Cycle Sensationalism

April 9th, 2010 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Finally, thought I, good discussion and perhaps action had to come out of death of one Boston cyclist and near death of a second a few days apart. The 15 minutes of media coverage for the injury dropped into more like 15 seconds.

Instead of fundamental transit improvements as a possible result of these two horrific wrecks, we are left with unanswered questions and crazy bluster. Consider:

  • We don’t know whether dead biker Eric Michael Hunt slipped under a 39 bus’ wheel or the driver followed him around the corner and ran him down.
  • The T wants us to believe it was another clumsy cyclist and witnesses say Hunt was obvious as he pulled his bike from the track and was plowed into.
  • The ever-absurd Boston Herald comment crew left mostly the predictable I-drive-I’m-important-get-those-damned-cyclists-off-my-road slurs on the subject.
  • Coverage of the second wreck quickly disappeared off paper and broadcast stations, pages and sites and surely won’t return unless this one dies as well.

Instead of something meaningful to come from this death and crushing injury pair, we are left with the slow and good-intentioned efforts of the usual suspects. Those would be the city’s cycling effort under the leadership of Nicole Freedman and the support of Mayor Tom Menino, with cheers and some aid from MassBike and so forth.

They are churning right along. Their pace seems to terrify atavistic car and truck drivers and annoys those of us who cycle as well as walk, ride the T and drive with inching progress. Begrudgingly and impatiently, I admit and agree that Freedman’s efforts are obvious and steady, including painted bike lanes, street and bus racks and more.

Yet the huge discordance between cycling supporters and detractors defies the education effort so far. Hate and contempt are not too strong to describe many motorists’ attitudes toward Boston cyclists. Those are so ingrained in many that I have seen and heard them describe all cyclists as crazed scofflaws who deserve, well, injury and death.

We also-cyclists tend to idealize ourselves in contrast. We are one-fewer-car each trip. We are non-polluting and quiet. We take up far less road and make traveling quicker and easier for drivers as a result. The two to five seconds a driver may wait to pass us in town is negligible, required in overtaking any slower vehicle, and possible in contrast to a car that takes a full lane. We much more rarely hit or come close to pedestrians and other vehicles. We don’t take up parking spaces that shoppers and tourists want. Oh, and we’re staying healthier. To us, we’re so wonderful and wise.

That’s quite a disconnect and it needs education. This dreadful pair of wrecks was a clear, but blown, opportunity for the media to talk it up.

Freedman’s folk do what they can on their page, in public meetings and at places like schools…within their resources. That’s clearly not enough.

Part of this has to come through the municipal and state police. Enforcement all around would be great to begin. Drivers who pay a minimum of attention would see, for example, a huge percentage of their fellows running red lights, as well as stop and yield signs, not giving way to pedestrians in crosswalk, speeding and other infractions — often many offenses per trip. Fantasies of the stereotypical terrorizing cyclist aside, imagine the calming effect if Boston drivers were ticketed for even a tenth of their crimes. Cops might be doing little else if they enforced the laws and regulations, but wow, would that make a change for the better.

They should follow Cambridge’s lead and enforce against cyclists who blow lights and such as well, but let’s get real about where the offenses, dangers and damage are. If 100% of cyclists got tickets for 100% of their transgressions, we wouldn’t begin to see the change to a major extent.

I have the advantage of serious size and muscle. I don’t hesitate to tell a reckless driver when he or she has disobeyed laws as well as norms of common sense and civility. Many honestly are amazed to hear that they have violated one or more state laws. Far too many don’t know, for example:

  • Of primary importance, law here gives cyclists the same rights and responsibilities as drivers.
  • Cyclists must ride in the road and for forbidden from sidewalks in business districts.
  • With few exceptions such as limited-access highways, cycles belong on the road, as drivers have such exclusions as ped/cycle paths.
  • Specific law requires drivers to pass a cyclist slowly and at a safe distance, as well as make sure the way is clear before opening a door into traffic when stopped.

Search our general laws for bicycle for even more.  Most drivers would be surprised, as they would be shocked if a cop wrote them a surchargeable ticket, with its fine, points and insurance penalties.

Instead, drivers would be far smarter and better off if they understood these laws before picking up their keys.

I call shame on the Boston Channel, WBZ, the Globe, the Herald and the rest of them. These distressing wrecks give them a great chance to do their jobs and help us all.

Tags: , , , , ,


One Response

  1. Uncle B says:

    In these situations, I always wonder whether the cyclist passed the motor vehicle. In my first-hand experience, nothing makes a motorist see red as much as that. They sorta kinda need treatment for that problem before they resolve it with homicide. (In my case, the guy just waved the gun and didn’t shoot.)

Leave a Reply