On Saturday afternoon a cyclist was struck and killed immediately across the street from my house. As someone who cycles almost every day through the exact same location, this has affected me greatly. It is worth noting that my neighborhood is normally safe for joggers and cyclists. It’s rare for 15 minutes to pass without at least one passing by. We have wide streets and a newly paved, dedicated bike lane. And still this.
A few minutes ago I went across the street to the site of the crash to join about 40 other cyclists who had arrived for a vigil. The only sound to break the silence was the ocassional sniffle. Then, as if to bring everything that was wrong about this situation into focus, a car traveling 20mph over the speed limit raced passed our location.
A man immediately screamed, “Slow down! You are part of the problem!” This worked him up enough to continue. “Each day, every day, all of us go through this! All of us know how close we’ve all come to being hit.”
I couldn’t agree more.
If anything is to come from this tragedy (aside from the sensationalism that it was a bishop who struck a bike-maker), it should be a discussion about the relationship between cyclists and drivers on city roads. More often than not I hear drivers complain about the aggressive nature of cyclists. They drive too fast. They veer into driving lanes. They ride on streets with little to no shoulder. They don’t care about cars.
Cyclists, however, are risking their lives whenever they climb onto a bicycle. We contend with shoulders that are often too narrow and in disrepair. Even those in good condition are often littered with broken bottles, slippery pebbles and roadkill. Cars whiz by at terrifying speeds, sometimes coming within a few inches of clipping me. Were I swerve at just the wrong time to avoid hazards like a slitted sewer grate or fruit fallen from a tree, I could die.
I have had cars drive across a bike lane to make a turn without even realizing I was there. Within the last month I almost crashed into a car door because a parked driver neglected to check her mirror before opening it into a bike lane.
I can’t say whether I’m in the minority, but I cannot recall ever having a conversation about the relationship between cars and bicycles in Driver’s Ed. This seems such a shame because the two sides so frequently seem to be at odds with one another. Motorists complain that cyclists are entitled and reckless. Cyclists complain that motorists are dangerous and oblivious.
Earlier today I was speaking with a very nice woman who lives just down the road from me. As discussion turned to the accident she commented about another local road, “I just can’t believe cyclists drive up Falls Road. It’s so dangerous. They shouldn’t do that.”
I replied, “I bike Falls all the time. If you look at the signage it is dedicated bike route.”
She said, “But it’s a two lane road with such a small shoulder. And there are so many turns. It’s too risky for bikes to be there.”
“Not if cars are going the speed limit. And cyclists try to avoid major roads when possible. They aren’t exactly fun be on. But in this case if you want to get beyond the beltway, you have maybe 4 roads total and 2 are them are so dangerous they shouldn’t even be attempted.”
I’m pretty sure this was news to her.
I will continue to ride my bike. Since I own no car, I have little other option. But every day I do so I am placing my life in the hands of drivers who may have no idea what being on a bike is like. I can only hope that the hundreds of candles and flowers adorning a lonely brick fence on Roland Avenue this freezing cold night will start to tell that story.