Bicycle after collision, Scott and Haight
Bicycle after collision in San Francisco. Photo by Salim Virji

In the New York Times, Daniel Duane asks whether it’s okay for drivers to kill cyclists and the answer from a law-enforcement standpoint seems to be that it largely is.

The anecdotes mounted: my wife’s childhood friend was cycling with Mom and Dad when a city truck killed her; two of my father’s law partners, maimed. I began noticing “cyclist killed” news articles, like one about Amelie Le Moullac, 24, pedaling inside a bike lane in San Francisco’s SOMA district when a truck turned right and killed her. In these articles, I found a recurring phrase: to quote from The San Francisco Chronicle story about Ms. Le Moullac, “The truck driver stayed at the scene and was not cited.”

In stories where the driver had been cited, the penalty’s meagerness defied belief, like the teenager in 2011 who drove into the 49-year-old cyclist John Przychodzen from behind on a road just outside Seattle, running over and killing him. The police issued only a $42 ticket for an “unsafe lane change” because the kid hadn’t been drunk and, as they saw it, had not been driving recklessly.

“We do not know of a single case of a cyclist fatality in which the driver was prosecuted, except for D.U.I. or hit-and-run,” Leah Shahum, the executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, told me.

Laws do forbid reckless driving, gross negligence and vehicular manslaughter. The problem, according to Ray Thomas, a Portland, Ore., attorney who specializes in bike law, is that “jurors identify with drivers.” Convictions carry life-destroying penalties, up to six years in prison, Mr. Thomas pointed out, and jurors “just think, well, I could make the same mistake. So they don’t convict.” That’s why police officers and prosecutors don’t bother making arrests. Most cops spend their lives in cars, too, so that’s where their sympathies lie.

Yikes. I gave up biking to work within a week of starting. Cycling is fun and great exercise, but cycling on city streets is far too much like a very high-stakes game of Frogger. I seem to get hit or nearly hit by cars at least once a month while running on sidewalks. I find this completely unacceptable. On a bicycle, I had a hit or near-hit experience every ride, often multiple times per ride. I found cycling on city-streets so frightening and dangerous that I still can’t believe anyone does it. What good is exercise and green living if it kills you?

We need really tough laws to protect cyclists, and sadly, it seems we’re a long way from that.

87 Replies to ““Is it O.K. to Kill Cyclists?””

  1. I feel like I’ve read somewhere (Sightline?) that the health benefits from cycling outweigh the risk of death. That said, I hate that the risk is so high – both as a cyclist and a driver.

    Thank you Nickels and McGinn for starting our city toward a path of road diets and some version of bike lanes, though we have a long, long way to go. Cars not driving on freeways should be going slow enough to avoid bicyclists and pedestrians, and we need to design our roadways with this in mind.

    1. I feel like I’ve read somewhere (Sightline?) that the health benefits from cycling outweigh the risk of death. That said, I hate that the risk is so high – both as a cyclist and a driver.

      I wonder how that is calculated, the “average years” thing isn’t great in my mind because I’d rather have a 50% of losing a decaded off the end of my life, in my 90s or whatever, then a 5% chance of losing the whole thing today when my daughter’s so young, etc.

      Also, I think some of the “risk” is perceived and maybe not real. Maybe those near-encounters aren’t so bad and permanent cyclists just power through them. I wasn’t willing to sign up for the psychic abuse either

      1. Partly, more experienced cyclists learn how to avoid most of those close calls. I commute through downtown Seattle every day by bike. I haven’t had a close call with a car yet this year. I’m not special, I just learned how to ride safely in traffic — stay out of the gutter, stay out of the door zone, control the center of your lane if it’s too narrow to share side-by-side with a car, never pass to the right of a vehicle that could be turning right. Those simple steps really do eliminate the great majority of close calls and motorist harassment.

    2. I’ll take cardio walking and elliptical use for health benefits over the dangers of Cycling in Seattle. As long as so many drivers don’t respect the presence of bikers and know they can run them over with minimal repercussion. Now if we had the presence of protected bike paths like Amsterdam, then could get into it.

      1. Actually, the City Council is set to divert an additional $1 million away from streetcar planning and into more segregated bicycle paths downtown. That’s for next year’s post-McG budget, and it’s being done by the Council, not the Executive.

      2. I just heard about that on Seattle Bike Blog, and it sounds great! But why are they only designing the lanes and not implementing anything except Seventh Avenue? How can they possibly be that expensive?

