Many cyclists have been fighting hard to gain respect on the road. Equal treatment with cars and a safe place to ride are the primary goals. This is all well and good, but it has created quite a bit of divisiveness among cyclists and between cyclists and drivers
Although all road cyclists agree on the concept of making roads safer for bikes, they don’t all agree about a cyclist’s role and whether cyclists should be forced to obey the same traffic laws as cars. There are valid arguments on both sides.
Bicycles are vehicles, but they operate differently and use the road somewhat differently than cars. This shouldn’t make a huge amount of difference, with respect to the rules of the road. However, there are times when cyclists either can’t get through an intersection because their bikes won’t trigger a green light or they feel safer running a red light before the cars begin to move.
The former is a legitimate problem which can be overcome, in time, through the use of technology. As street planning evolves, so will the methods we use to control traffic. Among them should be a better way of allowing vehicles to trigger lights. So the idea that bicycles will never be able to trigger a green light, and therefore, bikes do not ever need to obey the laws is seriously flawed. Cyclists should follow the law because it makes all of us safer — cyclists and drivers.
This doesn’t mean that no cyclist should ever run a red light after waiting for ten minutes for it to change. It means that such cases should be the exception to the rule, not the rule itself.
Some cyclists ride with the attitude that rules are meant to be broken. They put their own agenda ahead of everyone and everything on the road. What’s worse, they refuse to listen to reason when told about the myriad of problems their attitude and behavior causes for the rest of the cyclists on the road. That’s how we find ourselves in a situation where cyclists who put speed and self-interest ahead of public welfare, end up mowing down pedestrians who are crossing the street.
Chris Bucchere, a 36 year old cyclist, did exactly that. I wrote about him a couple of months ago when his story hit the news. He was the second cyclist, in San Francisco, California, to kill a pedestrian within a year.
A few days ago, it was reported that he had been charged with felony vehicular manslaughter in the death of 71-year-old Sutchi Hui. The charge was elevated from a misdemeanor because Bucchere allegedly violated multiple laws prior to the collision. The prosecutors say they have plenty of evidence to file felony charges against Bucchere, who allegedly acted with “gross negligence.” He faces up to six years in prison if convicted.
Evidence in the form of a surveillance camera caught Bucchere blowing through an intersection full of pedestrians and making no attempt to stop before hitting Hui. Witnesses reported that Bucchere was attempting to break his own speed record on a route from Marin to San Francisco. He was seen running red lights and stop signs while on Divisadero Street before the deadly crash.
A GPS locator on his bike showed a speed of 35 mph in a 25 mph zone. His riding partner is a key witness for the prosecution. Unlike Bucchere, his partner waited at the light Bucchere blew through when he hit the pedestrian.
All of this evidence is damning. Clearly, this cyclist was more interested in beating his speed record than anything else. And he was doing this, not in a remote location where he could ride as fast as he pleased, but in a congested urban environment.
Despite the evidence, legal experts say that the case against Bucchere is hard to prove. It rests upon the notion of knowing that his actions could kill someone. Most people don’t believe you can kill someone with a bicycle, so proving that Bucchere expected a death to result from running the red light is hard to demonstrate.
Experienced cyclists listening to this story would heave a sigh of frustration. With all of the gains cyclists have made in the past decade, certain people still insist on ruining it for everyone. Every time a story like this hits the news, renewed hatred of cyclists surfaces.
Due to this hatred, cyclists are facing criminal charges for killing pedestrians, while drivers rarely do. Bucchere is the second cyclist in San Francisco to face criminal charges this year.
Bucchere deserves to face charges. He deserves to spend time behind bars for showing such a complete and utter lack of regard for others. He deserves all of the scrutiny and criticism he has been receiving in the media. His story has been reported widely, including in the Wall Street Journal. This coverage is sure to spur a national debate about allowing cyclists on urban roads, to the detriment of all cyclists.
Punishing one or two cyclists won’t protect cyclists from the backlash such behavior creates. Punishing cyclists for killing pedestrians also won’t protect the many pedestrians who are killed by motor vehicles each year.
One strange thing about this situation is how irresponsible behavior is regarded when it comes to cyclists. Distracted drivers kill many people each year. Road rage also kills many people each year. Even though irresponsible driver behavior kills many more people, drivers don’t seem to be held to the same standard as cyclists.
Cyclists are expected to behave better. Is this because they are a more responsible group? Or is it because no one expects a cyclist to kill someone with a bicycle?
Whatever the reason, it is important for cyclists to engage in responsible behavior when riding. This means following the rules of the road — with few exceptions — being courteous to others, and sharing the road.
It’s not just cars who share the road with bikes. Bikes must also share the road with cars and pedestrians. In this regard, there can be no exceptions.
Regardless of how this case turns out, cyclists must learn a lesson from it. When pedestrians are crossing the road — STOP YOUR BIKE — and let them pass. Don’t weave around them. STOP.