that there are laws for the bicyclists that go on the sidewalks, that they could be fined, because it's prohibited." — New York bicyclist

"The bicyclist law is not well known. We, the people who ride bicycles, do not know our rights, or how they work." — New York bicyclist

"I didn't know that [crossing at intersections] was a law." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"There is a guide for bicyclists, but it is in English." — Los Angeles bicyclist

Bicyclists' perceptions of danger

These bicyclists reported a variety of situations and places that they considered threatening or dangerous. For example, they mention that there is often not enough room for bicyclists on the streets, and, subsequently, cars pass too close to them. They also note that often there are no pathways or signs to indicate where they should go. Other concerns include: intersections where vehicles turn on red lights; bad weather or riding at night; children who run into the street; hostility from drivers; areas with too much traffic; inconsistent bike lanes; construction areas; numerous pedestrians in crosswalks; and, a lack of security in certain neighborhoods. These dangers make them more likely to disobey the law, which, in certain situations, makes them feel safer. For example, bicyclists sometimes prefer to ride against the traffic, even though they know they are not supposed to do this. Almost all bicyclists agreed that there were numerous safety concerns for bicyclists, even leading to some reluctance to think about these risks. One participant noted: "I don't think of anything, so that I don't become nervous."

"The city is unsafe. There's the fight between the pedestrians, the bicycle riders, and the cars." — New York bicyclist

"My experience is that when I ride on the street, the street is theirs [car drivers], and they blow the horn, they scream at you as if you did not have the right to be on the street. It looks like they hate bicyclists, especially the cab drivers." — New York bicyclist

"In the intersections [I feel nervous], because the vehicles can turn on red." — Miami bicyclist

"These streets are not designed for bicycles, but for cars, and are therefore dangerous ... it is dangerous because the cars do not respect the bike riders." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"[I feel nervous] in the construction areas." — Washington bicyclist

"To cross the bridge, there is only one sidewalk, and it is very narrow to go by." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"When it rains, everything is slow. You have to be careful because the visibility is less and the cars react slowly." — New York bicyclist

"Big avenues ... can make me nervous ... [I'm also a little nervous on normal-sized avenues] because the kids could run after a ball; you have to be careful." — New York bicyclist

"There is no pathway for the bicycle, so you have to get to the sidewalk and go up and down again to cross a wide avenue with an island in the middle." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"The dogs [make me nervous]." — Washington bicyclist

"[I am nervous] in some areas where there are poor traffic signals or in the dark places." — Washington bicyclist

"I don't think that it's legal, but I do it [ride against traffic], because I feel safe that way." — Washington bicyclist

"Sometimes when I ride against traffic I feel uncomfortable ... and sometimes I feel the opposite way because the cars go by too close to me." — Miami bicyclist

Safety measures and safety precautions

These participants reported being aware of a variety of safety measures. Some participants used such measures, while others did not, for reasons such as cost, appearance, and discomfort. Safety measures mentioned include: respecting the signs and laws; finding safer routes where there was less traffic or specific bike paths; walking across intersections after pedestrians and cars have passed; watching car signals; being alert by making eye contact with cars and looking over your shoulder; checking brakes; wearing proper shoes and helmets; and, reducing speed as they approach corners. At nighttime or in adverse weather conditions, most participants reported that they take extra precautions such as wearing reflective clothing, using lights on their bikes, or riding on the sidewalk. However, only a few participants reported that they avoid going out at these times. Hispanic bicyclists, then, appear to take more safety precautions than Hispanic pedestrians, but such precautions are still far from universal. Bicyclists also offer several suggestions to improve safety. These include: the need for more bicycle repair shops; the need for more affordable safety devices; adding mirrors to bicycles; adding places to store a bicycle in the city; and, creating and offering a formal bicycle course for new immigrants.