      3. Because any good politician knows you can stonewall anything by studying it to death. This was the apparent path if one paid attention to the Mayor-Elect’s campaign statements.

      4. It’s the normal public works process — you have to develop engineering plans in phases before applying for the next phase of planning, then apply for construction funding. That’s *supposed* to provide plenty of opportunity to identify and resolve potential conflicts, and avoid boondoggles.

    3. The problem with taking that finding about a general population is the cardio benefit is presumably for some sort of “average” person. If you’re not morbidly obese and you are already getting ~150 minutes of moderately vigorous cardio a week, the additional health benefits from the exercise are pretty trivial.

      That said, isn’t being a pedestrian roughly as dangerous as biking?

      1. “already getting ~150 minutes of moderately vigorous cardio a week” Are you kidding me? Lop a zero off. Maybe two. Man I miss my 2-mile-each-way walking commute.

      2. Actually, not so. According to the Copenhagen Heart Study, the mortality benefits of bicycle commuting are separate from and in addition to the benefits of other athletic activity. This could partly reflect the regularity of exercise through bicycle commuting. Very few voluntary exercise routines match the frequency and consistency of commuting. Bicycle commuting just 25 miles per week can cut coronary artery disease risk by 50%. (In part, that may also reflect reduced exposure to the health damage of driving, which contributes to all sorts of health problems.)

        If you could bottle an extract of bicycle commuting that was sold as painful weekly injections for the rest of your life, you’d have a modern medical miracle worth billions.

      3. “already getting ~150 minutes of moderately vigorous cardio a week” Are you kidding me? Lop a zero off. Maybe two. Man I miss my 2-mile-each-way walking commute.

        Well, obviously not everyone is getting that much exercise–I just meant that’s a potential complication in translating a population benefit to an individual one. My understanding is that that’s roughly the point where cardio exercise (w/r/t heart health) reaches the point of diminishing returns. However, this:

        According to the Copenhagen Heart Study, the mortality benefits of bicycle commuting are separate from and in addition to the benefits of other athletic activity.

        Is intriguing, if counterintuitive based on my read of the relevant public health literature. I’ll have to take a look. My own bike commute is about 2.5 miles each way and fairly flat; I always assumed it was too trivial and short to have any meaningful health impact, so this is good news to me.

      1. According to that paper, the pedestrian risk is higer on a per-kilometer basis, but cyclist risk is 130% higher on a per-hour basis.

      2. Right, so as a recreational activity walking is safer, but as a point A to point B transportation mode, biking is safer. Seems plausible enough to me.

  2. I agree Matt. I don’t think punishing drivers for making an honest mistake in a very poorly designed road is the answer. We need to work hard to change our infrastructure to make it safer. Fewer curb cuts, better visibility at intersections (no parked cars to hide approaching cyclists), lower design speeds, and well-designed, buffered bike lanes are a start.

    1. I don’t think punishing drivers for making an honest mistake in a very poorly designed road is the answer.

      I couldn’t agree less with this. Did you read the quoted block?

      began noticing “cyclist killed” news articles, like one about Amelie Le Moullac, 24, pedaling inside a bike lane in San Francisco’s SOMA district when a truck turned right and killed her.

      The roads maybe poorly designed, that doesn’t make it any less your fault if you drive your car into someone.

      1. And if a bike hits a vehicle and as a result the biker kills himself? I’m sorry to say but not all bike/vehicle accidents are the fault of auto drivers. And given bicyclist bad behavior in obeying the rules of the road, there will be more unnecessary deaths.

      2. Charles, Most bicyclist fatalities are the fault of the motorist, as noted in the full article.

      3. And if a bike hits a vehicle and as a result the biker kills himself? I’m sorry to say but not all bike/vehicle accidents are the fault of auto drivers. And given bicyclist bad behavior in obeying the rules of the road, there will be more unnecessary deaths.

        I find this logic strange. If I slip and fall into the street as a pedestrian, it’s okay to hit me with your car? No, most people don’t think that. It’s strange that people thing that’s cool with cyclists.

      4. If you slip and fall into the path of a moving vehicle and the vehicle cannot respond in time or without creating other hazard, prosecutors and courts have held that a driver would not be held responsible for the “accident”. The same would be for a child that “darts” into traffic. Tragic, but not the motorists fault.

