Dressing Ourselves As The ‘Victim’

Background Reading

Nice Piece from NYT on Dangers of Bike Riding…
Posted by jolondon30 on September 19, 2014 at 5:45am

She was doing all the right things in the morning commute, traveling in the
bike lane, wearing a helmet, following the rules of the road. In an instant,
Sher Kung — new mother, brilliant attorney, avid cyclist — was struck and
killed by a vehicle making a turn in downtown Seattle last month.
At the scene, the truck driver wept and swore he never saw her.

Death on a Bike http://nyti.ms/1r5nWiw

Reply by h’ 1.0 2 hours ago
Not sure Jo… there’s a bit of lip service to “blame the system” but the overall flavor that lingers after reading is “blame the cyclist” IMO.

Reply by Andy Moss 9.5 51 minutes ago

I agree with h’. The take-away is that no matter what you do right as a cyclist, you are putting your life in danger. That is of course true for any activity that takes place on roads traversed by multi-ton vehicles with hundreds of horsepower piloted by human beings. The question it does not answer–the question that is so rarely raised in media reporting of bike accidents–is what does it mean to say “I swear I did not see him/her”? To me, that is an admission of negligence. It doesn’t mean the driver is a bad person; it just means that the driver did not fulfill his or her duty to keep a lookout for other users of the road. And the point is that the police who ticket or seek charges and the courts that determine liability (and the insurers of the drivers) continue to misinterpret “I swear I did not see him/her” to fortuitousness, so that no one ought to be responsible.

Reply by Anne Alt 24 minutes ago
I had a similar feeling after reading it. Andy captured the essence of one of the biggest problems we need to overcome – as a culture and legally.

The question it does not answer–the question that is so rarely raised in media reporting of bike accidents–is what does it mean to say “I swear I did not see him/her”? To me, that is an admission of negligence. It doesn’t mean the driver is a bad person; it just means that the driver did not fulfill his or her duty to keep a lookout for other users of the road. And the point is that the police who ticket or seek charges and the courts that determine liability (and the insurers of the drivers) continue to misinterpret “I swear I did not see him/her” to fortuitousness, so that no one ought to be responsible.

Reply by Jeff Hazzard 18 minutes ago
Such a sad loss of Sher Kung. Thank you for bringing this tragedy to our attention.

Having the mayor of Seattle attend her memorial ride is an implicit admission that she was not protected by a failed infrastructure when she could and should have been.

Urban cycling is dangerous….and our ranks represent a disproportionate number of road injuries and fatalities. Cycling wants to blossom in urban America, even in inhospitable weather places like Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, and Seattle. At least old urban cities have a chance to accommodate the revolution to the pedal (pun, get it?). Sunbelt cities are sprawling and, more or less, hopeless.

BUT, untold thousands more would start bike-commuting if they felt safe.

Infrastructure is key. Mayor Emanuel and Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld are earnestly trying, but we are 40 years behind in development of cycling infrastructure. Good thing is that motorist awareness in Chicago (except sometimes out of town visitors) is actually pretty good. Bikes are seen enough that most have started to look for them. We would become a leading cycling city if we invested in making ourselves into one.

IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME. Milwaukee Avenue is proof of that.

Reply by Tom A.K. 47 minutes ago
“Glorious to have the wind in your face,
gliding along, an act of faith,
beating the odds, change in a flash !”
Timothy Egan
Our vulnerability on two wheels indeed !

Reply by Kevin C 46 minutes ago
Milwaukee Avenue was a popular and well-traveled cycling route long before the introduction of a protected bike lane. Some have even suggested (myself included), that Milwaukee Avenue was a BETTER cycling route prior to the introduction of a protected bike lane.

Reply by Jeff Schneider 19 minutes ago
The Op-Ed concludes by advising us that, “The thing to do is to realize how vulnerable you are whenever two wheels try to share a road meant for four wheels.”

