Is It Ok To Kill Articles That Get It All Wrong About Cyclists?

Quite often I get these emails and texts from people alerting me of an article I should read about cycling. Often it’s from a credited publication like the NY Times so naturally it peaks my interest. Turns out, 9-10 times the op-ed or discussion is about some out-of-touch person who really doesn’t like biking and probably shouldn’t even be writing an article that does nothing for the activity but rather makes cycling hating drivers feel justified for their road rage or cycling enthusiasts defend themselves for their choice of transportation. As one of the laters I often feel obligated to chime in since the article itself is getting attention and it’s my job to help defend cycling. Luckily most of the time the arguments are weak, so my job is made easy. It’s also quite baffling how these people are given the word space, especially with the current state of publishing in the digital age.

I’m actually quite hungry for honest debate about whether cycling is a legitimate form of transportation but instead I get this:
The latest comes from some guy named Daniel Duane from San Francisco who was fortunate to have his opinions published in the New York Times on Sunday.

Is It Ok To Kill Cyclists?
Right away, Duane illustrates my point about being a hater with a description of himself: “SAN FRANCISCO — EVERYBODY who knows me knows that I love cycling and that I’m also completely freaked out by it.”

Ah, that’s funny cause I know a lot of writers on the subject of cycling and somehow, I’ve never heard of you…must be a West Coast thing. Next he says:

Duane: “I got into the sport for middle-aged reasons: fat; creaky knees; the delusional vanity of tight shorts. Registering for a triathlon, I took my first ride in decades.”

I’m not sure a triathlon is the best place to start cycling…seems a bit extreme, how about just going to get a delicious burrito in the Mission or a leisurely cruise across the Golden Gate bridge.

Duane: “Wind in my hair, smile on my face, I decided instantly that I would bike everywhere like all those beautiful hipster kids on fixies. Within minutes, however, I watched an S.U.V. hit another cyclist, and then I got my own front wheel stuck in a streetcar track, sending me to the pavement.”

Yeah it’s called learning how to operate a vehicle, just like when you stalled in traffic on one of those hills trying to learn how to drive a stick shift. Oh the embarrassment.

The rest of this op-Ed goes on to point out how easy it is for cyclists to get killed by automobiles with little or no criminality attributed to the driver. Now being killed by a car for learning how to love cycling is a very hard lesson to swallow.

I don’t want to belabor over the East Coast vs West Coast thing, but really. One of my Co-Author of the book we did as a travel guide for biking in NYC, (bikenycthebook) Marci Blackman would often talk about biking in San Francisco where she lived for a long time. She would say she felt way more safe in NYC and that in SF the drivers have much more space to speed and how cyclists are treated much more as just being in the way. After all, just cause it’s up North and the birthplace of free lovin hippies, it’s still car culture America, California.

What might make a slightly more interesting discussion for this piece, is how speed is rarely factored into the vehicular manslaughter of cyclists. With little or no investigation into how a cyclist gets killed its hard to determine speed or other reckless factors like texting or failing to signal while making a turn.

Speed is just starting to be factored into crashes here in New York City, not from a cyclist death but rather a pedestrian. 12 year old Sammy Cohen was killed in October on Prospect Park West in Park Slope Brooklyn, where a separated bike lane was built for safety reasons and argued for its removal by local residents.
20131113-131030.jpg(photo by Sammy’s Mother, Amy Cohen)
Sammy Cohen Eckstein was killed Oct. 8 after being hit by a car on Prospect Park West.

Sammy was killed by a speeding van and his grieving family urged the city council to reduce speed limits in residential neighborhoods, a campaign they had already been involved with before their son’s tragic death. His mother, Amy Cohen gave an emotional speech at this city council meeting, and it was described as not having a dry eye in the room.

Speed limits are rarely posted in NYC and most drivers base their speed on how much they can get away with. This point was highlighted at the same city council meeting when it was revealed that the police issued no speeding tickets in Brooklyn in the month of October.

This could have been some information Daniel Duane could have mentioned in his op-ed.

Also worthy, a few days later, came a revelation by former NYC traffic commissioner Sam “Gridlock” Schwartz
on WNYC. In the wake of the teary eyed Sammy Cohen meeting, Schwartz revealed there was a financial component to all this ticketing. Basically revenue for speeding tickets is shared in Albany, but all the money is kept for NYC when it comes to parking tickets. This sets up a scenario where the NYPD has a 10 to 1 ratio of giving parking tickets over moving violations. Cash talks. So a non-moving vehicle is more profitable then a speeding one.