      5. @CharlesB, the issue of bicyclists not observing rules of the road is not rare. It is extremely commonplace. Stand at a controlled intersection on Seward Park Ave on any given weekend and you’ll see what I mean. Bicyclists on this and other blogs have freely admitted their unwillingness to abide by these rules of the road.

        While in many cases drivers are often cited for accidents, I maintain that bicyclist contribute to their injuries by their attitudes and by lack of prudence when operating amongst cars.

        There is something called the “law of superior tonnage.” Obviously not a force in law for roadways but it is one of practicality. And it basically means that while you as a bicyclist or pedestrian may technically be in the right of way, it is to your best advantage to give difference to those vehicles that are larger and hold more mass than you. This “law” holds true on land and on sea. This is also practically illustrated in the actual law for both aviation and maritime rights of way. A vehicle with more maneuverability should give way. Some examples of this: A fixed wing aircraft should give way to an Airship. A business jet should give way to small aircraft. A pleasure craft should give way to an aircraft carrier. A PT boat should give way to a destroyer. A Washington State Ferry gives way to a large container ship and indeed rather than cross its path, will detour behind and around the ship even if it makes the Ferry late. (I observed this first hand and later asked my WSF captain friend about it)

        Given this reasonable prudence in operation in other spheres of transportation, would it not make sense for bicyclists to use extreme caution when operating in an intersection? To perhaps make sure that vehicle operators see you and some form of signaling or acknowledgement that they see you. That you are going at a rate of speed that would allow you to avoid a vehicle that for whatever reason didn’t see you. Would it make sense for pedestrians to recall the safety instructions drilled into us as 4 year olds to look BOTH WAYS to make sure the crossing is clear rather than simply marching across without looking – daring a vehicle to not stop and hit them? These are simple things that a person with no crash protection can use to save their own life regardless of who’s “right”.

      6. I’m sorry to say but not all bike/vehicle accidents are the fault of auto drivers.

        Who is this responding to? It’s a wildly implausible claim that no one here would ever make. There’s a big space between “all” and “none”, and the law seems to think it’s the latter.

      7. Truck drivers physically cannot see cyclists overtaking on the right once the truck has started a right turn and the cab is swung over. The street design that puts bike lanes to the right of right-turning trucks is the real cause of many deaths that the press attributes to driver error. Where right turns are allowed, bike lanes should NEVER be to the right of the right general purpose lane. It’s a design that’s well-documented to kill people.

    2. A lot of these aren’t “honest mistakes”, they’re the result of inattention or even outright recklessness that shouldn’t be tolerated. A culture of responsibility on the road, rather than a culture of entitlement, would go a long way.

      Enforcement isn’t the only thing that needs to change. Drivers need to be taught where and how to look in order to yield correctly when making turns and pulling out of parking spaces; they need to understand the dimensions of their vehicles and the fact that they’re responsible for every inch of them. But enforcement can send a message about responsibility. There was a recent collision in some foothills in California where a driver turned left across the path of an oncoming cyclist, causing a collision. There was some speculation that maybe the lighting pattern caused by nearby trees, or the driver’s misjudgment of the cyclists’ speed (she was going downhill) contributed to the collision. Whether these things are true or not, ultimately the driver had a responsibility to yield before turning, and an investigation starting from the point of responsibility rather than from excuses for the driver would have sent a message encouraging the sort of care the law actually requires of drivers.

      1. (Investigations starting from the point of responsibility are one part of the culture of road responsibility in countries like the Netherlands where cycling is more popular and safer than it is here.)

      2. Responsibility goes both ways. Bicyclists that fail to stop at a stop sign endanger themselves and others. Bicyclists that fail to give proper clearance to pedestrians are A**h**es. Yet, the conversation is only about the automobile operator’s responsibility. Why is that?

      3. Larger faster vehicles = more risk = hightened responsibility.

        In cases where cyclists behave recklessly and endanger others, they should absolutely be held responsible. This happens sometimes, and a good deal of the time when there’s truly damage done and not just, “I saw a cyclist roll a stop sign no faster than a driver would, but I’m angry because their vehicle is different than mine,” the cyclist is held responsible (as in the case in SF last year, which made lots of headlines).

      4. @Charles (no B)

        If I was a pedestrian in a crosswalk and a car hit me, would the driver be at fault or would it be my fault for not running out of the way even when the light is on my side? This nearly happened to me last week and even though yelling at the driver with the full force of my voice woke them up its pretty clear to me that drivers are often at fault when accidents occur.

