Today, I saw this post about pedestrian safety on the Urban Country Bicycle blog. It talks about how the Toronto media often portrays the pedestrian victims of automobile-related accidents as the responsible party, rather than the driver (or both). Thankfully, I don’t think Deschutes County (where I live) is particularly prone to that stance. Our last major bicycle-automobile death was a major piece of news and there was no question in the media’s mind that it was the fault of the driver, who was texting when he struck the young boy.
It does bring to mind the many, many times I have almost been hit by vehicles – and only twice was it my fault. Oddly, cell phones rarely seem to be the cause, though. I can remember a day a few months ago when I was cycling across an intersection, watching the man in the pickup truck to my right, who was waiting for me to pass so he could proceed. I saw something in his eyes change and knew he was going to gun it, even though I was just a few feet away, and sure enough, he did. He saw his mistake immediately, and we both came to abrupt stops. He only looked slightly chagrined, however, for attempting to avoid having to wait the five seconds it would have taken me to pass as he waved me on. But there it is: NO cell phone involved and the man was looking at me the whole time. He was just in the usual hurry.
Another incident occurred downtown when I was crossing the street on foot, sans bicycle. A minivan came hurtling toward me and I remember thinking it was some kind of joke or something, and why weren’t they stopping and…then I realized it wasn’t a joke and I sprinted out of the way, hightailing it for the sidewalk. I heard the driver call out to me. It was a woman who profusely apologized and explained that she hadn’t seen me in the glare of the sunlight off her windshield. Again, no cell phone involved.
So as it turns out, reflective jackets, flags, bells and the other safety equipment I often use don’t necessarily help. Being out in daylight (as opposed to nighttime) doesn’t necessarily help. And the drivers don’t have to be on their cell phones at all. This all makes for a pretty daunting picture. Are we cyclists and pedestrians just throwing ourselves into an ocean of vehicle predators and hoping for the best?
If all our safety precautions don’t necessarily protect us from near-misses or accidents, then what can we do? I came upon this video (below) a few months ago and was so completely blown away by it. It’s a quick, 6-minute documentary on the development of the bicycle paths in the Netherlands. I almost feel like crying when I watch – it is my ultimate fantasy to have such a sophisticated bicycling system in my own city and to have car-free city centers. And why shouldn’t we? What is it about America that makes it so car-centric? What about the rest of us, who choose to travel differently? And how many would also make that choice if they felt it was safer?
This video boils down the car vs. bicycle problem into a simple equation: Unsafe streets for pedestrians + economic crisis + energy crisis + public outcry = CHANGE. We have the first three of those across the US. All we have to do is add the fourth and final component – the public outcry, something I don’t see much of.
I have toyed with this idea for years now – how to get involved with the community to instigate change and educate people. I’ve had a million ideas ranging from starting a bicycle gang (in actuality, a group of bicycle commuters who meet and support one another) to volunteering to host educational meetings/classes at schools and community groups (which, surprisingly, people have been less than enthusiastic about). But I haven’t pushed through, I haven’t followed through, I have yet to really do anything. Maybe now is the time….
What would your first plan of action be?