Despite the headline -- What cyclists neglect: After a fatal crash, they want more respect on the road. They need to earn it. -- an opinion piece in the Globe Magazine isn't terrible. But, it's another in a long-line of unfortunate blame-the-victim broadsides that impose a disproportionately higher burden on bicyclists than on motorists.
I can't quibble with author Dan Most's recommendations:
- Give lots of room to buses. Good advice for other large vehicles. Trash trucks seem to inflict a higher body count than most vehicles.
- Wear a helmet. But, that has nothing to do with avoiding conflict, only surviving it.
- Don't wear earphones.
- Wear bright clothes.
- Ride defensively.
- Strive to be visible. Assume you're invisible. (Can't go wrong citing NS&S fave David Watson.)
But, he uncritically quotes a Boston police officer misunderstanding the law. Bicyclists are not supposed to abide by the same set of laws. Bikes can pass on the right. Drivers have special obligations to avoid bikes. Cars can pass bikes in a single lane of traffic. Bikes can go in bike lanes. Cars have to be registered. There are special bike-specific lighting requirements. Drivers have to be registered and insured.
Even more objectionable is Most's suggestion that the motorist v. bike problem is at least as much a problem of biker's not respecting motorists, that cyclists somehow share an equal burden for the difficult environment cyclists face. He reduces (to zero?) the special obligation drivers should have as pilots of potentially lethal multi-ton vehicles. And, he completely ignores the fact that driver indifference (at best) or aggression (at worst) plus an overallocation of our streets to cars keeps potential cyclists off the streets entirely.
As I laid out in more detail here, it's not necessarily the sensitivity like Most's to cyclists' flaws that irritates, it's the fact that the blame-the-bikers attitude reveals the extent to which we've normalized the often atrocious behavior of motorists.
And, it's unfortunate that Most doesn't take any policy stand. With Nashville underwater, record rains in Massachusetts, a Gulf of Mexico oil spill that would fill Cape Cod Bay and then some, traffic eroding our quality of life, &c., there's good reason to favor bicycles over cars. Why exactly should there be a burden on cyclists to earn respect?