Being Trendy And Ignorant Can Get You Killed…


Active Transportation Alliance

Every time a cyclist dies from injuries sustained in a collision with an automobile or truck we generally read that it is the lack of sufficient infrastructure that creates the problems. A recent ChainLink response to a terrible cyclist vs. truck encounter reads like this:

Reply by Active Transportation Alliance 15 hours ago
We just posted this blog (below) and sent an email to the reporter. We have not been contacted by any other news outlets.

So sad, my heart is heavy, and I’ll be offering silent thoughts to this person and their family on my ride home tonight.

Ethan Spotts, Active Trans

Submitted by espotts on Wed, 10/31/2012 – 3:33pm
One death is too many

Another person has died on Chicago’s streets in traffic. Nearly every day, people are killed or injured when walking or biking, and today a family is mourning someone who won’t be coming home.

We urge everyone, no matter how you are getting around, to obey the rules of the road and respect each other as people, real people. Those other people in cars or riding bikes or walking across the street are someone’s mother, daughter or aunt…just like you are to your family.

The news coverage will call this an “accident,” but it’s really a fatal crash. Crashes are preventable by safe choices, obeying the law, and by engineering streets to be safe for everyone using them.

It’s tragic that someone lost their life in a crash today.

Our thoughts are with the family that is mourning this unfortunate loss of life.

Pay close attention to this sentence:

“Crashes are preventable by safe choices, obeying the law, and by engineering streets to be safe for everyone using them”.

It says all the right things but frankly the emphasis for ChainLinkers is on two things:

  • The culpability of the driver of the truck
  • Getting more infrastructure that will prevent this sort of thing from happening

Take for instance this response from the owner of the ChainLink:

Reply by Julie Hochstadter 11 hours ago

I feel that at the least this should be reckless homicide or something, not just a ticket, right? If you kill someone, even if not intentional, you should not just get a ticket. As we were discussing last night at the bike share public input meeting, in the Netherlands if a car hits a cyclist, the penalties are very steep, much steeper than here.

From the Illinois General Assembly – (720 ILCS 5/9-3) (from Ch. 38, par. 9-3)
Sec. 9-3. Involuntary Manslaughter and Reckless Homicide.
(a) A person who unintentionally kills an individual without lawful justification commits involuntary manslaughter if his acts whether lawful or unlawful which cause the death are such as are likely to cause death or great bodily harm to some individual, and he performs them recklessly, except in cases in which the cause of the death consists of the driving of a motor vehicle or operating a snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle, or watercraft, in which case the person commits reckless homicide. A person commits reckless homicide if he or she unintentionally kills an individual while driving a vehicle and using an incline in a roadway, such as a railroad crossing, bridge approach, or hill, to cause the vehicle to become airborne.
We have a long way to go people…..

She makes mention of the penalties that would have been leveled in the Netherlands. There bicycle vs. motor vehicle intersections are rarer because the type of infrastructure they build there is vastly different from the paltry pretty green paint on the ground stuff we are currently pushing as a solution to our vehicular problems.

But at least two cities (Portland and New York) which already have the kind of infrastructure we are slated to receive but still have right hook issues despite their improve situations:

The second of these two situations is quite interesting. First the driver left the scene of the accident because he never even knew it had occurred. The victim in this instance was the sister-in-law of a very prominent Harvard Law School professor. So you would think that there might be a steeper curve for the trucker to surmount to reach an acquittal in such a high profile case.

But in both situations the prosecutors realized that what is at fault here is something that left neither the victim nor the driver at fault. Everyone was doing what could be expected of them under the circumstances. The cyclist was in her lane waiting for a light. The driver was checking his mirrors to see if a turn was possible without inflicting injury and yet injuries resulting in death occurred.

But the ChainLink crowd wants a stiffer penalty (i.e. sentence):

Reply by Michelle Stenzel 44 minutes ago
OK, someone with more legal training than me please help me understand this statute. First sentence: If you use a MV to kill someone unintentionally through recklessness, then it is not called involuntary manslaughter, but is instead called reckless homicide. Second sentence: Reckless homicide occurs when a person driving a vehicle goes airborne and through that action, kills someone else.