This echoes what former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (in)famously said: “What I compare bike lanes to is swimming with the sharks. Sooner or later you’re going to get bitten… Roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks, not for people on bikes. My heart bleeds for them when I hear someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”

What are we to conclude? Mayor Ford (and his ilk) would say that people who want to bike in streets, or walk across them, should give up those silly notions. I would conclude instead that our communities become grim places indeed when we cannot safely traverse them without two tons of metal armor, and that the mindset that roads are and must be only for the glorification of the auto needs to change.

You really cannot have it both ways. You cannot complain about the dangerous drivers you encounter and then complain when someone agrees with you that roads a designed for motor vehicles and not bikes. That is patently obvious. What is not quite so obvious is the notion being sent that once a bit of bicycle infrastructure is installed, all is well and good, it is not.

Beer tastes great. But like all alcohol its use has some downsides. That is not something that we should ever argue about. It is fact. The same holds true for streets and bikes. Being honest about the dangers of alcohol does not make you ‘anti-alcohol‘ it makes you rational. What is not rational is to treat the use of alcohol as ‘some sort of sport‘. And yet the ChainLink has groups whose sole purpose is to do just that.

Reply by jolondon30 8 minutes ago
at work now but I want to reread it later with your comments in mind. I read it somewhat differently but perhaps your interpretation captures it.

Never let peer pressure reshape your thinking. That is about as meaningful as having your friends choose your spouse for you.

Reply by David P. 5 minutes ago
Awareness of your own vulnerability does not imply blaming anyone for anything. Motorcycle riders – smart ones, anyway – are well aware of their vulnerability vs. other vehicles; I think smart bicycle riders in urban environments full of cars and trucks are, too. I’d rather be alive than right.


Reply by Tricolor 16 hours ago
Particularly the nasty stretch of Dearborn north of the river with a left side bike lane and lots of left turning traffic. When’s State Street going to be finished, by the way? I really don’t like going in to work down Wabash in the morning.

Reply by clp 2 hours ago
Trucks represent a hidden danger to cyclists: the elevated chassis, big double-wheels, and open sides create a “cave of death” for anyone who might weave or fall in there when sideswiped or even passed too closely.

See a big truck behind you? Take the lane, and block him from passing until YOU’RE ready.

BTW the Comments section of the NYTimes article is amusing reading; strong PRO and CON opinions display ignorance on both sides.

Reply by h’ 1.0 15 minutes ago
So the cyclist killed by the driver who “didn’t see her” in the OP’s linked article died because she was not smart?

Reply by yai danche 8 hours ago
I didn’t see her/him really means I didn’t look, I didn’t check. As far as I know people can’t turn invisible and Chicago Bike Law blog has pointed out that this is not a legal excuse. I haven’t taken driver’s ed in a while but I hope instructors teach people to check for bikes. By the way this is why I always wear a helmet, not because I believe it provides protection. But because I want to do “everything right” like the article described. I would hate being reported as “not wearing a helmet” should I ever die in a bike collision.

I would love to see instructors teach cyclists to check for trucks and automobiles as well. And especially how to avoid ‘Door Zone Collisions‘ and ‘Right Hooks’.

Reply by Tom A.K. 8 hours ago
I didn’t see the bicyclist your honor“. If I was a juror in a traffic/personal injury trial, sorry, you’re guilty of negligence.

Reply by Andy Moss 9.5 6 hours ago
NYC, and especially its police, have now forgotten all about Ms. Kung (and the nearly 5,000 pedestrians killed and nearly 50,000 pedestrians injured by motor vehicles in the US each year), because this (I won’t link to the NY Post):


If what is being reported about this guy is true, he’s a massive dick, and the media will hold all cyclists responsible for his behavior. I also have no doubt the police, the insurance companies and the courts will have little trouble finding liability, even though he “did not intend to do it.”

That the media return the favor that cyclists bestow on all motorists who collide with pedestrians only seems fair.