        Do some cyclists blow stop signs? Sure and they shouldn’t be doing that, it is taking a risk with their own lives and potentially damaging someone else’s property. Just today though I was on the Fremont Greenway and I lost count of the number of cars who did not even slow down at the new stop signs.. they just belted right through the intersection without looking.

        The problem isn’t that cars are all evil or all bicyclists ignore to rules.. the problem is everyone is in too much of a damned hurry to worry about who they might hurt on the way to wherever they are going. Everyone needs to slow down and obey the rules of the road.

        Bicycle infrastructure is greatly appreciated and will help, but getting people to pay attention and obey the rules of the road would help even more.

    3. I agree with the above posters—these are not “honest mistakes”. This are, however, culturally acceptable mistakes.

      Running red lights kills pedestrians, yet culturally, running red lights is more or less acceptable. Hell, we even have public debates about whether or not we actually want to enforce this with red light cameras.

      Veering onto the shoulder kills cyclists (see John Przychodzen above). Nothing could be more simple than staying between the two white lines on the road! Yet, it’s absurd to imagine anyone getting a ticket for crossing onto the shoulder.

      Right turns into crosswalks hit pedestrians. The list goes on and on.

      It would be completely unfair to start throwing people in jail for these offenses just because they hit someone, while not enforcing these laws at any other time. Talk about mixed-messages.

      What has to happen is that we have to shift away from these infractions as being culturally acceptable. How do we do that? I have no idea.

      1. There’s a bit of extra nuance with red-light cameras, where some unscrupulous police departments are changing light timings, cutting yellow-time below what’s normally safe, to try to catch more people with the cameras. And as for shoulders and holding lanes… there are lots of cases, when traffic is clear, where holding to precise lane lines isn’t all that important. You wouldn’t ticket a driver of route 40 coming west down Leary for pulling out of a stop and briefly cutting across part of both traffic lanes in that direction when he’s checked that they’re clear before doing so. I wouldn’t even ticket drivers that cheat down bike lanes a little to get to right turn lanes (as long as it’s for a short distance, maybe a car-length or two, and as long as they really wait until it’s clear and don’t block the bike lane — go down the bike lane for a block, stop across it, or fail to yield, and I’d ticket that all day… and I could at Dexter/Denny), and I’m usually the one biking! I see tires of moving vehicles creep over the bike lane line when nobody’s there all the time and I don’t care much (I do care about parked cars in the bike lane, but that’s another story) as long as the drivers see actual cyclists when they’re there and keep an appropriate course.

        Lane lanes are made to be crossed when the coast is clear. But it’s really important to pay enough attention to know when the coast isn’t clear, and to be in control of your vehicle. That’s what makes the ticket in the Przychodzen case so infuriating. The driver was ticketed for crossing the fog line, but that isn’t really what he did wrong. By what I think is the generally accepted account of the collision, he actually saw Przychodzen and tried to move left to give him extra clearance, then swerved to avoid oncoming traffic and lost control of his vehicle. This brings up a number of questions: was he negligently inattentive of oncoming traffic or did he move left in a position where he couldn’t have seen oncoming traffic (which might have been considered reckless)? Was he driving too fast for conditions, contributing to his loss of control? Does he have sufficient competence at driving that the state should issue him a driver’s license, or should his license be revoked until he can be re-taught? None of these were investigated; instead he was handed a token ticket for crossing a painted white line that drivers cross every day without incident (I ride on that very road maybe once a month, I see it happen all the time, and I flat out don’t care — I wouldn’t ticket them if I had a magic ticketing gun because they mostly aren’t doing anything dangerous).

        Unfortunately often the only test for inattentiveness is colliding with something. That’s why we need to hold people responsible for the actual damage they cause while driving.

      2. @Al

        The red light camera nuance is a distraction (don’t forget the big brother argument!)—yes there are some real cases where light timing was reduced to make more money—but it’s pretty clear that most of the time the red light camera issue is just about people not wanting tickets. Running red lights kills, and we are all completely capable of stopping for all red lights on time if we cared.

        Same thing with speeding. The cynical take is that it’s just cops wanting to fulfill a quota, reality is people just don’t want to get caught and pay a ticket. Speed kills, and we’re all perfectly capable of not depressing the accelerator a few centimeters.

