Nothing screams “Look at me” like high visibility jackets and vests, which come in oh-so-fashionable colors like fluorescent yellow and bright orange. The resulting look is often so ugly that many wouldn’t want to be caught dead on the side of the road in it, much less seen riding around town in it.
Before anyone jumps to defend their favorite jacket, I believe wearing high viz is smart for many situations, such as riding along high speed highways or in foggy weather. I have a high viz jacket I wear sometimes, like on this weekend trip my friend Deanna and I took to San Francisco back in 2005. It made me feel a lot safer, especially on that often foggy stretch of Skyline Boulevard where it crosses Hwy 1 in Daly City.
My problem with high viz clothing is the expectation that it’s essential gear for all riders. Or in the case of London, for pretty much anyone on the street. The hot fashion trend on the streets of London we saw on our recent trip was high viz, and not just for cyclists and road crews. We saw police, sanitation workers, delivery van drivers, schoolchildren on field trips and even horses flashing their high viz outfits in London.
London stood in sharp contrast with Paris and Amsterdam, where I can’t recall seeing anyone wearing high viz, not even cyclists or police directing traffic. In Paris, you can find police on bikes, on skates, even on Segways–none wearing high viz. (Just kidding about the Segways)
To me, widespread promotion of high viz clothing reinforces the belief that streets are inherently dangerous places for everyone not protected by a large metal box, and that it’s the duty of vulnerable street users to SHOUT OUT their presence. Otherwise, shame on them for not taking a necessary precaution.
Instead, it should be the duty of the drivers of motor vehicles to slow down, pay attention, and not bully cyclists and pedestrians on the street. It’s no surprise to me that the city where I felt most threatened by cars both on foot and on the bike is the one where high viz clothing is most popular. And that city wasn’t Paris.
Note: Photos below were liberally taken from various internet sources.
Do you have a high viz vest or jacket? If so, when do you wear it?
If someone suggested that you wear a high viz vest to walk the streets of your city, what would you think?