So it’s only reckless homicide if a Dukes of Hazzard move is involved in the crash? I must be missing something.

The overarching narrative for this group is that always the bigger vehicle is the culprit. This simply is not true and never has been and never will be. If you buy into their narrative of more and more bike lanes and if possible buffered ones at that you would still get the same result as the two cases above illustrate.

Getting tougher with motorists in situations like this is simply not the answer. Einstein explained this sort of behavior thusly:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

–Albert Einstein

More often than not the real culprit is ignorance in traffic situations like this. It falls to the cyclist and the state to understand the underlying causes and to act accordingly.

The state in the above two crushing accidents realized that the “blind spot” for drivers of trucks was a problem. However despite the training of the trucker and the equipping of his rig he did not have mirrors in the proper position for making righthand turns with bicyclists waiting patiently in the very position allocated for them by the cycling advocacy community that it for lobbied long and hard.

Not one single respondent to the thread on the ChainLink (at least that I noticed) understood the problem from the proper perspective. Had they however even been remotely interested in learning the things taught in a typical Vehicular Cycling course they would have. Instead what we are going to see is yet another push for a memorial service and stickers and flyers to hand out and video cameras to pose for when of course it is too late to have saved a life.

Now Is The Time To Act!

The problem we face is that we are top-heavy on the activist end of the equation and woefully under-developed on the Vehicular Cycling front. We have accepted the European notion that Vehicular Cycling is a cult:

My take on this response from Europeans runs along these lines:

  • Americans are cheapskates. We know this. Tea Party members are always going on about eliminating taxes, which of course pay for cycling infrastructure. So we have accepted DOS rather than Windows 8 or better yet the Mac OS where our bicycle infrastructure is concerned. We will avoid biting the cost bullet by trying to shoe horn in pretty green lanes with PVC pipes used as dividers and pat one another on the back for having gotten the job done. Our cycling advocacy groups will send out more letters asking for our input (so that they know which hot buttons to push for greater donations) and young starry eyed activists who work for these groups will feel superior in the knowledge that they have brought change to the planet.
  • Vehicular Cyclists are hard-nosed. John Forester raised objections to bike trails (not actually bike lanes) because he saw issues with the situations created where trails crossed streets. There were inevitably accidents that occurred under those circumstances. But even more important was the fact that attempting to commute to work meant using streets that actually went somewhere. But with no real European-style infrastructure in place it also meant learning to deal with what you had, namely riding in traffic. This seemed foolish to the Europeans who had seen and created Bicycle Heaven, but it was a necessary step if you were going to actually use the streets.
  • Boub Exposed The Reality of Second Class Status for cyclists. Here in Illinois we had a case that exposed the fact that we cyclists were not “intended users” of streets in many areas. It would seem that our legislators could not see any benefit in exposing themselves to financial liability pressures by agreeing that people riding bikes on streets had a legitimate reason for being there. A reason that should have been protected and in fact encouraged since it meant that we were helping ourselves by engaging in healthy exercise while at the same time reducing our dependence on foreign oil and minimizing the impact on the roadway surfaces as compared to cars and trucks.
  • Americans Dine Ala Carte On European Thinking. What has happened however is that despite the European thinking on the values of Critical Mass have been largely ignored. Instead we have blithely continued with an outmoded tactic which does nothing more than provide a monthly outlet for stressed out urban cyclists who need relief from the stresses of dealing with city traffic. But we have adopted as Bud Lite version of the European thinking on bicycle infrastructure and have run willy-nilly into the arms of a monster of our own creation.
  • And we are looking for someone to blame. We cyclists are capable of acting more entitled than any of the royals beheaded during the French Revolution. Everyone who drives a motor vehicle is clearly the spawn of Satan. Every accident is clearly a cause to slay the combustion engine economy by leveling penalties that are onerous. You can almost smell the stench of our collective breathe as we stand over the hapless trucker who (despite doing everything by the book) managed to run over one of our own. What we are oblivious to is that we put the cyclist herself in harms way by creating a solution which has its own problems.
  • American will refuse to confront the Real Enemy, ourselves. We are going to walk away from the tragedies of this week and weeks before looking for blood. We are going to demonize at every opportunity any attempt to resurrect the collective knowledge embedded in organizations that promote Vehicular Cycling. Our cycling advocacy leaders are going to tell us to pay no attention to that man behind the curtain and instead to keep our eyes on all the pretty green lanes with white plastic separators that the Mayor has created and push for even more.
  • You Cannot Legislate Away Problems. In the final analysis you will never be able to create enough laws to prevent bad things from happening. That does not mean you should not try. But in the interim it is wise to equip cyclists with the knowledge about trucks that has never been hidden from them, only ignored. We love to speak in lofty terms about trying to educate drivers of motor vehicles. How about ourselves? Do we really believe that the essence of good behavior on our roadways is ignorance of dangers and the practicing of scofflaw cycling behaviors. Is it really the case that more urban cyclists know about the justifications for rolling through red light and stop signs to maintain momentum than they do about avoid riding alongside trucks while in the bike lane?
  • The single most import piece of cycling equipment is the mirror. I think having a handlebar mirror is extremely important. But having one that we gaze into daily when asking about our own responsibilities and actions is even more crucial if we are to keep ourselves alive on these mean streets. Let’s agree to drop the activist posturing and the handing out of placards to those who “toe our party line” and “mouth our narratives” regarding the mean and evil motoring public and “get real”. We need to “wake the f*ck up” and call out bad cyclist behavior and demand of our cycling advocates more than just promises of the application of pretty green paint to our road surfaces. Did any of them anticipate this truck “blind spot” problem when they hurriedly mandated bike lanes? Why not? If these guys were plumbers wanted to work on my home I would check them out on Angie’s List. Judging from what I have seen their reviews would be as dismal as the ones I give to their ride marshals.


