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Monday, March 24, 2008

Cyclists, motorists share responsibilities

Bicyclist and car sharing the road
From the San Francisco Chronicle, 03.24.08:

In the wake of the tragic deaths of two cyclists in Cupertino, I am startled by a looming prejudice against those who choose to ride bikes, particularly in the media. Though it is clear that these cyclists were not at fault when they were killed by a deputy sheriff veering across the road, what has surfaced is an inexcusable "blame the victim" sentiment.

The Cupertino tragedy has been portrayed as a "bicycle safety" story, instead of what it really is, a story about the risks of dangerous driving. If that deputy had veered across the road into an oncoming VW Beetle or Mazda Miata instead of a line of cyclists, the occupants of that car would likely be seriously injured or dead, as would the driver himself.

Yet, the public dialogue has not focused on which streets are most dangerous for driving, bad behavior by drivers, or the fact that 40,000 people a year are killed in motor vehicle collisions in our nation.

I believe the over-emphasis on bicyclists' responsibility stems from the mistaken belief that bikes do not belong on the road, that a bicyclist is asking for trouble if she rides out in traffic, that a "good" bicyclist knows her place and gets out of the way of "legitimate" road users in cars.

Yet the law is clear that bicyclists have the same essential rights and responsibilities as drivers. We not only belong on the road, we even sometimes belong smack-dab in the middle of the road, if that is the safest place to be. (Read more.)
Great commentary by my friend Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. One hopes that the tragic deaths earlier this month of Matt Peterson and Kristianna Gough--killed by a police officer who fell asleep and lost control of his cruiser--will result in greater awareness of bicycling and road safety.

Due to time limitations, I haven't commented on this horrific incident and the media aftermath in the Bay Area. Fritz at Cyclicious has offered great coverage, including his illustrated transcript of the KQED-FM "Forum" program on bicycling safety. Attorney and former racer Bob Mionske offers a comprehensive analysis at Velonews.

In general, I also prefer to emphasize the proactive progress that is being made around the country to improve conditions for bicyclists, which has helped to prevent such tragedies. Generally these improvements come as a result of bicycling advocacy. That's my priority, encouraging advocacy.

However, a tragedy often inspires change, raises awareness, motivates activism, creates dialogue, prompts change. Let's hope this is the case with the shocking Cupertino incident.

Image: Web capture.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site
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Anonymous said...

Advocacy must be supported by unbiased and well trained law enforcement to be effective. Also needed are leadership, funding for infrastructure and public awareness, activism, etc. And then there's the fact that cars, trucks, SUV, vans have a weight-power advantage and too often the drivers are distracted. Unfortunately the weakest link defines the end result.

Our laws may need to change to compensate for these imbalances...hopefully awareness will then become real.

dr2chase said...

Wow, quite the set of comments over there. Clearly, we cyclists haven't a clue how hard it is to drive in our presence. Just as clearly, there's no car safety problem at all.

Good grief.

Yokota Fritz said...

Speaking of motorist inattention: This morning, my bus was at a complete standstill in traffic in San Jose. The Highway 17 Express is a big white bus with bold blue and gold graphics and it's pretty hard to miss. The driver of a pickup truck somehow didn't see our bus and ran right into our stopped bus. He told the bus driver that he didn't see us.

In the South Bay, the reaction of a *lot* of people I know to the Cupertino deaths has been fear, unfortunately.

zooplah said...

Yikes! It makes me kind of glad I've never been able to learn how to drive. If I were the least bit competent in anything that requires certification, I might subscribe to the same elitist douchebaggery as these nameless motorists.