is it OK to kill cyclists?

Posted on November 20th, 2013

Apparently so.

Did you happen to read about the recent cyclist killing in San Francisco where a woman was killed by a motorist, sparking a protest when the driver wasn’t prosecuted due to police not finding any surveillance footage of the incident? Phew. That was a sentence! And how the police officer in charge parked his squad car in the exact same bike lane where the killing happened when he came to berate the protesters? Which then led to the protesters digging up the footage themselves in less than 10 minutes that showed the driver was in the wrong?

Image via Sydney Cycleways

Image via Sydney Cycleways

Well, it sparked a lot of discourse in the US about cyclists’ rights, highlighting this extraordinary fact:

there’s not been a single prosecution of a driver for killing a cyclist in the US to date, outside of cases where the driver was DUI or did a hit and run.

In other words, where a driver was in the wrong, but wasn’t drunk and didn’t flee, but killed a cyclist, they got off with – at worst – a $42 ticket for an unsafe lane change. Seriously. How can this be?

The bad blood with cyclists is so ingrained that police don’t want to investigate the crimes, juries don’t want to convict and the general population want the whole issue to go away…and to just blame the cyclist and deem us all a bunch of righteous granola-chewing pains in the asses.

Which is just plain dumb. As I tell anti-bike people, why are you complaining? Every cyclist on the road is one less car holding you up at traffic lights! Cities can’t sustain any more car traffic. Bikes are the future. They have to be. As a New York Times columnist wrote last week,

“Cycling isn’t sky diving. It’s not just thrill-seeking or self-indulgence.
It’s a sensible response to a changing transportation environment with a clear social upside in terms of better public health, less traffic and lower emissions.”

The blind-sidedness of our culture is illustrated by this, too. New York cyclist Casey Neistat was recently fined $50 for not riding in a bike lane. He made the point that the bike lane was clogged, but the policeman told him he “ALWAYS” needed to be in the bike lane. His point was ignored. So he made this incredibly powerful video

This is kind of what cyclists are having to do – make their point, so that the atmosphere can shift. We have to do it ourselves because the rest of our community is moving too slow.

This means building a good impression, too. This video by Sydney Cycleways inviting us to cycle graciously is right on. Cyclists can’t be expected to be taken seriously if they don’t play the car game.

I also do this thing. It’s possibly a bit naughty. But a point needs to be made in the absence of a police force or culture that’s happy to support me. When I get cut off in a bike lane or by (invariably) a cab turning left, I bang the car with my fist. Loud and hard, although not enough to cause damage. From inside the car it sounds like I’ve been hit. Ostensibly I’m alerting the driver, “back off”. But I know I’m also shocking them, hopefully into thinking about the consequences of their behaviour, which I think they’re shut off from, hermetically sealed as they are in their safe, climate-controlled chassis.

I also do this. Again, naughty. When a driver tosses a cigarette butt from their window and it nearly takes out an eye, I pick up said butt and toss it back through their window. I’ve done this a few times over the years. Ostensibly I’m returning something they seem to have dropped.

Perhaps I am just a granola-chewing pain the ass…

If you’re keen to do some more reading, check out this article on putting an end to cycle rage from The Guardian.

What do you do to make a point? Do cyclists shit you? Can you see that we need to all work together on this because it is the future?

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  • helena

    I’m from Sweden originally where everybody has got a bike and a lot of people use their bikes instead of taking their car or catching a bus. I love this! But there are bike lanes pretty much everywhere (and I can’t remember ever getting a ticket, or anyone I know for that matter, for not being in the bike lane). But I have to say that I here, in Sydney, am scared to use my bike and it scares me to pass cyclists in the street too. There are not a lot of bike lanes here and really I don’t think cyclists should be in the same lanes as the cars, it’s too dangerous. Cyclists are not always riding safe either or considering the cars around them. I don’t pass them until I know I have enough space to go around them, but often I see cyclists (and motorists for that matter) who really don’t give a damn if they get in the way of the cars or put them selves in danger (and I see a lot of drivers not caring if the put the cyclists in danger either). What I wish is that there were safe bicycle lanes everywhere so that it would be safe (or safer) to ride a bike in this city because we need less cars on the roads and we could all use a bit more exercise:). How to make this happen I’m not sure, but this is my wish (I miss riding my bike everywhere!!).

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  • helena

    I couldn’t agree more, well said:)!

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  • Hanna

    Yes! The best drivers are cyclists!

    And yes, once you get inside a car you are driving a large metal object that is more than capable of killing. For sure cyclists can kill or injure as well – but nothing like a car.

    I am sure my many, many years on the road on a bike, often with my tiny daughter on the back, informs how careful I am when driving. I don’t care who’s in the wrong or the right, in my car, I have the power of life and death, so it’s my responsibility to watch more carefully.

    I berate car drivers when I’m on my bike, I berate car drivers in my car, I berate other bike riders when I’m on my bike (particular bugbear is cyclists who don’t obey traffic signals on shared roads – you undermine us all – if the light’s red, stop and wait. Or get the fuque off your bike and walk through the red light on the footpath) people need to realise whatever vehicle they are using that road safety depends on everyone sharing and watching out for each other. And for car drivers to realsie that the greater the power, the greater the responsibility.

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  • Anna J

    Amen!

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  • http://www.lilapud.com Miss Lilapud

    Wholeheartedly agree with your view Lou. Thank you for sharing that.

