I suggest that before you read any further you go and read his article (here), as I am going to be breaking it down point by point and I don’t want you to be confused by my ramblings.
Let us tackle his arguments one at a time.
Argument 1: If cyclists want to be respected as vehicles they have to follow the rules.
While Most doesn’t come right out and say it, he is making this argument throughout the article. I agree fully. As cyclostat put it very elegantly in his recent blog post “As much as I hate to say it, it’s shit like running red lights that is going to make the difference in the end. Heart and minds, you assholes. That’s what we need.” I think Most is spot on with this and I personally have written at length on the subject (1,2) It is the rest of the article that I disagree with.
Argument 2: If you don’t wear a helmet you are at best stupid and at fault in a crash.
Most writes the following:
When I heard about Hunt’s death, my heart went out to his family, and to the bus driver. Then I had one question, which was answered by this line in the April 9 Globe story: “Hunt, who was not wearing a helmet. . . .”
Not wearing a helmet? While cycling on Huntington Avenue, alongside trolleys, buses, cars, and those treacherous tracks?
His focus on the status of helmet use is the flaw here. He seems to be implying (very strongly) that if you are not wearing a helmet and you get hit by a car somehow it is your fault. While I agree fully with his point that every rider should wear a helmet, and I do think it is stupid to not wear one, the law in this state says that after you turn 17 you no longer have to wear a helmet. If a driver does something illegal and runs you down weather or not you had a helmet on does not make that act more or less illegal.
The author admits that no one really knows what happened in the accident (or at least no one knows yet), so what is his point? If the bus driver did something illegal then the status of Eric’s helmet use is irrelevant. Is he trying to say that Eric was somehow at fault because he didn’t have a helmet on? Was he saying that by not having a helmet on Eric was asking for it? I really can’t see the logic in his argument. The operator of every kind of vehicle (including bicycles) has a duty toward being safe around the others using the road, the amount of safety equipment that that other users have does not change that duty.
This point can be illustrated perfectly with a little critical thinking. Lets say you are in a car and you run a red light and hit a pedestrian, was that pedestrian somehow at fault because he wasn’t wearing full hockey pads? What if a semi-truck fails to stop at a stop sign and hits a car, was that car driver more at fault because they didn’t have side impact air bags? You see my point. It is strange that we have this double standard for bicycles.
He also goes on to say the following:
Wear a helmet. You don’t look cooler without it. It’s $50. Are you worried about hat head? Plus, and I say this as a driver, drivers will be less inclined to be angry at you if they think you actually care about safety. A helmetless rider is an arrogant rider.
(i added the bold)
Really? You think people will treat you better if you have a helmet on, and you think not wearing one is arrogant. Wouldn’t a better argument be “lets treat everyone with respect, and follow the rules” (an argument he seems to be trying to make, I say “seems” because I had to work hard to pluck any sort of cogent arguments from this article). Again the foolishness of this argument can be examined by changing the user group. Are drivers arrogant when they don’t wear a seat belt? Are walkers arrogant because they don’t wear armor? Of course not.
They might not be adopting every method they could to stay safe but they are not arrogant. I would say that they are being ignorant, or foolish, but not arrogant. Arrogant implies that that they see themselves as better than others. I don’t care how snotty someone is acting, you still have to follow the laws, you can’t run them over because you think they are being uppity.
Even implying that this might be a reason why someone is getting run over is mind boggling. This line of thinking boils down to “she was wearing a short skirt, so she had it coming.”
Argument 3: Cyclists should by default give larger vehicles the right of way.
Most says that:
I bike a lot, on some bad roads – Columbia Road in Dorchester, Centre Street in Jamaica Plain, Mass. Ave. And I do stupid things on my bike. I’ve gone through red lights after looking both ways, biked the wrong way up one-way streets, biked on sidewalks.
But when I see a bus ahead, I slow and wait or ride up on the curb to get around it. And if I’m on a narrow or crowded street, I stay far right or even pull over to let it pass. What I don’t do is assume the bus driver sees me, assume he’ll wait, or assume she’ll let me pass.
(again I added the bold)
First, if you want to convince people of your argument don’t admit that you don’t follow any of your own advice, second what? Is Most saying that as a biker every time a vehicle that is larger than a cyclist (which is by default almost all of them) wants to use the road the cyclist should pull over and let them pass? Or that cyclists should ride up on the sidewalk/curb to get out of their way? Most spends a lot of the article talking about how bikes should follow all the same rules as cars, and then instructs people to NOT follow the rules with regards to the flow of traffic. It can’t be both ways.