Reply by Anne Alt 5 hours ago
Our biggest nightmare as a community. *headdesk*

Reply by Mike Zumwalt 4 hours ago
It’s sad but if that road has the nickname of “the road of death” I would be extra cautious and even avoid it unless there’s no alternative.

I’ve been on a bike for 10+ years (car free) and when I owned a car would ride around NYC, Detroit and 1st,2nd ring Suburbs.

Being an avid or even an expert cyclist can never prepare you for someone making a sudden move next to you or in front.

Reply by Shawn Evans 1 hour ago
A Seattle newspaper story on the S Kung death said she was riding in a bike lane on the left side of a one way street and it was called ‘the lane of death’. Why do transportation planners think this is a good idea? People are creatures of habit.

Cars in the left (road) lane on a one way street ASSUME they’re in the left lane and can turn. They’re not going to think another vehicle is coming from behind. This is less of a problem on the right side because cars park on the right, and a motorist would be aware that a car could be coming up behind them, so they check. This is all commonly anticipated behavior, which a left bike lane goes against. You can say it’s the motorist’s fault all day & night, but it doesn’t change anything. Then Chicago puts in a 2-way bike lane on a one way street (Dearborn) on the left side. How can that not cause problems? They had the decency to give priority to bikes (green northbound at Wacker before cars), but as soon as you cross the bridge there are many cars/taxis that turn left right into the hotel! Have fun (not) biking there.

It is not just Dearborn where this has been done. Take a look at Jackson between Damen and Halsted. And people wonder why I complain that having badly conceived bicycle infrastructure is sometimes worse than having none at all.

At the outset of AIDS epidemic there were those who believed that it was a judgment from God. Slowly the epidemiologists discovered who patient ZERO was and were able to track his partners and thus map the spread of the disease. Eventually it was decided that settling on a preventative measure like the use of condoms was a sound strategy until a cure could be found.

There were actually religious leaders who did not want the training of AIDS workers and their patients to include information about these preventative measures. They were evidently far more interested in seeing people die.

Sometimes I get the feeling that the wing of the Urban Cycling Movement that is hell bent on discounting the use of training is not unlike those who held the same position about the use of condoms.

Understanding A Problem Is Not A Signal That You Condone Anything

Knowing that cycling is dangerous is not something that you have to ‘teach‘ anyone. Most of the people who are reluctant to ride on city streets know this instinctively. And yes that fear keeps the numbers of ‘converts‘ down.

But what we are facing here is not unlike the problem of ‘Door Zone Collisions‘. We know how to prevent them. We now have data you need a buffer to avoid injury.

Now what happens when you are riding a street whose bike lanes are not buffered? Well the conventional wisdom which I believe Howard is displaying (by virtue of his snarky comment above) is to continue to press for the victimization of cyclists. In essence the claim is being made that cyclists are doing everything right and when they are injured in a ‘Door Zone Collision‘ this is obviously the fault of drivers.

The training that led cyclists in the first instance to understand why they were being ‘doored‘ is what led to the introduction of ‘test lanes‘ with added space. It was done to verify that merely riding far enough to the left of vehicles did indeed remove the danger of injury and possible death.

Why was there not enough room in the first instance? I put that down to ignorance. Nobody working for the CDOT or IDOT has it in for cyclists. They simply did not understand the dynamic no doubt because they do not ride bicycles in city traffic as often as they might. But I am also guessing that lots of folks who have been lifeline commuters did not understand this well either.

What was really tragic is that they continued to dig their heels in on the question of teaching cyclists to be proactive about the situation. They kept believing that for some reason training a person was a terrible idea. It was and is not a terrible idea. Like training people to use condoms, riding out of the ‘Door Zone‘ saves lives. By having an added buffer of space we ensure than when a cyclists riding in the ‘safe space‘ he can also avoid encroaching motor vehicles from the left.

The buffered lane idea is not perfect. Of course using condoms does not always prevent STD and HIV from being transmitted. But it is a step in the right direction.

