A Rational Response To A Tragedy


Background Reading

The new warnings have been painted in the bike lane. (Photos © J. Maus)

The new warnings have been painted in the bike lane.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Back in May a tragedy occurred in Portland. A woman was crushed by an 18-wheeler. The initial response was to mourn. The secondary response was to consider the conditions that lead to a tragedy that no one wants to ever see repeated. Here in Chicago our response has usually been to try and demonize the drivers in such situations and to plaster leaflets and other annoying things all around to make certain that motorists understand their liability in any accident involving a bicycle.

Portland took a different tack. They looked at the truck and realized that what it needed (in fact all trucks needed) a secondary mirror on the passenger side to cover the “blind spot” inherent in the design of many truck cab hoods. Next they took the extraordinary step of letting cyclists know that besides having trucks outfitted with these secondary mirrors and side panels to keep riders from being caught under the wheels, they needed to be aware of the situation to avoid letting it happen again.

This is how all cycling communities should respond to these tragedies. It is generally a two-way street when a cyclist collides with a motor vehicle. And barring situations where a motorist is simply driving impaired or is physically unable to control their vehicle, we need to find out what exactly makes cyclists “invisible” to them.

Everyone knows that being visible by wearing bright colored clothing and using lights and reflectors are smart things to do. In fact using reflectors and lights are often part of the vehicle code as it applies to bicycles. But reflective vests, gloves, helmets and other items also help. But again we have riders who should know better who defend their right to ride “ninja” while trying to blame motorists for every tragedy that occurs.

This is not only unfair but stupid, stupid, stupid. We cyclists need to take responsibility for ourselves and always assume that we are indeed invisible to motorists whether they be underway on the road or stepping out of a vehicle. After all any time a motorist is relying on a mirror to see behind them (and in most situations that is a must) they run the risk of not having the mirror aimed at the cyclist. And thus the cyclist is “invisible“.

We ought to spend far less time considering how and where to erect ghost bikes and far more time on preventing the need for them in the first place. Cyclists have far more time to react than do motorists in times of peril and far fewer distractions to deal with when riding on a bicycle. They are their own best defense. Never, ever rely on a motorist for anything having to do with your personal safety. Assume they are completely devoid of understanding of what their actions mean to your personal safety.

And finally, never ever do things that drivers are not expecting. Signal at all times your intentions, even if they should be obvious. Never ever run a red light or blow a stop sign because drivers will not expect this behavior. And by the time they recognize you riding towards them in the lefthand turn lane as you seek to traverse an intersection it might be too late. Safety is your number one priority, not reaching your destination quickly.

If get someplace quickly is however your number one priority, then the bicycle might not be the vehicle of choice. This is especially true if you are traveling many miles to your destination.