Who Should Get The Blame?

Background Reading



Cyclists Drivel That Should Be Reconsidered

Sometimes I wonder how much of a “full deck” we cyclists are playing with. We seem sometimes to have decided that nothing short of “zero responsibility” in the dialogue between motorists and cyclists should be attributed to us. But most of us know better.

I place the blame squarely on this new crop of “Urban Cyclists” who rather than negotiate have taken an “in your face” approach towards the motoring world and the end result is not easy to contemplate.

One of the things that really irritates me about this new wave of “activists” is that they are as arrogant and pig-headed as the Tea Party whose mentality they share. You end up with articles like that appearing in a recent letter from People for Bikes. The problem that all cycling advocacy groups face is like the one faced by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in that the “hot heads” cannot seem to understand the value of a non-violent approach.


The Ugly Truth About Cyclists

It is a bit insulting to read the words of these current “hot heads” who are attempting to align themselves with the those who have been subjugated for a century or more. It does not work with me. I am an African-American. My family and millions of others like it were denied housing, workplace entry, equal schooling, property ownership and the right to marry whom we please. I cannot think of a single thing about cyclists today that even approaches any of this. In point of fact most of the cyclists who are part of the movement are the racial sons and daughters of the Klan Members who blew up a Sunday School room to make their point about not liking people of color.

Sadly the real problem is that people who drive cars are killing each other at a rate four perhaps five times that of cyclists. It is not a problem of cyclists being “targeted” by drivers so much as it is a society of people who whether behind a wheel or a set of handlebars are bound and determined that no one should “impede their forward progress“.

Chicago's Cycling Movement Issues A Leftist Manifesto

Chicago’s Cycling Movement Issues A Leftist Manifesto

We cyclists seem hell bent on justifying our sometimes outrageous behaviors on the perceived threat we receive from motorists. Oddly enough when I climb into my automobile and enter some of the rather busy streets and highways in our area I feel that same sense of dread. People are passing to close to my car and in fact doing so without signaling lane changes. So I get the notion that being on the bike is an even more harrowing experience.

But like those folks who marched in Selma fifty-odd years ago with water canons and dogs pulling at their clothing while billy clubs rained down on them it took every degree of integrity to not respond to violent behavior with more of the same. That was the lesson of the Civil Rights Movement that appears to be lost on those who are claiming to be its spiritual heirs in the Cycling Movement.

And while not in itself a violent act, the manifestos that have been appearing in print make it clear that cyclists are dangerously close to being their own worst enemies. They are willing to “give as good as they get” and justify their response by claiming to be as much a victim as women who are raped or brutalized by their spouses or significant others or those children raped by priests.

Gimme a break! I’ll let you know when you can open your eyes to true brutality and not a moment sooner. I stood over the casket of Emitt Till as a child myself. His mother was a member of the church to which my family belonged. To try and equate the fear you feel when riding in dense traffic with what that young man experienced in the final moments of his life is a travesty.

We Have To Become The Change We Seek

There has been a near total disregard of the deaths and injuries we have inflicted on pedestrians over the years. It was not until recently that I learned about some of the horrors of bicycle-pedestrian collisions. People on foot have both died from such injuries as well as sustained brain damage that left them vegetables.

But we as a group do not like to talk about this reality. It takes away from our moment in the spotlight as the victims that we long to be in an effort to sway public opinion to “our side“. And what exactly is our side? Well it certainly is not as the group that demonstrates our sensitivity to the “vulnerable user” status of pedestrians. Instead we openly write in forums like the Chicago ChainLink about the same sorts of ugly disregard we have for pedestrians and wheelchair riders and joggers and just about anyone whom we actually propose to Taser for having the audacity to use “our bike lane“! If that sounds like a familiar response it is because it is likely what some motorists say about bicyclists.

Our reasons for not wanting people out in front of us in our lane is just as irrational as the ones motorists use when deciding to ignore our safety. Now I doubt seriously that most cyclists who express these harsh views of pedestrians actually hate people on foot. I think it is more likely that they are simply too self-absorbed with their own needs to be someplace to take the time to care for the safety of someone else. This is a human problem that transcends the kind of vehicle you are operating. Heck there are people walking the sidewalks of Chicago, New York and San Francisco who are as belligerent as any cyclist or motorist but their anger is directed at people walking their dogs too slowly or elderly couples moving into their paths or small children blindly wandering back and forth in amazement at the size of the city. These pedestrians need to slow down and smell the roses.

In fact, we all need to slow down! I propose a universal speed limit in every city and hamlet of 20 MPH. That would make collisions a less dangerous fact of life. Speed cameras should be up on every street frequented by children and their parents on foot. And bicyclists should be ticketed for breaking this limit just as should motorists.

I further propose that anybody navigating a vehicle whether human powered or otherwise, who does not come to a complete and utter stop while pedestrians are in the walkway should be fined heavily.

Cyclists must yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.

Cyclists must yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.

Cyclists and motorists share one basic commonality. They are human. There are sons-of-bitches in both camps. If we should be angry at anyone it should be those too arrogant and self-absorbed to realize that others around them are at risk. But the real irony is that the folks surrounded by metal and glass and driving with a “lead foot” are the most likely to not make it home at the end of each day.

Our transportation chaos is a universal problem, not just one which affects a single class of vehicle operators. Truck drivers, car drivers, bicycle drivers are all moving at a speed which should they be involved in a collision with anyone “not as protected” as they are can cause injury and indeed death. We cyclists need to cut the bullshit mantra that “Cars Kill, Bicycles Don’t“. We should know better by now.

How Much Blame Should We Absorb?

Riding a Strava segment known as the Castro Bomb, Chris Bucchere hit and killed a pedestrian at this intersection. (Winni Wintermeyer)

Riding a Strava segment known as the Castro Bomb, Chris Bucchere hit and killed a pedestrian at this intersection. (Winni Wintermeyer)

From my point of view there are no blameless persons riding our streets. None!

When either Joe Motorist or Chris Bucchere decides to ignore the consequences of their actions and someone is killed or maimed we all share the blame for that kind of behavior. Ours is a society that is in the midst of an epidemic of self-absorption.

It takes time to be careful. Every time a cyclist shouts “out of my way” when riding through a crosswalk filled with pedestrians he shames all of us, both cyclist and motorist alike. Every time some rock star decides to compete in a drunken drag race while he father abets this activity it shames everyone. Why on earth do we even bother buying tickets for concerts where the performer has demonstrated a disregard for his behavior? Shame on our society.

But when a person like Chris Bucchere decides that beating someone else’s time in a Strava forum is more important than watching out for “vulnerable users” and manages to kill one and muses about the loss of his favorite helmet during the crash, you can see what the real problem is here. It is selfishness.

Walt Kelly & Pogo Earth Day Poster[15]Perhaps we are too well off to not appreciate how precious life and limb really are? I don’t know. But I do know that this problem is not linked somehow to what you drive or your skin color or how much money you make. It is deeply seated in the human psyche and we need to understand that above all else.

Walt Kelly was on to something!