Some Urban Cycling Communities Are More Progressive Than Others

Evidently the Urban Cyclists in San Francisco are not as ‘committed to the cause‘ as the stalwarts here in Chicago. They stopped wringing their hands about the problem of ‘Right Hooks’ and found a ‘solution‘. But like condom usage there are many religious zealots in the Church of Urban Cycling who are convinced that in order for the hated motorists to get their comeuppance we must hold fast to our insistence that ‘they are the problem‘.

Any writer from anywhere who even hints at the fact that cyclists need to be proactive is somehow thought to be ‘victim blaming‘. This nonsense really is about as useful as lobbying against the Human Papillomavirus vaccine has been. If it were not so dangerous it would be humorous.

Think of it this way. Yes, if you were a Gay Rights Activist you could argue that no gay person should ever have to take extraordinary precautions and wear a condom. But you would have been wrong. You would also have been wrong had you proclaimed that no gay person’s sexual behaviors should be singled out and criticized.

The problem was that the ‘sex was unprotected‘. Bringing this fact to light and training people in the avoidance of those behaviors was not a signal that we were condemning gays. What we are doing was trying to tackle an epidemic.

By admitting that cyclists are in a dangerous environment when on streets is not somehow condemning cycling. It is being honest. By teaching people that truck drivers are helpless when making right turns because of their vehicle’s basic design is not a slippery slope towards signaling that they have no involvement in the safety of cyclists, they do.

But the person who has the greatest control of whether a Right Hook occurs or not is the cyclist, not the truck driver. The sooner we ‘get‘ this and start making waves to let others know that we do not have to be ‘victims‘ in these tragic deaths the better.

There Is Only So Much Hand Holding I am Willing To Do

The ChainLink Forum is a place where lots of the naysayers regarding training have ‘held up‘ in Alamo-style fashion. They believe themselves to be the keepers of the integrity of the movement. They are not. They are what ails the movement because of their intransigence. They are bound and determined to be the dispensers of religious dogma about what can and cannot be said to and about cyclists.

They are wrong and their foot dragging is costing lives. I would far rather be guilty of ‘calling them out‘ and even doing it rudely than to see another person die needlessly. Bicycle Infrastructure is woefully inadequate at its current stage of development. And I make that claim about what we have here in Chicago and even in Bicycle Heaven.

Until a revamping of the design for the placement of bike lanes comes along (I am a proponent of moving them to the center of the street) we will have to educate cyclists on the best work arounds to help save their lives. I understand, believe me I do, that older people like Howard have a very difficult time adapting to ideas that conflict with what they have been taught. I know that I do.

But that is why younger people are needed to keep advancing the development of things. They are often free from the old religious dogmas that are keeping us mired in death and injury. They can approach things with a clearer vision without the necessity to keep asking are my peers going to criticize me for thinking outside the box?

Anybody over the age of thirty is probably stale beyond measure when it comes to rethinking what we are doing. But fortunately some are still functioning on all cylinders and are wiling to test out things like ‘buffered bike lanes‘ and then discover that they work.

Howard if we cannot offer solutions, we need to step aside and let others make an attempt.


As a software developer I know the difficulties in getting designs ‘right‘. One of my biggest complaints about the use of so-called ‘protected bike lanes‘ is that they are:

  • placed along the sides of the roadway, when they ‘should be running down the middle
  • that riders are riding with traffic instead of against it
  • bicycles are making the same kinds of turns for left and right in the same space as large vehicles

But if you work in the legal profession it is difficult to see much beyond the assignment of blame because that is how you feed your family. When you can have a so-called ‘vulnerable user law‘ the theory is that the less vulnerable party will attempt to avoid endangering you altogether. And yet we know that even in places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam (i.e. Bicycle Heaven) deaths by right hook still happen. And yes both places have vulnerable user laws.

As good as the software is from Apple Computer I know that my iPhone 5 can still not prevent misspellings for me. Nor am I guaranteed to always dial the very number I want. And goodness knows that the Siri App is clever but is not perfect.