    I have to admit I am extremely impatient with cyclists – but not those who are cycling as a mode of transport – all respect to those who do that. But the MENIL and now WOMENIL who take over whole lanes of roads when tax and insurance paying motorists are trying to get to work etc. … this is testing. In my view, it is absolutely inappropriate that our roads should be used for recreational purposes. I am working on accepting it because where I live, it is rife.
    But for the sake of argument, would it be acceptable if there were 50 skateboarders taking up a whole lane of traffic to the city at 6.30am or 7am, when there are only 2 lanes, so leaving just one for the motorists? Or say 50 people playing soccer, or horse riding? Why then is it acceptable that recreational cyclists get to do it. They are unidentifiable, and btw – often seriously aggressive.
    I don’t think it is ok for anyone to bang on my car, no matter who thinks they are right or wrong. It’s not cool and it can cause an accident, not to mention damage.
    I’m not saying that cars should be allowed to do the things they do that make you bang on their car Sarah, not at all, but I think there could be better ways to deal with it. Certainly bringing it up on your blog is a good idea to raise awareness and get people thinking. But I wonder what your idea of ‘not enough to cause damage’ is when you say ”I bang the car with my fist. Loud and hard, although not enough to cause damage” – it’s all relative, and I would be a bit worried about encouraging this kind of behaviour – not that I’m saying you are. However the cigarette butt thing I’m totally with you on! But you’re brave!!

    I have been run into by a careless cyclist – she ran into my car, did over $2,000 worth of damage, and I was left with the bill. She didn’t even offer or give her name. Or an apology. I had 3 separate people come up to me at the time and give me their contact details saying I was totally the victim as she cycled across lanes and straight into my passenger door!!! But it’s up to ME, paying my car insurance to cover HER carelessness! That’s fugged up man!
    It happened to a friend of mine too, a teenager cycled up onto his wind screen, wrecked the whole bonnet and cracked the glass. Yes, yes, lucky no one was killed – the cyclist could have killed the driver in this case too, but luckily not. Just maybe the driver’s insurance premium goes up, and definitely the driver has to take the time out to follow up on getting their car fixed up, calling the insurance company, going through what happened, giving details, being put on hold blah blah blah …intersting that the driver have to do all this! And then be without transport for a week or two while the car gets fixed, and all the inconveniences that this causes in the driver’s household …

    So here’s how I see it, if cyclists want to use the road, then they could:
    1. Be required to get a bike license – fair is fair.
    2. Be identifiable – be registered & WEAR some kind of rego/ID that can be seen.
    3. Get insurance. So cyclists have cover for themselves AND if they damage someone else/someone else’s car.
    4. Possibly pay road tax, it costs money to have those cycle lanes painted in!

    I’m being a little facetious with this last point, but I’m putting it there for argument’s sake. Personally, it’s not something I would go out and protest for, but the other points I definitely would. If cyclists want to have a chance to be treated equally then it seems reasonable that they register for the game – and that doesn’t necessarily mean that they must pay.

    Recreational cyclists, I’d prefer if you went to the velodrome to train, or the park or anywhere that’s off the busy and already stressful roads, and yes … out of my way! SO I understand that this is something I need to come to terms with and accept, as I can only change my perception of how I choose to respond to it. Because it’s not gojng away – if anything its getting worse. I find it challenging, but I do look at it as a good lesson for me to learn ‘acceptance of what is’, and hope someday I will be free from my attachment to what is ‘right’ or ‘fair’ or ‘acceptable’ … and I’ll just get over it!!

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  • eliza

    I also do a similar “slap” to cars who cut me off or double park/ block bike lanes. For those cars cutting corners (and nearly cutting ME!) I wave my pointed finger in a school masterly fashion – seems to communicate the point most effectively!

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  • tess

    On a whole, I think a little more education for drivers to know cyclists’ rights and sensible driving etiquette while on the roads together might benefit the road community as a whole. Education is key, and a good attitude. Knowing you have right of way on a roundabout doesn’t mean its safe for you to go. Blaming someone else when you could have avoided the problem is a vicious cycle too

    Can we not be courteous to others? Conscious of our surroundings? Would you sue a tree if it fell down and caused an accident? No?? SO BE AWARE!
    Its seems like common sense but I wonder how many people actually use it in todays world.
    Kudos for being fit and lessening pollution xx

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  • Sarah L

    I agree – cycling is the future! I’m not a cyclist myself, and I understand as a non-cyclist, I can be pretty clueless (though I try very hard not to be!) The first time I encountered bike lanes was in Europe and I had never heard of them…until almost being run down trying to take a picture (see? clueless!)

    But, stateside, I often see what you refer to as cyclists not “playing the car game.” And that is when I have a problem. Not so much with cycling, but those particular cyclists who will blatantly disregard the rules of the road they so want to be take seriously in, like, running red lights – I’ve almost seen a few accidents when this has been done.

    A friend even tried to rationalize running red lights – “Well, you can usually see on a bike whether traffic is coming or not.” Maybe so, but I agree – we *ALL* need to respect the rules AND each other for this to work. And I really do want it to work! I hope to live closer to a city, and would love to utilize a bike! But from what I have seen of American city biking/driving, it can make me a bit hesitant. I certainly think, even as a driver, it would be very beneficial to learn (re-learn?) the rights of cyclists – for drivers and cyclists alike!

    As for your techniques to raise awareness, I highly approve! Just hope it’s never my car you’re banging on! (Because I truly try to always be aware of bikes, motorbikes and motorcycles, and that would be one helluva fail!)

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