        How about stopping for pedestrian’s? Most of the time just blowing right by in the car isn’t a problem (they’ll cross eventually, right?), until one day the pedestrian is not paying attention and steps out in front of you anyway. Just blame the victim? They weren’t paying attention, after all. Or maybe, the real problem is that culturally we let it be okay to not stop every time, and the consequence is that, statistically, someone will die.

        With regards Przychodzen, based on your information, it sounds like you’re right and I agree with your assessment. Where I disagree is this,

        Unfortunately often the only test for inattentiveness is colliding with something.

        Lane departures (among other things) are exactly a test for inattentiveness. When I follow a car driving up Juanita wandering in and out of the shoulder and varying speed, I’m pretty darn certain that they’re not paying full attention to driving. They really don’t have to hit something before that becomes obvious. (*)

        But arguing about the importance of lane departures or any other minor traffic infractions listed above misses the bigger point. The point is that these “culturally acceptable infractions” are innocuous 99.99999% of the time, but with 100,000,000 drivers on the roads per day, every now and then one of those infractions a leads to a death that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred. In addition, forcing drivers to pay more attention to stupid things like lane departures would lead to better attentiveness in general, and therefore fewer deaths.


        (*) And of course I certainly agree that there are numerous scenarios where lane departure is perfectly appropriate, as you point out.

  3. A new cyclist shouldn’t have to pore over a Bicycle Master Plan and Google Maps to plot a safe route. They should be able to just go and use largely the same roads as cars and pedestrians, and do it safely without fearing their death.

    Every road that is “safe” for cars should also be safe for bicycles, period.

    As I understand there is only one type of road that does not allow pedestrians and cyclists, the freeway. But even then, there are some freeways that “allow” pedestrians and cyclists.

    It’s as ridiculous to me as the drive-thru window that doesn’t allow walk-throughs, except for it being a public health issue and people dying.

    1. Agreed, though it will take time to make all streets safer for bicyclists… in the mean time, plenty of clear signage helps… We could use better signage right now in the missing link of the Burke Gilman trail… its not clear to newbies where they are “supposed” to go once they hit locks.

  4. Biking in Seattle isn’t as bad as all that on most streets. Really. I do it almost every day, and I’ve learned how to stay visible and where to look for drivers that might not see me. There are things you can’t avoid (like that idiot on Juanita), but most of the danger comes from oncoming turning traffic and cross traffic in fairly predictable ways. And the more people bike, the safer it gets.

    1. Too true. Too often, motorists (and cyclists) act as though they should be entitled to give their attention to other things while on the road. Let’s put a great sound system in the car. How about video? Hands-free dialing to let you make that important phone call. But the reality is that even on an empty, well-lit, straight road, shit happens. And your attention needs to be on the road. If doing that is too much for you, stay at home or get someone else to drive you.

      1. +1

        People need to pay more attention when they are on the roads.

        If you ask me though the most useful piece of infrastructure we could put in for bicycles is better crossings at the N/S arterial roads that are not just on E/W arterial.

        Many of the E-W arterials (that usually also do not have bike lanes) are worth avoiding because:
        A) Some drivers are quite impatient and will do whatever they can to swerve around the bicyclist even when there is already a passing lane.
        B) Many drivers (though not all) tend to not pay much attention to bicyclists when pulling out of parking lots (this happened to me a LOT on 85th so I have stopped using 85th for much of anything).
        C) Arterial roads are usually heavy on diesel exhaust.

  5. How about this angle: My brother was sued by a car insurance company after a driver hit him and totaled his bike (luckily he wasn’t hurt). It was clearly the car driver’s fault as my brother was in a bike lane with the right of way, and the car was coming into traffic from a side street. But the insurance company came after him (and my father) for causing damage to the car. My whole family stopped riding after that, and we were once regular riders long before biking was popular.

      1. It may have been silly, but it was an expensive, time-consuming reminder that even if you walk away unharmed, you could end up paying a price. This particular incident came after my mom had been pushed off the road by a couple of yahoos leaning out of a pick-up truck, and my dad ended up in a ditch on his ride to work in really bad weather. I kept riding myself until I witnessed a bicyclist crunched by a truck, and decided it just wasn’t worth my life to ride on the road.

    1. There have been a bunch of cases where auto insurance companies have gone after cyclists or speciously tried to assign them part of blame in collisions. It’s pretty sick. Cyclists are fairly organized and many have car insurance. A few targeted boycotts and campaigns might make a difference.

  6. I have and always will disagree with the notion of vehicular cycling where the bike is considered the equivalent of a car in the road.