‘Not Seeing’ A Person Is The Problem

Any truck or even a car is limited in its ability to see what is either alongside it or behind it, once the turn is made. Most of the time when these sorts of accidents happen between motor vehicles it is always the plaint of the turning vehicle that the other guy appeared out of nowhere.

But it does not have to be a turn that reveals the limited value of rear or side view mirrors. It can happen with a simple lane change. At off ramps it is always wise to begin your signaling well before trying to take the ramp. But even then vehicles who are also moving right to take that same ramp will have to refocus their vision into the mirror behind them before chaining lanes.

Quite often their mistake is to not look again for vehicles in front of them who are also changing lanes. That is where the problem lies. People are impatient or unaware of how poorly mirrors serve their needs. So once they confirm that the roadway behind them is free of cars moving right they gun their motors and try to take the ramp. But the cars in front of them (that were not moving right when they last checked) are now moving right and suddenly there is a collision.

The Problem With Mirrors Is In Ourselves, Horatio

If you have ever worn a helmet-mounted mirror you will have immediately discovered their weaknesses:

  • it is difficult to focus on the view in the mirror without also attempting to see the mirror itself
  • it only shows you what is behind your head at a given angle. You must swivel your head to see more.
  • swiveling your head means that you no longer have a view of the ‘old area‘ and so really cannot proceed until you check again.
  • but then a regression problem erupts. You cannot keep checking each ‘old area‘ before moving

This Regression Problem is why we as automobile drivers are taught to look left, then right then look left again before proceeding. The flaw in this approach is that you really ought to look right once more but that would mean also looking left again, ad infinitum…

Solutions to the problem are what has driven the call of ‘Daylighting‘.

But real estate issues make it almost impossible to mandate this in ever instance.

Bicyclists Are The ‘Only Ones With A Clear View’

Like it or not when it comes to Right Hook Death the only folks likely to be able to prevent them are the ones who can scan the horizon without turning their heads. That means that the key to preventing right hook deaths lies with the bicyclist.

The problem here is that most Urban Cyclists have rightfully decided that being untrained reduces their liability problems in the event of collision. If they were to acquiesce to training and there were sessions during that training about how to avoid ‘right hooks‘ lawyers for the motor vehicle driver could point to their failure to execute a corrective maneuver, and they would be right.

Our liability lawyers have a great deal of complicity in this because it is to their advantage to seek damages as large as possible whenever a bicyclist is involved. And because bicycle versus pedestrian collisions are relatively rare they (at least for the moment) do not have occasion to often be defending their client against a ‘more vulnerable user‘ than themselves. But should the Urban Cycling Movement succeed in getting the participation of cyclists above the 0.6 percent level where it is now mired within the transportation landscape, that too will change.

We Need To Stop Playing The ‘Victimhood Card’

Bicycling is indeed quite dangerous, but not as dangerous as walking. What is even more startling is that riding a bicycle in Chicago is less dangerous than in Amsterdam. In fact when basing the comparison on miles per person traveled we Chicagoans have a lower mortality rate than the entirety of the Netherlands!

We need to come clean with cyclists about two things:

  • Bicyclists can indeed control their own destiny if in certain situations they know what to look for
  • Riding in ‘bike lanes‘ does not make you safe, it is not a silver bullet

All of this constant blather about whether a journalist seems to be ‘blaming the victim‘ is pointless. What is important is that we know how to protect ourselves where we can and take the appropriate measures. But that means having the opportunity to get trained. The folks who are impeding that step are the cyclists themselves.

They are vehement about not wanting to be licensed, trained and then tested. Why? I will never understand that sticking point but there it is. What I do know is that were motor vehicle drivers ever to suggest that they too did not want to be licensed, trained and tested, there would be a hue and cry from the bicycle camp that would make your ears bleed.

And suffice it to say that I find it ironic that anyone who has managed to get involved in ‘Door Zone Collisions‘ at least four times in two years is even willing to play the ‘victimhood card‘. That is in a word madness.