Does the woman in the photo above look like a scofflaw? A reckless cyclist? An irresponsible person? On the contrary, she looks like a sincere, intelligent, thoughtful person.
A few days ago, she was struck and killed by a truck while riding her bike in the Kenmore Square section of Boston. Her name, we learned sometime after the initial reports about the accident, is Dr. Kanako Miura. She was a visiting scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an expert in humanoid robotics.
The intersection where she was struck, Beacon Street and Charlesgate West, is one of the most difficult spots for cyclists to navigate in all of Boston. Traffic is always terrible there, and aggressive Boston drivers make things worse.
News of Dr. Miura’s death spread mostly through local sources. TV stations aired a blurb about her situation and small papers like the Fenway-Kenmore, MA Patch wrote articles on it. The Fenway-Kenmore Patch covers news in the Kenmore Square area, so, unlike some of the larger news outlets, they found this story newsworthy.
One of the larger Boston newspapers, Boston.com, wrote a short piece simply reporting the incident. Very sketchy details about what had happened were included. They mentioned the time and location, the name and age of the cyclist, and that the accident was a hit-and-run. A garbage truck may have been involved, they hesitantly informed us only because police were looking for a vehicle of that type.
To find any facts about what had happened and whether there was any follow-up on the story, it was necessary to search for other sources of information. MIT news had a good write-up on Kanako Miura’s life and work.
They described her as follows:
“Miura, an expert in humanoid robotics, came to MIT last fall during a yearlong sabbatical from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in Japan, where she worked as a senior researcher at the Intelligent Systems Research Institute. At MIT, she worked with Professor Russ Tedrake’s Robot Locomotion Group at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). [Her] research focused on human motion analysis and motion generation for humanoid robots in particular. For Tedrake and his research group the opportunity to learn from Miura about her approach to walking, planning and control for humanoid robots was an unparalleled chance to gain insight and knowledge from one of the experts in the field of humanoid robotics.”
From this description, the cyclist hardly sounds like the kind of person who would do something stupid, irresponsible or reckless. Yet, many of the 159 comments left on the Boston.com article implied or flat out stated that the cyclist was to blame for the accident.
Very little sympathy was expressed for the dead cyclist or her family. Some of the comments were so hateful that they aren’t even worth repeating.
What started out as a sad story about a brilliant young woman losing her life in a tragic hit-and-run accident turned into a blame game and cyclist-hating fest. Nothing new was stated. All of the usual comments about how cyclists don’t follow the rules of the road were aimed at the poor dead cyclist.
Even though the article gave no facts about the circumstances under which the cyclist was killed, due to the case still being in the early investigation phase, the commenters kept alluding to the cyclist’s possible guilt. As far as they were concerned, she was guilty until proven innocent.
Unlike the typical Boston.com free-for-all comment flame wars, someone on the staff intervened. They went through the comments, either on their own or as a result of readers flagging comments as inappropriate, and deleted a large number of them.
So many comments were removed that what was originally 159 comments fit on less then two pages. It seemed as if every other comment was removed for violating the publication’s terms. In some cases, whole exchanges appeared to have been deleted.
Within a couple of days of the incident, reports surfaced of the police having found the driver of the truck. His name had not been released but he was supposedly cooperating with the police. As usual, his excuse was that he didn’t see the bicycle. This, even though the police said that he dragged the bicycle for 75 feet after striking it.
Less than a week before this accident, results were issued for a traffic accident study designed to assess and improve cyclist safety on the streets of Boston. Among the things reported was:
“Of the 891 crashes in which causes were listed, cyclists ran a red light or rode through a stop sign before colliding with a car 12 percent of the time. Twenty-two percent of the collisions between cars and cyclists occurred when a vehicle door opened unexpectedly on a cyclist. Eighteen percent occurred when a motorist did not see a cyclist. And twelve percent occurred when a cyclist rode into oncoming traffic.”
Truth and statistics won’t end the hatred and stereotyping of cyclists. If anything, statistics can be used as a basis for holding drivers accountable when they injure or kill a cyclist.
Someone who was contributing positive things to society lost her life while riding a bicycle. How tragic that so many people see her as nothing but the stereotypical cyclist. Her situation is proof that many people only see the surface of things. They see Dr. Miura as an irresponsible cyclist, not as a gifted scientist.
Only when cyclists are seen as the valuable individuals they are will we see an end to the hatred, blaming and discrimination. May Dr. Miura rest in peace and may her brilliance and talent come to the forefront to help dispell the myth of the scofflaw cyclist.