Not only is this suggestion of giving buses the right of way against the law in regards to road sharing, it can also be dangerous. If you are hugging the curb, and pulling over regularly to let vehicles (even buses) pass you you are going to be putting yourself into a lot of bad situations. You could get tangled in road cracks, pop a tire on debris, get squeezed by right turning vehicles, get doored, hit a pedestrian leaving the sidewalk, etc. etc. Not only that but you will also be forced to re-merge with traffic after every right hand pull over.
Bicycles are vehicles, if a bus is behind one they have to wait! Road users are forced to wait for things all day long (red lights, stop signs, pedestrians, other cars, ambulances, trains) they need to mentally include cyclists in that list of things that they “don’t honk at when it is in front of me”.
Argument 4: Biking is so dangerous that you had better be dressed like a disco and fear for your life every day you ride.
I fully agree that a good set of lights and some nice visible clothing is going to go a long way towards letting motorists know where you are, and I also agree you shouldn’t be wearing headphones or sandals when ridding your bike. However, the way Most describes it if you don’t armor yourself with every safety device known to humanity you are asking to be run over and killed.
Again I think this boils down to the “short skirt” argument. Somehow implying that if you don’t use every safety device that is available to you, you are somehow asking to be run over. It is the law in Massachusetts that you have to have a white front light and a red back light when you ride your bicycle. If a cyclist doesn’t also choose to wear a neon green safety vest, they are not asking to be run down.
Road users (ALL OF THEM) have a responsibility to NOT RUN OVER other road users. From pedestrians to cyclists, to dump truck drivers, all road users are tasked with the responsibility of following the rules of the road. You don’t get to stop following the rules if someone else is not using side impact air bags, or wearing a safety vest.
I think Most is very well intentioned. He is saying a lot of things I agree with. He is trying to get cyclists to take a greater responsibility for their own actions (IE. red lights). He is trying to get people to wear helmets, he is also trying to offer general safety practices regarding driving a bike in the city (he just happens to be wrong). The problem is that he continually puts the responsibility of safety solely on the cyclists. That’s simply not how our system works. Road users have the responsibility of safety for other users. Every time a car doesn’t cross over the white line to smash into oncoming traffic they are acting responsibly. When you use the road you put your safety in the hands of every other person out there.
If you fail to wear a helmet, but still follow the law, it is NOT your fault if someone hits you. You did not ask for it, you did not somehow put yourself in more danger by failing to use every kind of safety device available. This might sound crazy, but think about it. If you have a helmet on and are following the law are you somehow making people less likely to break the law? Does wearing a helmet make other road users behave themselves? Will a drunk driver stop drunk driving because he knows that cyclists will be wearing helmets? Of course not.
What you are doing when you wear a helmet is preparing for the event of a crash. You are taking a precaution to ward off the possibility of injury. You are in a way anticipating that others will break the law. You are NOT however giving other road users permission to break the law. Not wearing a helmet decreases your ability to ward off injury, but in the exact same way doesn’t give other road users permission to break the law.
This article was well intentioned, but poorly thought out, and generally misguided. I also felt it was a bit condescending. It is clear from both statistical studies and general observation that all road user groups are breaking the law in a rampant manner. Singling out cyclists to heap warnings and condemnation on doesn’t help.
The subheading of the article is “After a fatal crash, they want more respect on the road. They need to earn it.” (“they” meaning cyclists) If everyone is breaking the law why do cyclists need to “earn” respect? Why don’t car drivers and pedestrians have to “earn” respect?
Because that is not how our legal system works. Everyone has the full protection of the law at all times. You don’t loose that protection because you didn’t wear your helmet, you also don’t lose that protection if other people making the same transportation choice you are break the law. Car drivers don’t lose protection and respect because some of them don’t wear seat belts and run red lights, neither do cyclists.
The entire article starts off on the wrong logical footing, and just gets worse from there. The few good parts are lost in a sea of accusation and poor logic. Seems like the globe is bound and determined to have consistently poor bike coverage. (remember this and this?)
EDIT: Bike snob NYC agrees with me, this article is well intentioned but seriously flawed…
Tags: article, bad logic, boston globe
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