"A bicycle rider should wear a helmet in case of an accident." — Miami bicyclist

"I believe that if you ride at night, you have to wear reflective clothes so that the people can see you." — New York bicyclist

"Definitely [I wear] the helmet and all the pads." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"I bought ... the clothes because it's the only thing the drivers are going to see, so the biggest view is my back, so it must be seen." — Washington bicyclist

"I use special shirts." "I always use shiny clothes." — Los Angeles bicyclists, in conversation

"At night I use lights in the front and in the back, so that they can see me." — New York bicyclist

"Everything is so expensive, first the bicycle and then all the products are too expensive." — New York bicyclist

"If I can find a safer route, I will take it even if it takes more time." — Miami bicyclist

"When I have to cross a busy intersection, I cross it walking next to my bike." — Miami bicyclist

"I never trust the signal; I never cross with the cars; I'd rather wait before I go." — Miami bicyclist

"You have to have eye contact [with the cars] all the time, ahead of you, and to the sides." — Miami bicyclist

"[You have to] make eye contact [with drivers], and look for turn signals." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"I always reduce the speed on the corners, I try to take the roads that have less traffic and are along sidewalks." — New York bicyclist

"Bicycles should have mirrors." — New York bicyclist

"The park I go to has a bicycle path, and everything is marked for the bicyclist." — Los Angeles bicyclist

Risk-seeking behaviors among bicyclists

These participants openly discussed some of their biking behaviors that might pose a hazard to themselves or others. For example, many reported actions such as crossing the street where there is not an intersection, not stopping for red lights, not wearing safety gear, and being careless at times. Additionally, a few participants admitted to riding their bicycles after drinking alcohol. These risk-seeking behaviors were not seen as particularly harmful by group members, and, in some cases, bicyclists reported that they felt justified in their behaviors. These behaviors seem to be motivated by convenience and a desire to save time. In fact, some participants even said that when they are biking certain places (e.g. to work) they will not take safety precautions if these measures add time to their commutes.

"I know many places where you can make shortcuts [to cross the street], so if you know [how], you can do it." — New York bicyclist

"Sometimes I do [cross without using an intersection] ... and then continue when there are no cars coming." — Miami bicyclist

"When you come to a stop light ... you don't want to stop and waste all your energy, therefore you usually don't stop." — New York bicyclist

"I don't stop on the stop sign, just because I can see there are no cars." — Washington bicyclist

"You are always in a hurry to get to work." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"I crossed a stop sign without looking, and I only realized when I heard the horn of car." — Washington bicyclist

"Sometimes I have crossed on a red light and sometimes I go faster than the cars; I have put myself in danger." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"In the beginning, I was more careful." — Washington bicyclist

"Yes [I've rode a bicycle after drinking alcohol], because police are not going to stop me on the sidewalk." — Washington bicyclist

"I rode back one time from the island [after drinking alcohol], because you can't go in a car, but I got home safe." — New York bicyclist

"I have seen people on the beach [drink alcohol and ride their bikes]." — Miami bicyclist

"I have drunk beers at a friend's house and then ridden home." — Los Angeles bicyclist

Personal knowledge of accidents

About half of these participants reported that they had knowledge of someone (including themselves) who had been involved in an accident while a bicyclist. These included personal incidents, incidents involving friends, family members and colleagues, and incidents they had observed. While pedestrians are sometimes involved, most crashes seem to occur between bicyclists and cars; however, bicyclists cite pedestrians as the cause of several crashes. These crashes occur quite often: one participant in New York reported that he personally had "near misses" daily. Indeed, the New York group reported more accidents than participants in any other city. Causes of accidents mentioned included car passengers opening doors in the path of bicyclists, poor road conditions, dogs, children running in front of bicyclists, and car drivers running red lights or not noticing bicyclists in crosswalks. Some accidents were reported to the police, but most were not. Hispanics appear to be less likely to report accidents for a variety of reasons. These include: Hispanics are less likely to know their rights or to have proper legal documents; Hispanics experience language barriers; some Hispanics are afraid of U.S. police; and, Hispanics may have a cultural belief that such crashes should not be handled by the police.

