Monday, October 12, 2009

Cars 1,000,000--Bikes 0

Weird, the day after I write this, another cyclist has been killed in an accident.
A bicyclist has died a day after he was hit by a van while he pedaled along a road in east Harris County. Investigators said the rider was hit while he was riding in the 12600 block of Beaumont Highway about 10 p.m. Thursday. He was seriously injured and was flown by medical helicopter to Memorial Hermann-The Texas Medical Center, where he died Friday.No charges have been filed in the case, which is still being investigated.
The rider, whose name has not been released, was riding eastbound on the highway when he rode into a lane of traffic, according to the Harris County Sheriff's Office. The driver of a 1989 Chevrolet van, which was also traveling eastbound on the highway, hit the rider when he rode into the traffic lane. (Dale Lezon, The Houston Chronicle, 10-12-2009)
It's hard to tell what happened based on this description. I don't understand what they mean "he drove into a lane of traffic." Is there some prohibition against cyclists being in "lanes of traffic" on non-freeways? Did the cyclist do something illegal or dangerous? In any case, this road is by all indications a busy arterial, just inside the Beltway up in the Northeast side of town--I am sure it is dangerous to ride on it at night, even if you are a well-lighted rider. On the other hand, maybe he had to. Maybe he had a job at night, and no other way for him to get to work except by bike on this dangerous road. It's a tragedy that he was hit and killed.

That said, check out the very first response in the "comments" section that followed the article.
bigbobbruntz wrote:
drivers are not responsible when cyclist refuse to obey traffic laws and use good judgement in sharing the streets with motorist.
Aside from his illiteracy and lack of human decency, the first thing I noticed was that he assumed the cyclist had been breaking the law--something that was not stated in the article. This is really typical of responses, that cyclists are scofflaws. I'll return to that in a moment. The second thing is the notion that drivers are not responsible for hitting cyclists if the cyclists are breaking a traffic law or not using good judgment. All I can think is what kind of shriveled morality must someone have to think this?

Sure cyclists break laws. They drive on sidewalks, for example. I often do. Why? Because I'm scared to ride on some streets. Nonetheless, it's illegal to ride on the sidewalk. Another thing cyclists do a lot is not stop for stop signs. I have done this, although I try to be a good citizen now. But I understand why cyclists do it--stopping and starting a bike is kind of a pain in the ass. And since you are moving at a very slow speed (compared to a car), you can easily see if there is traffic coming on the cross street. So cyclists get complacent about this. They shouldn't, and they should obey the traffic laws. But so should drivers--almost all drivers break traffic laws, including the law that makes them most dangerous to cyclists (and pedestrians and other cars)--the law against speeding. Everyone speeds. Cycling would be a lot safer if drivers didn't speed, and it would be a lot safer if cyclists didn't run stop signs.

But the fact that (some) cyclists break laws doesn't mean it's ok to kill them. And that is what bigbobbruntz seems to be suggesting. I don't mean to pick on him--lots of commenters agree with this view 100%. It's sickening to read some of the comments. Look, even if a cyclist is breaking a traffic law and cycling in a dangerous way, it is the responsibility of all drivers to endeavor not to hit him! I don't know what the law says on this matter, but I'm talking morality here, not law. Drivers should try to avoid hitting people on bicycles. Period. It's basic common decency. (And I should add, drivers should endeavor to avoid hitting pedestrians and other cars as well.)

To give an analogy, if a child ran out in the street in the middle of a block, right in front of your car, isn't it morally incumbent on you to try to avoid hitting the child? Even though, if you did hit the child, you would not be legally culpable? You have a responsibility to try not to hit the child.

Well, that applies to everyone. The cyclist who lacks a rear light or who blows through a stop sign; the jaywalking pedestrian or the drunk who fell into the gutter; the driver who cuts you off on the freeway or runs a red light. In any of those cases, you may not be legally culpable if you hit them--but still you should try not to!

But apparently we have a lot of people in Houston who don't have very highly developed moral codes. So Houston cyclists, ride defensively.

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Blogger ian said...

Actually, I believe you are completely lawful in riding on the sidewalk -- unless you are in parts of town where it is specifically prohibited (such as downtown). However, the sidewalk is also just about the most dangerous place to ride, regardless of how safe it feels. Safe riding is all about visibility, and riding in the road makes you far more visible than riding outside of drivers' lines of sight on the sidewalk.

9:26 AM  
Blogger  Robert Boyd said...

Ian, after I posted this post, I read that cyclists are permitted to ride on sidewalks. I was assuming that the commenters on the Chronicle's article knew what they were talking about--big mistake!

As for the danger of the sidewalk, I think it depends on the sidewalk. I would contend that ones with high curbs and a grass strip between them and the road are probably pretty safe. But I have no statistics to back that up.

9:36 AM  

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