If you’ve checked the internets lately, you’ve seen Bike Snob NYC Eben Weiss’s Washington Post commentary circulated over all forms of social media. It speaks to who holds the safety responsibility on the streets between cars and cyclists, as well as where we’re making progress(or regress).
One “safety” innovation that’s all over the news is the Volvo reflective safety spray. I was even poised with the question about my willingness to test this product before Weiss’s article and my answer was highly skeptical.
Mrs. CiclaValley heard about the spray and was ecstatic to try it. She even wanted extra bottles to have in case she was walking. Me? Not so much.
That was where the divide set in. Her response was why do I not care about my safety? And that was Bike Snob’s point. I’ll let him describe it better than me:
The first step is passing mandatory bicycle helmet laws for adults, like the bill that’s been introduced in California (which would also require reflective clothing at night). We’re already at the point where every car-on-bike “accident” (police always assume it’s an accident; drivers are allowed unlimited “oopsies”) is always the cyclist’s fault, and where helmetlessness automatically equals guilt. That’s why whenever you read about a cyclist who’s been injured or killed, the article mentions helmets, regardless of whether this detail in any way relevant. (“The cyclist’s legs were flattened by the runaway steamroller. No criminality suspected. The victim was not wearing a helmet.”)
The dialogue that goes through many a driver’s head is, “Well, if they don’t care about wearing a helmet, then they probably don’t care about obeying any traffic laws either!”
Why is the burden of safety put far more on the victims? Do we ever say, “He deserved being hit by that Volvo driving that Ford Fiesta!” or “Why wasn’t that person wearing a bulletproof vest?”
By the way, about three times more people in this country get killed by cars than guns. Do we have an idea what the real danger is out there?
If someone told you one hundred people would die everyday doing a routine act, you would want to do something about it, right? What if making phone calls had that type of mortality rate? You would want action taken immediately.
Here’s a few simple questions that illustrate the problem. If you’re a cyclist, would you rather have a lifetime supply of reflective spray or cars driving at the speed limit? Would you feel safer with a mandatory helmet law or stronger cell phone enforcement?
All these safety suggestions for cyclists only offer a nominal improvement at best. It still comes down to whether the driver of a two ton vehicle decides to operate it properly. Where should the onus of safety lie?
This isn’t just a cycling issue, as traffic deaths affect all that use the road. London and New York both lowered their speed limits as part of a global initiative called Vision Zero. Even Mayor Garcetti called for the end of all traffic deaths by 2025.
Changing this attitude is the biggest hurdle. Once I began spending more time on my bike, I realized the mere seconds I was agonizing behind the wheel was selfish. A slow driver, missing a light and even letting someone turn in who doesn’t have the right of way only impacted my commute by about a minute. These inconveniences are worth not risking other people’s lives no matter who’s fault it is.
Weiss’s point might have been a little too strong, but we get the point. Let’s continue the conversation and work towards making the streets safe for all that use them.