"I have a friend who had a bad accident and went to the hospital for a few days. It was reported, but I really don't know what happened." — New York bicyclist

"A work colleague of mine was hit in the pathway when a car was turning. He had the light, so it was the car's fault." — Washington bicyclist

"My friend used to work delivering food and one night he got hit by a car." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"I was crossing in the green light, and the car was turning to the right, so it hit me. There were even more people crossing, but the car kept going ...I was thinking of so many things, but now I know I should have [reported the accident]." — Washington bicyclist

"I saw a bicyclist who ran a red light and was hit by a car. He flew away [car driver] and it was his fault." — Washington bicyclist

"I had an accident not too long ago. I still have pain in my hand, and it was because a little kid ran in the front of me and I hit a car." — New York bicyclist

"I was just starting to ride my bike and I didn't have much strength yet ... I lost my balance and hit a car." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"I also had an accident with a little kid that was playing in the street. I hit him, but it was not reported to the police. I also had a few encounters with the taxi drivers, especially with the passengers opening the doors to get off. Many times I have hit the doors; these were never reported because nothing happened." — New York bicyclist

"I crashed into a car door that someone opened in front of me. Nothing happened to me, but my front tire got a little bent." — Miami bicyclist

"I had an accident ... there was a hole I did not see." — Miami bicyclist

"I had an accident, but it was because there were rocks on the road." — New York bicyclist

"Many Hispanics do not know the rights they have, they also have problems with communications, and also many Hispanic immigrants, who do not have papers, do not report [accidents]." — New York bicyclist

"We don't have the language; we don't know the laws; we don't know what to do; we are at a disadvantage." — Washington bicyclist

"I think it's also cultural. Here everybody will report [an accident] or will sue, but we are not used to these type of procedures." — Washington bicyclist

"We are used to our countries ... a bicycle accident is taken care of between the families; it never goes to the police." — New York bicyclist

"We came from police who violated our rights, and we think that here it's going to be the same." — Washington bicyclist

"[Hispanics are less likely to report accidents] because they don't have papers." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"We are talking about ... Latinos who recently arrived here [fearing to report accidents], because if we talk about the ones that are here for many years, they are going to think a different way." — Washington bicyclist

Groups seen as most likely to be in an accident

Overall, focus group participants reported children as most likely to be in an accident, but also mentioned new immigrants, seniors, and those who are less informed about the laws as being at increased risk. Hispanics are not seen as more likely to be in accidents than other groups.

"[Children] do not take any precautions." — New York bicyclist

"[Children] are always distracted." — New York bicyclist

"[Children] are more intrepid at that age; they believe they are the owners of the road." — New York bicyclist

"The children; they do not wait ... [they think] nothing is going to happen, they run with that mentality." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"The children [are more likely to be in an accident], more than the new immigrants." — Washington bicyclist

"The seniors [are most likely to be in an accident]." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"I think it has more to do with the level of education, [which affects the likelihood of an accident]." — Washington bicyclist

General Hispanic cultural differences

Focus group participants reported several general cultural differences that affect bicyclist safety in the Hispanic community. They say that the U.S. in general is quite different from Latino countries, including differences in language and weather. Additionally, these Hispanics reported that their culture encourages fatalism and risk taking, although they try to avoid accidents. They say that Hispanics often have more dangerous jobs than non-Hispanics, and that Hispanic neighborhoods in the U.S. are less safe because of limited respect for bicyclists, increased crime, and a higher population density. At the same time, they do not think that Hispanics are any different than anyone else, and some people feel safer in Hispanic neighborhoods.

"We are in a place totally different to ours, [in] language, speed, weather." — New York bicyclist

"The immigrants take more risks, because they have to take whatever jobs are offered to them; they have no choice." — New York bicyclist

"If I'm going to have an accident, I'm going to have it. You don't die that day if it wasn't your day." — New York bicyclist

"We are daring. Sometimes we do things by ignorance, but that is not going to excuse me of the fault." — Washington bicyclist

"If we are in a hurry ... we still go faster, or if we get a yellow light, we cross it because that behavior is inside of us." — Washington bicyclist

"We came here with the habits of disorder, and, if we do not obey the law ... we create a risk situation." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"I take risks, but not because of a belief in destiny." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"If I can avoid [an accident] I will do it, because there are more important things to do." — New York bicyclist

