Death and Cycling

Reading the news yesterday, two stories in the Chronicle caught my eye. One was about the extremely unfortunate death of two Roaring Mouse cyclists in Cupertino during a training ride on Sunday, and another was about a cyclist hit and run on Market Street which left the cyclist injured…and her dog dead.

These articles highlighted a couple of issues, in addition to documenting senseless tragedy.

In the case of the two killed cyclists, the case has been complicated by the fact that they were hit by a sheriff’s deputy who apparently fell asleep at the wheel. At 10:30. AM. I’m not sure quite what the deal was there, and I’m sure that details will come out, but it doesn’t make me feel very safe on my bike around police officers in cars, because the implication is either that the officer in question was either too overworked to get enough sleep, or he was doing drugs. And he’s probably going to get away with it, because of his position as a police officer.

Those two cyclists were participating in a training ride, an organized ride with a whole slew of cyclists. I haven’t taken part in training rides, but I know enough about cycling etiquette to know how they are organized, and I find it highly unlikely that either cyclist was doing anything dangerous or out of the norm. They were just riding on a public road on a nice day, taking advantage of diverse conditions to push their bodies so that they could enter competitions as top-flight cyclists.

In the second incident, a driver hit a cyclist at the intersection of Market and Octavia, which is a pretty gnarly intersection to begin with. I don’t understand why there isn’t an overpass for pedestrians and cyclists there, having risked my neck a few times trying to cross as a pedestrian. The cyclist is in critical condition, and I hope that she recovers to ride again. The driver in this case turned himself in, which was awfully nice.

As a cyclist (albeit one who rides low on the totem pole), I can’t help but flinch when I read articles like this The Bay Area is a leading hub for cycling…and for cyclist deaths, both because the roads aren’t bike friendly and because there are a lot of reckless drivers and cyclists (please note that I am not trying to cast aspersions on any of the people involved in the articles discussed above with this statement). It’s kind of unfortunate that San Francisco in particular cannot get its public transit act together, and can’t make the city more bike friendly, hills and all.

And the same applies to other cities. Riding downtown the other day on Franklin Street between Redwood and Laurel, I realized that there is no room for cyclists. If a car had come up behind me, the driver would have had to pull into the other lane, assuming there wasn’t a car there already. In addition to being dangerous, that’s poor urban planning, because it sets up a situation where we are going to see mad amounts of traffic snarls and infuriated cyclists and motorists during the summer. That’s “downtown improvement” for you.

Cyclist deaths happen a lot more than people realize. I think that people who don’t spend time on their bikes don’t really pay attention to these articles, but I feel like I’m taking my life in my hands half of the time when I bike, and I imagine that cyclists in actual urban areas experience this even more. Riding a bike is dangerous when you’re trying to share the road with cars, and there’s no way around that.

Oh, wait, there is. Build dedicated bike paths. That’s right.

Our society is heavily focused on the cult of the car, and that is a damn shame. If cyclists weren’t marginalized, maybe they wouldn’t be dying in accidents which didn’t need to happen, and maybe we would have more effective public transit systems in this country. Instead, they get shunted to the side when terrible urban planning decisions get made, and you get things like the mess at Octavia Boulevard.

Cyclists among my readers probably already know that they should be careful. But I would like to take a moment to remind the drivers to watch out.  Cyclists are hard to see, they come out of nowhere, and they are extremely vulnerable. Yes, some of them can be mindblowingly stupid (just like some pedestrians and some drivers), but that doesn’t mean that you want to hit them, or even “teach them a lesson.” It only takes a second of inattention to ruin a life; when you drive, you aren’t just putting your own life at risk. You are also responsible for the lives of those around you in a way that cyclists and pedestrians aren’t, so be smart.

2 Replies to “Death and Cycling”

  1. When I lived in Davis, I never ever felt unsafe on a bike because not only do they have dedicated bike paths, but dedicated bike TRAFFIC LIGHTS. It was awesome. I had a car and only drove if I was going far out of town. Saved money, gas, stress, other people’s stress because they weren’t fighting for my parking place… it’s almost enough to make me want to move back there!

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