Daniel Duane wrote in the Sunday New York Times of the risks a bicyclist takes when riding on the roads. His point is the driver of the vehicle is rarely prosecuted, or even charged if they stay at the scene and are sober. It’s assumed that cyclists are thrill seekers who get what they deserve, disobeying traffic laws (which some do) and causing dangerous situations by being where they shouldn’t be.
“I made it home alive and bought a stationary bike trainer and workout DVDs with the ex-pro Robbie Ventura guiding virtual rides on Wisconsin farm roads, so that I could sweat safely in my California basement. Then I called my buddy Russ, one of 13,500 daily bike commuters in Washington, D.C. Russ swore cycling was harmless but confessed to awakening recently in a Level 4 trauma center, having been hit by a car he could not remember. Still, Russ insisted I could avoid harm by assuming that every driver was “a mouth-breathing drug addict with a murderous hatred for cyclists.”
“The anecdotes mounted: my wife’s childhood friend was cycling with Mom and Dad when a city truck killed her; two of my father’s law partners, maimed. I began noticing “cyclist killed” news articles, like one about Amelie Le Moullac, 24, pedaling inside a bike lane in San Francisco’s SOMA district when a truck turned right and killed her. In these articles, I found a recurring phrase: to quote from The San Francisco Chronicle story about Ms. Le Moullac, “The truck driver stayed at the scene and was not cited.”
Yet as cities open up bike-share programs and paint lines on their streets for bicycle lanes, the problem is going to get more acute not less. It has been said there are two kinds of cyclists. Those who have crashed and those who are about to. Don’t look at the Tour de France cyclists a risk takers — they ride on open roads closed to texting teenagers, road raging pickups and trucks with big blind spots — they have it easy. Duane cites a friend who commutes by bicycle in Washington, D.C. and woke up in a trauma center. He talks about the phenomenon of noticing headlines about dead bicyclists after having been in an accident himself. It’s true, after my run in with a car in 2006 — he crossed the lane and hit me head on — I am very sensitive to any news of roadside mayhem and there is lots of it. I would guess three cyclists died on the Cape this summer. Wiped out by a driver who probably wasn’t charged. Hell, a good friend and former cycling companion nearly died last spring when a guy ran her over and then admitted he had pulled a “wake and bake” and been stoned at the time.
Whatever the solution, I used to daydream of a post-apocalyptic future where cars were gone and the roads were wide open for cyclists like a character in Stephen King’s The Stand. Until then, no bicycles for me.