How many times have we heard anti-bicyclists say that cycling is unsafe, so cyclists shouldn’t do it? This common chorus is uttered every time cyclists complain about the death of or injury to a fellow cyclist.
Usually, the accusations begin with conjoint refrains such as: ‘who would ride a bicycle alongside vehicles weighing several tons?’ or ‘you’d have to be crazy to ride a bicycle in traffic.’ Then, assertions fly about the alleged stupidity of anyone who would ride a bike on the road.
Cyclists are characterized as reckless, irresponsible, insane and anything else which would put the blame for their injuries on themselves. The focus is on the perceived dangers of cycling and the belief that any rational person would avoid this activity out of a sense of self-preservation.
To lend credence to these assertions and accusations, examples are elaborated upon in minute detail. A legendary narrow, winding road is always described as a place where drivers couldn’t possibly see cyclists when they come around a bend. Never mind that the cars are driving 15 miles over the speed limit.
Several people from the same area will come along and chime in about how they see cyclists on this particular narrow, winding road and how they barely avoided mowing them down on numerous occasions. They gloat over a time in the future when they won’t brake in time and will consequently flatten the crazy cyclists who were “asking for it” by riding on a road where drivers couldn’t possibly be expected to see them.
Not long after, examples of red-light-running cyclists will be brought up. The storytellers will make it seem as if every cyclist runs red lights — all the time. This will be used as another example of how cyclists cause their own injuries, without considering the many cyclists who stop at red lights and obey the traffic laws.
No blame session would be complete without the sad story of someone who someone else knew who was killed while riding a bike. As a result, the person who knew them quit cycling — out of common sense — so that they would not suffer the same fate as their dear friend.
Once these stories are hashed and rehashed, the real blaming begins. Everyone, they will claim, should know better than to put themselves in a situation where they will be injured or killed. That, of course, is what they would do, and why they would never be cyclists
Upon closer inspection, the situation looks quite different. The “danger” is not really in the behavior of the cyclists, but rather in the behavior of the drivers who create dangerous roads. Were it not for the distracted, impatient or incompetent driving of a large percentage of people behind the wheel, the roads would not be dangerous at all.
Order would prevail. On most roads, the speed of cars would be within reason, turn signals would be used, cars would stop on yellow lights and at stop signs. All of this would give cyclists, and other motorists, time to react before getting into an accident.
But, the truth is that on American roads, chaos prevails. An every-man-woman-and-child-for-themselves mentality reigns supreme. Each car operates as if it existed in a vacuum, oblivious to space and time, on autopilot with a focus on self-interest.
Virtually no driver wants to consider the rights of others. Why slow down to avoid hitting a pedestrian or cyclist when you can accelerate to beat the red light?
So, how is it that none of the drivers who accuse cyclists of being crazy for driving on the same roads as cars ever suggest that drivers could make the roads safer, instead of accepting a danger creating free-for-all as inevitable?
In short, the source of the danger is the problem, not the cyclists who ride inside the danger zone.
If cyclists rode on roads without cars, there would be little danger. If a few cars drove on roads primarily populated by bicycles, there would be little danger.
Danger comes from many cars, often on congested roads, driving as if they owned the roads. It’s time to stop admonishing cyclists for the wrongs of others. They have no control over the actions of two ton vehicles. They have no control over speeding cars and road rage. They have no say in whether cars yield for pedestrians or bicycles.
Cyclists are powerless to end the danger on the roads. This danger can only come to an end if drivers change their behavior.
Blame should be placed squarely where it belongs, then acknowledged, and corrected. For every winding-road-as-dangerous-for-bicycles story, there is a car speeding around the bend component. Let’s not lose sight of it.
By aiming for safe roads, we can stop the endless cycle of blame which is, too often, hoisted onto the shoulders of innocent bicyclists.