    How about this. Imagine if you were to drive a car, but with no bumpers. And no air bags. And no seat belts. How about no body at all, just a chassis and a tiny seat. You would have to drive this car with your head arched down. You would have no safety glass…just open air. Oh, sure, you would be prevented from going not much more than 20 mph…but maybe much faster down hill.

    Unlike most other “vehicles” you would only have two tires instead of four. You would have to balance yourself…even on rain and ice. Oh and the surface area of your tires would be incredible small.

    Oh and you know all the safety regulations for carrying infants? Like car seats and how to strap them in and which direction to face them for each age? Forgettaboudit! Just throw the kid into a carrier on the back that you can’t see while driving, and plow through traffic on your open chassis, unprotected “vehicle.”

    Now, suppose I took this “car” and gave it to consumer reports. What kind of rating would it get…when they run a regular auto into it at 20 mph? A+? B-? How about Unsafe At Any Speed!!

    Because bicycles do not belong on a car roadway. Ever. They do not meet any modern safety regulation at all. I’m surprised that we aren’t giving people tickets for riding them in traffic, rather than painting ridiculous “bike lanes”.

    The only way to do this is to have a completely separate bicycle topology with segregated cycletrack. Autos and bikes may only mix at crossroads. Or in very, very low speed situations..for the autos and bikes.

    Let’s stop fooling ourselves.

    And take the money to build a real and segrated bicycle highway and street network with a sane topology.

    1. John,

      Sadly, I have to agree with you. Drivers as a group are just far too selfish, lazy, entitled and inattentive to mix cars and bicycles, except on low-speed, low-traffic residential circulators. And even then the bicyclists had better be quite attentive.

    2. Well, I ride a motorcycle, so I do use a two-wheeled, unprotected vehicle with no bumpers, safety glass, airbags, that requires me to balance on two wheels. I see a lot of bad driving, and the worst offenders are those with bicyclist safety messages on their cars.

      1. TROLL ALERT!

        Symptoms: faking a reasonable tone while creating a false equivalence.

        Cure: take two Orange Sunshine and call us in twelve hours.

    3. No, you are wrong. Bicycles do not need to be segregated. I drive, I bike, I walk, and I take transit depending on the need. Streets and roadways are public right of ways, owned and maintained by indirectly by all of us. As publicly owned properties, they are for the benefit of all, and official policy by SDOT is to do just that through Complete Streets.
      Cars are not the standard for safety and accessibility, people are. All users of this “commons” need to understand this, drivers, and cyclists as well.

    4. Let’s pretend you’re right for a moment: allowing bikes on roads with cars is bad law and should be changed. That doesn’t exculpate these drivers at all. No one is entitled to behave as if the law is optimal. They’re required to obey the law as it exists. When you get a drivers license, you must both show knowledge of and agree to follow the laws as they currently exist. If you were right, we should all lobby our legislators to pass laws that ban either bikes or cars from the road. But that’s no excuse for not behaving lawfully in the meantime.

  7. So, there you have it. We have designed and built our cities in this country to chew people up like a meat grinder. This is some kind of hell, isn’t it?

    People are so frightened of the environments in which they live that most people will not even venture out to walk, and most keep their children confined inside their houses, like a prison.

    For what its worth, I have been cycling for a good solid decade (in Portland), and the only time I got hit by a car is when I hit him – on purpose. While nerve-wracking, there are some streets that aren’t that dangerous. Your mileage may vary. And, safety in numbers.

    1. Yesterday evening, I was walking along the little strip of sidewalk outside the Kent-Meridian QFC, back to my car when this gargantuan pickup truck pulled into a space. The driver was about a person height above me. As I walked in front of his vehicle, I had this premonition. What if he were to suddenly press the accelerator, and crush me between his bumper and the store display of firelogs. Wouldn’t you know it, suddenly he jerked forward about half a foot (over the edge of the sidewalk). It seemed like he had no idea I was there, so I punched the top of the hood (it was a cab forward type truck, so more of snout). The guy was completely startled (meaning, that no, he had no idea I was there).

      I don’t care who is right or wrong, but this comes back down to the notion of impedance. Yes, you have a “right” to ride an open air “vehicle” on the roadway. Yes, you can navigate something the proportion of a cargo ship in a suburban parking lot. But does it make sense? Is it safe? Do we want to live in this world which, as you point out, seem to be designed to damage us? Did we build…the Bridge on the River Kwai?

