The ‘Unavoidable’ Crash

Background Reading



Jill Tarlov and Jason Marshall



A cyclist hits and kills a pedestrian. This is something that was once thought to be as rare as a ‘man biting a dog‘. There are articles which go into great lengths to prove that ‘cars kill, bicycles don’t‘.

This sort of logic is often developed in a vacuum where pedestrians never enter the equation. But we now know that they do. One famous ethicist for the New York Times penned this missive on his views that scofflaw behavior by motorists vs. cyclists could not be compared. The notion was that when a motorist runs a red light or a stop sign they have the power to kill. But a cyclist can only harm himself doing the same sorts of things. We now know that too was an inaccurate solution to a very troubling equation.

Jason Marshall writes to those who will listen (regarding his collision with Jill Tarlov) in Central Park this past fall, this way:

I am deeply, deeply saddened about the accidental collision that I had with Ms. Jill Tarlov last week and her subsequent passing. I am utterly devastated. Please know that this was an unavoidable accident. I extend my deepest sympathies to Mr. Wittman and his entire family. Since the day of the accident, I and my family have been in constant prayer for her and her family. This is the deepest of pain. It is the deepest of tragedies.

This sounds eerily familiar to the explanation given by the Wheeling Police Department when an officer in ‘hot pursuit‘ of a speeding motorist hit and killed Fredi Morales:

The Lake County Major Crash Assistance Team has released the details of a report on a fatal crash involving a police vehicle in northwest suburban Wheeling last year, calling the accident “unavoidable.”

Bicyclists will want to ignore the pleas of a fellow cyclist and instead focus on the death of a pedestrian by a speeding squad car. But that would be as usual quite unfair.

Nothing about being on roadways is ever quite what it seems. We cyclists like however to jump to the conclusion that under no circumstances are motorists ever allowed to use the ‘I did not see him‘ defense. For many cyclists (even those who might be labeled, ‘moderates‘) this is considered a clear admission of guilt. And yet that is far too simplistic.

We claim to want to have motorists take notice of us. But when a legislator decides to mandate the use of high-visibility clothing not unlike that required of highway workers and police, we as a group, balk at the idea. For some reason we assume a position on external controls that is always antagonistic. Fair enough.

But why then do we attempt to demand that drivers accept external controls which we utterly dismiss as either unnecessary or an infringement on our personal liberties? I cannot answer that, save to say that when it comes down to it we are far more like the Tea Party than anyone would care to admit.

When it comes to things like climate change, vaccinations and the like (which are the bugaboo or Conservatives) we are as stubborn and dismissive of licensing and registration as they are of their pet peeves. It is as if somewhere in the not too distant past our bloodlines crossed.

Wisconsin Will Prove A Bellwether 

Chicago's Cycling Movement Issues A Leftist Manifesto

Chicago’s Cycling Movement Issues A Leftist Manifesto

Chicago is in the midst of a hotly contested mayoral contest. We have already weathered a Democratic loss of the Governor’s seat. The Urban Cycling Movement is about to discover what the ‘real world‘ looks and smells like. It is about to have their Manifesto come back to haunt them. That is a good thing. It will build character and hopefully bring some semblance of understanding of the nature of their overwhelmingly infinitesimal popularity with the general motoring public. That alone will mean that to get anything done in a GOP-controlled Congress they are going to have to do much more than run fundraisers disguised as surveys hosted by Active Transportation Alliance and instead learn how to compromise.

The same is going to be true of the Faithful members of the Church of Urban Cycling who worship in Wisconsin. All of the old solutions (like raising taxes on gasoline) are going to look pretty pointless when all that sort of thing does is diminish the number of miles driven and thus reduce the size of the slush fund normally available for trails and bicycle infrastructure improvement.

Instead we are going to have to make a clear commitment to things like BikeShare which evidently is not a good enough idea to be sustainable even in a city like Copenhagen:

So if it cannot survive there of what possible purpose is it in America? That is a question the Faithful will have to answer for themselves. If we want the rest of society to feel as we do that bicycle infrastructure is important and worth the investment, we may have to actually use the BikeShare service in our own home towns. We may have to learn to support the fledgling bike co-ops that teach young people the value of work. And we may have to do that by deciding to spend our money where our hearts are said to be, rather than slake our thirsts for alcoholic beverages.

It is high time that this movement exited the petulant teenager phase and entered the recent college graduate phase where we are looking to sell ourselves as willing workers in an enterprise. Where what we want is subjugated to the Greater Good. And where we stop trying to equate the Greater Good with what we want.