For the last week, people have been forwarding me this New York Times op-ed by Daniel Duane, which has the attention-grabbing title of “Is it O.K. to Kill Cyclists?” (In short: no. Or: maybe. We’ll get back to that.)
Duane describes himself as a convert to cycling because he likes the shorts, and the wind in his hair, and because it’s what the cool kids are doing these days. But as of press time he is having a hard time biking anywhere but on remote country roads and on the stationary bicycle in his basement, because fear of death. Specifically, fear of the kind of death where no one gets punished for killing you, because in the cities closest to Duane, especially San Francisco, there have been a series of well-publicized stories recently about accidents between cars and cyclists where the cyclist winds up dead, and the driver, even when clearly at fault, winds up with only a ticket.
“There is something undeniably screwy,” Duane writes, “about a justice system that makes it de facto legal to kill people, even when it is clearly your fault, as long you’re driving a car and the victim is on a bike and you’re not obviously drunk and don’t flee the scene.”
Commentators on this strange state of affairs, he adds, fall into two camps: “cyclists outraged at inattentive drivers and wondering why cops don’t care; drivers furious at cyclists for clogging roads and flouting traffic laws.” Duane attempts to find middle ground between these two groups and arrives at this conclusion: “Everybody’s a little right.” He goes on:
So here’s my proposal: Every time you get on a bike, from this moment forward, obey the letter of the law in every traffic exchange everywhere to help drivers (and police officers) view cyclists as predictable users of the road who deserve respect. And every time you get behind the wheel, remember that even the slightest inattention can maim or kill a human being enjoying a legitimate form of transportation. That alone will make the streets a little safer.
As someone who spent over a decade riding the mean streets of San Francisco that Duane is too scared to venture out of his basement and pedal through, I would say: Sir, we can do a hell of a lot better than that.