Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Bicyclists Should Be Held to Account When They Break the Law in Ways That Endanger Pedestrians

There's a kind of annoying back-and-forth between anti-bike assholes and pro-bike assholes. It starts like this:

The obvious counterpoint to this is:

(Another obvious counterpoint: What do helmets have to do with this? A lot of antipathy to cyclists seems to be poorly focused on the behaviors that are actually problematic. If anything I would think a cyclist without a helmet would be more careful about avoiding collisions, holding everything else equal. The cyclist who killed Jill Tarlov seems to have been in the habit of wearing a helmet, and it didn't save Tarlov's life.)

It is frustrating because cars do vastly more damage than cyclists, even putting aside indirect harms like air pollution. Citi Bikes in particular are probably some of the least dangerous bikes on the street because they are slow and bulky. Also, I speculate that the demographics of Citi Bike users probably skew toward people who bike at a leisurely pace. A friend recently pointed me to the term MAMIL and it nicely encapsulates a certain kind of person I frequently see biking far too fast near pedestrians. MAMILs are not riding Citi Bikes.

That said, it's insane to me that some "pro-bike" activists don't think the rules should be enforced against cyclists. (The scare quotes indicate my belief that this kind of activism is counterproductive and therefore in effect anti-bike.) Every year or two a bicycle crashes into a pedestrian with fatal consequences and as far as I know it's always the pedestrian who dies. This happened a few weeks ago when a bicyclist decided that the rule against running red lights did not apply to him. The woman he killed, Donna Sturm, fractured her skull, entered a coma, and died. Her employer stated:

All of us who live or work in New York City do so at our peril because of bike riders speeding through intersections and often going against traffic on one-way streets. Bicycles should have a license plate to create accountability for the riders. We pray that Donna will fully recover from this tragedy.

(The statement was issued before Sturm died.)

As far as I can tell the most recent fatality before Sturm was Shun Kwong Leung, who also suffered a fractured skull after a cyclist ran a red light. (Leung was Chinese-American. I sometimes hear the argument that traffic laws shouldn't be enforced against bicyclists because many of them are immigrants. The problem is that the people they kill can also be members of minority groups, so the argument is weaker than it first appears.) Jill Tarlov, the pedestrian who was killed by a biker in Central Park in 2014, also died from head injuries. The cyclist in that case deemed the collision "unavoidable," a conclusion I find it hard to endorse.

As far as I can tell, none of the cyclists I've described was charged with a crime, though Leung's family (and his representative on the city council, Margaret Chin) demanded a prosecution. (There have been conflicting reports about whether Sturm's killer was issued a ticket for running a red light.)

It seems abundantly clear to me that two things are true:

1. Bicycles are responsible for less injury and death than cars, at least on an aggregate basis (maybe not on a per-mile basis), but

2. This does not mean that it is acceptable to use bicycles in such a way that pedestrians are put at the risk of serious injury and death.

The only coherent argument I've heard against requiring bicyclists to respect pedestrian safety is that the NYPD simply can't be trusted to do it. They've certainly earned this distrust:

(To be clear, I don't think Gordon would argue against enforcing any rules against cyclists, he's just noting the way cracking down on bicyclists often means harassing minorities rather than doing anything to promote safety.)

But at the end of the day, if it's important to enforce the law, then you can't decline to do so because the NYPD isn't the police force you would ideally want. I would observe in this connection that it's not just the deaths and serious injuries that are the problem. Many New Yorkers don't own cars and can't afford taxis, and therefore often get from place to place on foot. When it is harrowing and dangerous to do so, it worsens people's lives even if they never personally suffer a collision. I've had several close calls with cyclists, and I imagine most other New Yorkers have as well. It makes the city less walkable and less enjoyable, degrading the one thing that truly sets New York apart from other American cities. Pedestrians shouldn't have to dodge bicycles when they cross the street, and bicyclists should be expected to conduct themselves in a way that doesn't threaten other people's lives.

[Updated to fix typo and reword a sentence.]


Post a Comment

<< Home