Article from WNYC’s blog: Transportation Nation.

The Reason NYC Cops Are More Likely To Ticket For Parking Than Speeding.

I could go through Daniel Duane’s writing line by line and pick it apart but the Bikesnob already does that with expert precision. Lots of which I completely agree with like:

Duane:My own view is that everybody’s a little right and that we’re at a scary cultural crossroads on the whole car/bike thing.

Bikesnobnyc:“Everybody’s a little right?” You should be starting to get a little bit uncomfortable at this point. Drivers are “a little right” to be “furious at cyclists for clogging roads?” Do me a favor: tonight, at the peak of the evening rush, please head out to the BQE or the LIE or the 405 or your favorite local clogged automotive artery and find me the cyclists who are responsible for that particular clusterfuck. In fact, find me any situation (outside of annual charity rides or actual protests such as Critical Mass, which are statistically insignificant) in which cyclists are delaying motorists by more than a handful of seconds. Even the hated Sunday group rides that cause suburban motorists to lose their shit because a bunch of Freds are taking up the road really don’t cause them any appreciable delay. All it means is that a driver has to go 20mph instead of 30mph for a minute or two–but of course every second counts when you’re headed to the shopping center for those bagels.”

Read the whole blog post here.s.

I think a better title for Daune’s op-Ed would be: “Is It Ok To Be Outraged When Cyclists Are Killed.” Pedestrians included.

Instead we get another article that blames the victim. That somehow in the age of new found cycling popularity cyclists deserve to die since they are outlaws who don’t follow the same rules as cars. Somehow this absolves motorists from being charged criminally for homocide or even to have these crashes investigated. Meanwhile if there is even a mild fender bender of two motor vehicles then there is stacks of paperwork, insurance claims and lots of investigation. Also, what kind of message does this send to people interested in biking? Establishing a landscape of fear for even daring to ride a bike. Articles like this perpetuate the myth that “if cyclists want to be treated like cars, they’d better act like it.”

I think it time to set the record straight and proudly proclaim that bikes are not the same as cars and that certain laws and road infrastructure we’re never designed for bikes. Bicycles have a certain freedom and cyclists get to control a lot more of their transportation destiny than cars, not necessarily bound by traffic jams, unexpected train malfunctions or other delays involved with public transportation. Maybe this is why they are so hated by motorists. That they are blamed for traffic delays as they freely move between stuck cars and helplessly trapped motorists. Not to mention all of the health and environmental benefits for humanity and the Earth.

And on an even larger picture. Do we really need more articles of fear baiting cyclists and attempts to get more people biking in a age of intense and out of control man-made climate change?

Right now in Warsaw Poland are the latest round of climate talks where 189 countries are attending to figure out how climate change can least likely effect that countries ability to make profits. Meanwhile the Philippines delegate Naderev ‘Yeb’ Sano is going on hunger strike unless these talks commit to real change to reduce carbon emissions. A man who has just watched the most horrific natural disaster decimate his home country. Typhoon Haiyan is a direct result of warmer oceans caused by climate change and more catastrophic storms in the Pacific are likely.

Also don’t forget 28 greenpeace activists are currently being imprisoned for hooliganism in the country hosting the winter Olympic Games, Russia. Activists who are trying to stop the Russians from drilling in the Arctic, where trillions of tons of methane could be released into the atmosphere and cause the extinction of humanity.

This is what we should be talking about and making choices like riding a bicycle as small steps to help the environment.

Perhaps Daniel Duane should show his love of cycling by actually riding one. Then maybe he could encourage others to realize the joys and benefits of cycling far outweigh the risks of reckless motorists.

Maybe we’ll start to realize the environmental crisis we face and he can write an Op-Ed: “Is It Ok To Kill The Planet?”

1 comment to Is It Ok To Kill Articles That Get It All Wrong About Cyclists?

  • Eric McClure

    Michael, there’s been no evidence presented so far that the van driver who killed Sammy was “speeding” – at least not in the sense of driving faster than the speed limit, which is 30 MPH on Prospect Park West, as it is on most NYC streets. However, given that PPW borders both a park and a residential neighborhood, and is 98% residential, many believe that a 30 MPH speed limit is too fast there. We can never know definitively, of course, but there’s certainly a possibility that Sammy’s death could have been avoided if the speed limit on PPW had been 20 MPH.