  8. I can understand the vitriol against car drivers when it comes to bicyclists. But, as a driver and pedestrian–I haven’t ridden a bike in 20 years–I generally come out against the bicyclists. When I’m walking in downtown Seattle, I have never been hit by a car but I have been hit quite a few times by a bicyclist on the sidewalk and nearly hit many times by a bicyclist when I’m in the crosswalk. So, bicyclists are not gonna get much sympathy from me on this topic.

    1. How many pedestrians are killed by cyclists each year?

      I’ve been hit many times by pedestrians while walking. And by “hit” I mean gently nudged, with our shoulders touching. And some of them didn’t even turn around and say “sorry”.

      I have sympathy for anyone injured by a bicycle. But it’s not even a little bit the same thing as hit by a car.

    2. So you’d rather be hit by a car? Did you ever think that maybe if we had safe bike infrastructure downtown then the cyclist wouldn’t be on the sidewalk? I don’t get you so called “pedestrians” (because cyclists are obviously never pedestrians) that feel so threatened by “big bad cyclists” on their 20 pound aluminum bikes storming through crosswalks at 10 maybe 15mph versus a 2 ton chunk of steel going over 45mph. Cyclists need to follow the rules but placing your argument towards cyclists, who are actually creating a much safer walking environment for you, is completely misplaced and unwarranted.

  9. I’m not going to say that the bicyclist is 100% at fault in all cases. I am though going to say that I have seen some pretty stupid things that bicyclist’s have done around me. My biggest pet peeve is those that are wearing ear buds with the music cranked. Generally these people are totally oblivious to those around them and an extreme hazard to everyone, since when they do see a (typically large) vehicle behind them they start riding recklessly. Secondly, when you operate a motor vehicle you are trained that people always pass to the LEFT of you. generally most bicyclists ride to the RIGHT, you can see how this could cause an accident. Where there is heavy bike traffic there should be a dedicated bike lane with dedicated bike signals, and signal timings setup so that everyone has protected movements.

  10. Fearmongering much, Andrew? The statistics show that biking is incredibly safe–and it can be safe with more cyclist on the road and traffic modifications. That said, it is shameful that drivers almost always get away with murder.

    1. Yeah, it’s disappointing to see this site, which is generally really good about grounding its claims and arguments in documented empirical findings, engaging in this sort of fact-light hysteria about the dangers of biking. Of course drivers should be held accountable for causing deadly accidents–driving is an incredibly dangerous activity and we have every right to demand, as a society, a great deal more care and caution from drivers than we’re currently demanding, and that the law currently demands. But we can walk and chew gum at the time–we can recognize this and recognize that biking is, as far as risky activities go, not particularly dangerous based on actual rates of serious injury.

    2. I was just expressing my personal experience, and linking to an insightful article. If that’s fearmongering, then you have a low bar for that sort of thing.

  11. While I agree we need tougher laws to deal with the purposeful killing of a cyclist, I also agree that we need laws in place that require all cyclists bikes to be lighted 24 hours a day. Forward facing and rear facing lights. The forward facing light should be a strobe type of light so that it makes the cyclist stand out against non-flashing lights. In my experience, cyclists with strobe lights are better seen by me when riding at dusk and nighttime and there are motor vehicles behind them. With a non-strobe type light the cyclists gets lost/washed out in the headlight of the car behind them.

    We also need enforcement of laws upon cyclists to force them to follow the rules of the road. While many do, many more do not.

    1. Thank you! I started out as a bike loving person (damn you Amsterdam!) but after working for the last 6 months in Seattle I’ve very nearly become a bicycle hating vigilante. Really, it’s only taken 6 months. Bicyclists are the worst law breaking people anywhere (not just the road). In my 20 minute walk I’ll see no less than 10 bicyclists that run red lights, eek between cars in traffic, fly up on to the sidewalk and then ease across the street when there’s a red light and more. I’ve never had one stop at a crosswalk on Dexter even though cars are required too. I had a car once that pulled out on Lynn street and stopped at the cross walk for me and a bicyclist came around the car, started calling the driver an imbecile and nearly ran me over. The only thing that was going on in his mind was some dumb driver was in his way. He didn’t even stop to wonder WHY the car was stopped at an intersection. Had I had an umbrella that day the rider would have been on the ground.

      At this point I think bikes need to be licensed (with a plate) and riders need to be cited. An officer wouldn’t have to even go looking for law breakers, they could just stand on any corner and write. At some point when the tickets start piling up riders might realize they are NOT above the law.