I am more than tired of the posturing out of advocacy group who never seem to not have their hands out for donations. Every time they get a chance to pat themselves on the back for putting in yet another green lane they take it. Otherwise, like political fundraisers, their jobs would have no income stream for support.

I want them to come clean on what these lanes are going to mean. I want them to acknowledge that what we are getting is not the same as nor as good as what the Europeans brag about. We keep taking politicians on junkets to Copenhagen and Amsterdam and with good reason. We want them to get a glimpse of the vision that is Bicycle Heaven. But when they return stateside everyone gives a wink and nudge and nobody tells the truth about the reality of what we are really getting. They want us to spend even more money only to have to do what Seattle is about to do and that is toss in the towel and pony up for more meaningful infrastructure.

We are being raped and they know it. But they are unwilling to tell us the truth because they fear that we cannot handle it. Jack Nicholson would be proud to have written that last line. But I think they are wrong! If we know what to expect from the pretty green lanes then fine, bring on the good and bad news. But at least do not wring your hands publicly for setting up a situation that you know will fail at times and then point the finger at the truckers alone. That is patently unfair and biased. It merely fuels the already highly contagious atmosphere between cyclists and motorists.

We need to embrace Vehicular Cycling as a means of educating ourselves. There are always going to be situations where the very best cycling infrastructure possible has unintended consequences. We need self-knowledge to avoid falling prey to them. In the meantime we need to push the American people to get ready to pay for “adult-style infrastructure”. And even then we need to warn them that as problems arise we are going to have to do the very same things we have done with our superhighways. Namely incorporate the latest testing and information into the next round of infrastructure changes. This is going to be an ongoing process and it will be painful.

There will be more deaths despite out best efforts. But we can minimize the number of deaths by equipping people to ride in a thoughtful way and not simply relying on the presence of a bike lane to keep us safe. That way lies insanity.