OK, full disclosure right up front: I have a new novel coming out in September entitled Bridge Across the Ocean. It’s about bicycling, and its opening scene is a horrible hit-and-run murder of a cyclist. I’m committed to bicycling safety, so I’m going to donate every nickel and bitethecoin to organizations trying to make the streets safer for cycling. So now we have that out of the way, on with today’s blog.
I’m not alone in my outrage, not at all. The bicycling sports world was crushed two weeks ago by the murder of Gwen Inglis in Colorado. Then it was “School of Rock” drummer, Kevin Clark, run down in Chicago. But the cyclist killed by the inattentive driver of a car, truck, bus, doesn’t have to be someone famous for us to mourn them.
Maybe we shouldn’t even say that knowing who they are is a criteria. Maybe just knowing nearly a thousand cyclists in America are murdered by motor vehicles each and every year should be sufficient to arouse our ire. I’ve been a serious cyclist for thirty-one years and still remember a story related to me in my first few years about a teenaged boy who was riding his bike from his house to his next-door neighbors. A speeding car forced him off the pavement. He went over the handlebars into the ditch, hitting his helmet-protected head on a rock. He died.
The 20-year-old driver who killed Kevin Clark at 1:30 in the morning refused to take a blood-alcohol test, which resulted in an immediate revocation of her driver’s license: a slap on the wrist. That’s about all any of these cyclist-killers ever get. Bridge Across the Ocean is dedicated to Alexander Motsenigos, who was run down by a dump-truck driver who said he didn’t see him. The grand jury let the driver walk scot-free. Not even a ticket.
This happens most of the time. My conclusion is that bicycles and cyclists aren’t given the same regard as cars. Roads are for cars, not bikes, the rationale goes, so an “accident” must be the cyclist’s fault. That’s the default position the cops and courts take.
At least it was, until COVID changed the ways we think about a lot of things. This was confirmed for me by an article in the June 5 New York Times: “Whose Streets? The Next New York Mayor Will Have to Decide.” This illuminating article points out the surge in sales of (and concomitant shortage of) bicycles, the “new normal” caused by COVID. New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio initiated the “Open Streets program, a pandemic initiative that temporarily closed up to 83 miles of streets to traffic to allow for more walking, cycling and outdoor dining.” Paris has done something similar.
Portland, Oregon, was dubbed a “platinum” bicycle-friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists, and has consistently been heralded as the nation’s most bike-friendly city by Bicycling magazine. The proof is in the numbers: cycling accidents have declined, year after year, probably due in large part to the way Portland has designated the bike lane – between the curb and the parked-car lane, so there is no exposure to moving vehicles.
I’ll be writing more about cycling safety in the months to come. If you ride a bike, keep a sharp eye peeled. If you drive a vehicle, keep a sharp eye peeled.