"There are so many regulations in this country and the majority of people are going to obey them ... in Puerto Rico the drivers drive on the sidewalk ... so people know they have to take care of themselves. When they come here, they may think I am going to go because people are going to stop." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"[A Hispanic neighborhood] is less safe because we do not respect the laws." — Miami bicyclist

"In the Hispanic neighborhoods, everyone wants to have a car; there are fewer bicycles, and therefore nobody respects them." — New York bicyclist

"In the Hispanic neighborhoods, I have found that there are not places to ride, and that the road is in bad shape, [with] many holes." — New York bicyclist

"I think there is more traffic for the simple reason that we live with more people in the Hispanic neighborhoods, and therefore there are more cars." — Washington bicyclist

"[Hispanic neighborhoods] are less safe because there is more traffic." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"I feel safer in a Hispanic community than in others." — Los Angeles bicyclist

Differences in traffic between Latino countries and the U.S.

These bicyclists seemed to agree that basic traffic laws are similar between the U.S. and their home countries, but also that laws are enforced more stringently in the U.S. Therefore, they report that many Hispanics are not used to obeying traffic laws. Additionally, automobile ownership is more common in the U.S., and many Latinos who immigrate to this country have never driven before, putting them at a disadvantage in understanding the behavior of cars. Additionally, Hispanics report that traffic and people move at a quicker pace in the U.S., and that they are not very familiar with some U.S. traffic signs. For example, walkways and crossways were unfamiliar to many of these participants, as are any signs where the text is only in English. Seasonal differences were also somewhat unfamiliar to these participants, most of whom come from warmer clients. A few respondents downplayed these differences, however.

"I think the traffic code is international." — Miami bicyclist

"The signs are an international system ... the words are different, but a stop sign is a stop sign." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"The time that it takes the stoplight to change is longer here than in my country." — Washington bicyclist

"They are the same ... the difference between our countries and the United States is that here the people have more respect for the law." — Washington bicyclist

"In Ecuador, nobody respects the law ... but here if you see a policeman, you won't do your shortcut." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"The law here is applied." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"Here the difference is that you have to stop before crossing [a railroad track]." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"[Hispanics know less about traffic laws] because they don't know much English." — New York bicyclist

"The new immigrants that come to this country, many of them never drove a car before in their native countries. Therefore, they do not know the law." — Miami bicyclist

"The traffic here is different...the people are 100 times more accelerated." — New York bicyclist

"[The signs are difficult here,] especially the ones that have text in English." — New York bicyclist

"There are many signs [here] that I never saw before." — New York bicyclist

"The solid line where you can't go across the other lane; if the line has cuts you can go across. I did not have that in my country." — New York bicyclist, describing crosswalks

"The right to pedestrians [is a traffic signal that isn't used in other countries]." — Washington bicyclist

"The differences [in traffic signs] I have found are because of the seasons, like snow signs." — Washington bicyclist

"[Hispanics don't cross] any differently than other people." — Los Angeles bicyclist

Country of origin differences

Participants agreed that although each Hispanic culture is unique, cultural differences as they pertain to bicycle safety are relatively minor. They report that Hispanics share much in terms of core traits, religion, and language.

"It varies a little culturally, but after analyzing, almost everything is the same." — New York bicyclist

"There are differences according to your age and education." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"I don't think they [differences due to country of origin] are too big; we have the same religion, the same language, and we are under the same condition." — New York bicyclist

"We have more things in common than that make us feel different. I don't believe we want to take risks that aren't necessary." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"I believe that it's always different because we all come from different countries, and the streets are different, the experience is different, according to how you see it." — New York bicyclist

"The Mexicans take more risks than the Ecuadorians." — Los Angeles bicyclist

Safety solutions: Signs and pathways

In thinking about these bicycle safety issues, participants felt it would be beneficial to have clear and helpful signs for bicyclists. They think these signs will be most helpful if they rely on graphics, and not text, to convey information. In addition, they felt that additional pathways for bicyclists would help them to avoid pedestrian and car accidents, and that these pathways need to be well marked. As noted above, and also in the pedestrian group, a better explanation of crosswalks and walkways for pedestrians and bicyclists would also be helpful for Hispanics.