  12. I find the mentality that “it’s just too dangerous to ride so I’m giving it up” very frustrating. IT TAKES TIME to get used to city cycling and the more bikes out there, the safer it is. I’m not saying that it’s stupid to be wary and even a little fearful (you are, after all doing something unfamiliar or new) but don’t let that dissuade you from taking part in something that could be hugely rewarding.

    The advice in the article that it’s good to think that all drivers are mouth-breathing drug-users out to kill all cyclists is apt because it puts the rider in a defensive stance. However, that advice is good for drivers as well!

    People die behind the wheel too. People die while walking. Don’t equate bikes with death and everything else as safe. It’s just not true. The NY Times editorial points out some useful info regarding penalties for injuring people with a motor vehicle but does very little to frame a meaningful conversation. I’ve read FAR too many articles recently about how scary and dangerous cycling is. They all include the regular stories about people getting injured or killed while on a bike and do nothing but a great job of scaring people into not riding.

    These articles are the Faces of Death (remember those films from drivers ed?) of cycling education. Please, stop espousing the idea that cycling = early death.

    1. I am not espousing that idea, I am just saying I didn’t feel safe. That’s how I felt. Sort of obvious in context, I think?

      I link to an article. I give my experience running (which I think is too dangerous) and compare it to my experience riding (which is mine, you can’t control or change).

      Get off your shit, son. Your experience isn’t everyone’s and you don’t own ours just because you cycle more.

  13. In Amazonland, on Terry, between Denny and Mercer, there are four intersections in between, all four way stops, all high pedestrian areas. On my 6+ mile run, these four blocks account for about 85% of my close calls, since the rest of my run is on Westlake parking lot/Burke Gilman, with a little more sidewalk running towards the end.

    Running home, it’s always like running a gauntlet, despite pedestrians having uncontested right-of-way at every single one of those intersections. Monday night, I was almost hit at all four intersections. I’m talking jumping out of the way or stopping inches from a car trying to zoom around me. Most of them are trying to make a green light on Westlake. Finally at the last stop, I was able to get the guy to stop and stared him down until the light he was trying to make turned red.

    I don’t know what it is about this area, but it’s like the drivers don’t either are oblivious to non-cars or they just don’t care. You could make all kinds of arguments about out of towners, Californians, non-city dwellers, etc, to justify why it’s so bad in Amazonland, but in the end, it seems like what Seattle is trending towards: people who are in a hurry to get somewhere and they don’t care who they harm along the way.

    1. While you’re running thru these intersections, do you stop before you cross and check to make sure the drivers see you? Or do you blindly run thru the intersections like I see other runners and pedestrians do, expecting the drivers to see you and stop?

      1. I always try to anticipate what drivers are doing. If they’ve clearly entered the intersection, I allow them to go, since I’m not an aggressive runner. I never run in front of a car unless they are stopped and looking directly at me (although this doesn’t guarantee anything, since I’ve been hit using this method), Most of the problems are when I’ve either entered the intersection or am about to enter the intersection and a car guns it or just obliviously starts from a stop sign.

        Of course, this is all because I value my safety and use common sense. Pedestrians shouldn’t have to yield to cars at a four way intersection, especially in a heavy pedestrian area like Amazonland. If the drivers don’t like waiting for the throngs of pedestrians, they are free to avoid the pedestrian heavy areas.

  14. Perhaps one of the reasons you have had so many close calls is because you ride on sidewalks. Most safety educators advise against riding on sidewalks because drivers are not expecting cyclists in crosswalks.

    Both the NY Times article and this post make a good point about the legal and cultural issue here, but unfortunately with a side of fear mongering. One of the best way to improve safety is to increase the number of cyclists. New York has dramatically increased the number of cyclists in the past several years while collisions have remained almost flat.

    1. Ride on sidewalks? I never did that. As a lifelong pedestrian (and distance runner) nothing annoys me more than cyclists on the sidewalk.

  15. As I see it, the thing speaks for itself. Res ipsa loquitur. Absent any evidence that a bicycle operator is operating his vehicle in a reckless or unlawful manner*, the fact of a car striking a bicycle is *proof* that the driver was operating his car in a reckless or unsafe manner, or was not fit to be driving. There is no other explanation for it happening.

    *In its lane; abiding by signals, signs, and control devices; not moving in an erratic or unpredictable manner.

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