"[Create] more signs and more pathways for the bicycles." — Miami bicyclist

"Ride in the places marked for bicycles." — New York bicyclist

Safety solutions: Respect the traffic code

Another common solution was the need for general respect and education among bicyclists. As was mentioned earlier, participants felt that it would be helpful to create a bicycle education class for new immigrants, where information could be disseminated in a way that is easily understood. Overall, they added that there must be a mutual respect on the roads between cars, bicycles, and pedestrians. They emphasized that bikers need to be alert, careful, and respectful.

"[We need to have] education, and respect for the traffic laws." — Miami bicyclist

"Make a traffic code for the bicycles." — Miami bicyclist

"Always be alert and be careful." — Miami bicyclist

"Respect the space." — New York bicyclist

"Fine the bicyclists if they go fast on certain areas." — Los Angeles bicyclist

Overall interest

Overall, participants expressed interest in this topic. However, traffic safety concerns are not as important as basic needs such as health, education, and immigration. Still, participants would be receptive to additional information on this topic, especially information designed for new immigrants where they perceive a great need.

"I believe that we should be interested after listening to all the statistics and that someone should do something about it." — Miami bicyclist

"Yes [the Hispanic community will be interested], since the bicycle is used widely." — Washington bicyclist

"Riding a bicycle doesn't have any importance for Hispanics [compared to issues of housing, health, etc.]." — New York bicyclist

"I think it is important, but not as important as health." — Los Angeles bicyclist

Hispanics' suggestions for public outreach on this topic

Participants mentioned several places they would like to see more information on this topic. These include: media outlets (radio, newspaper, television, and magazines); doctor's offices; churches; schools; community centers; bus shelters and other public transit areas; the Internet; supermarkets; libraries; Hispanic neighborhoods; motor vehicle offices; and, bike stores. They also thought that word of mouth would be a good way to spread this type of information. Advertising campaigns with commercials, posters, flyers, bumper stickers, and a bicycle race to raise awareness were also suggested as ways to reach the community. Participants also felt that it was important to produce manuals and maps for bicyclists with more information. Nearly all participants felt that materials should be bilingual, and they emphasized the need for "simple language messages, so that everybody can understand." They also thought materials should be specifically targeted to children. They expressed the desire for information on "laws," "precautions," "risks," and "positive and negative things about [being] a bicyclist." Finally, the education of drivers on bicycle safety was seen as critical.

"I think that there is not enough information for the bicyclists that says here are the laws and this is what you can or cannot do." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"[We need] a complete guide, with the basic safety rules." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"I believe that when you are new to this country, you should take a course or read a book just as if you are taking the driver's license [test], so they should have one manual for bicycles." — New York bicyclist

"Information in all senses, TV, radio, newspaper, the soap operas, posters in Spanish, flyers, security manuals, advertisements in the city [should be a part of any campaign]." — New York bicyclist

"The best way will be in the schools, because most of the Hispanics go to school, so they should do bicycle classes." — Miami bicyclist

"Give away flyers at the stoplights, in the bus stops, etc., directly to the hands [of the bicyclists]." — Washington bicyclist

"The communications networks never talk about the bicycle riders." — Miami bicyclist

"First thing will be to know all the precautions in order to communicate them." -Washington bicyclist

"Give the number one law of the bicyclist, which is that the bumper of the bicyclist is the head." — Washington bicyclist

"They should have maps for bicycle routes." — Miami bicyclist

"Be defensive, be careful." "Never forget that you have a mother at home." — Los Angeles bicyclists, in conversation about what to tell people

"Ride a bicycle as if you were driving a car." — Miami bicyclist

"[Drivers should learn about bike safety] in the manual for the driver's license it says that the pedestrian and the bicyclist have the right to go first." — Washington bicyclist

"For example, [we need] a public ad that shows the potential danger of getting in front of a bicycle rider." — Los Angeles bicyclist

"All people who ride bicycles should be members of an association so they know about all the rules." — Los Angeles bicyclist

 

 

 

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