Are the Roads Being Overrun by Dangerous Irresponsible Cyclists?

©. Carl Court / Getty Images

Last year pedestrian Kim Briggs was hit by a bike in London, a “fixie” track bike without brakes (which is illegal), ridden by a jerk named Charlie Alliston. It so happened that Ms. Briggs was not crossing in the crosswalk, and according to Alliston, was looking at her phone. She fell and died from serious head trauma. After the crash, Alliston continued being a jerk, writing on a cycling site that it was her fault, that he did not feel any guilt at all.

Alliston was charged under an old law written to protect people from horses, the “1861 Offences Against the Person Act of causing bodily harm by wanton or furious driving,” and found guilty. As a person who rides bikes in the city and has been terrorized by jerks on fixies who race by me to go through red lights, I have no argument with that.

What is disturbing is the disproportionate outrage against people who ride bikes. Had the driver of a car hit Kim Briggs while she was crossing outside of an intersection, with the driver (going less than the speed limit) claiming the pedestrian was looking at her phone (whether or not it was true), the little bit of coverage that the story would get would be all about distracted walking and she deserved what she got.

daily mail cover

Coverage in the Mail/Screen capture

And the coverage! This trial was in every paper, everyone has something to say about it. Cycling advocates like Richard Windsor of Cycling Weekly worry about the widespread vilification of cyclists everywhere:

What happened that day in 2016 between Alliston and Briggs was extraordinarily unfortunate and avoidable, as are most fatal collisions on the road. And while Alliston is rightly reprimanded for what happened, the vilification of cyclists here is not good for anyone.

Peter Walker of the Guardian picked up on this issue more recently. He points out that people who ride bikes often own cars or take transit. “This is a debate about modes of transport, not tribes.” He notes that in the two weeks following the start of the Alliston’s trial, he monitored police feeds and found that 8 pedestrians were killed, 27 seriously injured, (in 5 cases, the driver fled the scene) 2 cyclists killed. Oh, and 29 died in car and motorcycle accidents not involving pedestrians or cyclists.

Other incidents included a 12-year-old girl pushed off her bike by a man, after which she was almost hit and killed by a car, and a six-year-old boy run over and trapped under a mobility scooter, the driver of which then left the scene (at a presumably sedate pace).

None of this made the news. (There was a big highway crash that killed eight the following week, which definitely has made the news.) And when drivers kill cyclists or pedestrians, they often get away with murder- “A BBC study found that fewer than half of driver convicted of offences in which a cyclist died went to jail.”

The vast majority of people who ride bikes are just people trying to get from point A to B without getting killed, which is what I suspect most drivers and pedestrians want too; again as Peter Walker notes, it is a mode of transportation, not a cult or a tribe. It is logical to try and get more people onto bikes; it is good for their health and reduces congestion and pollution. This vilification of everybody on bikes doesn’t do anyone any good; as Richard Windsor concluded:

It’s the job of the media to inform and question and help progress issues of society rather than further stoke the flames of two parties constantly on the precipice of another horrible incident.

Because in the end, the proportion of jerks on bikes is probably no bigger than the proportion of jerks in cars, and while every incident like this is tragic, bikes do a lot less damage to pedestrians than cars do.

bike news bingo

© The Bicycle Story

Of course, just a few hours after Peter Walker’s article went up, there are 2500 comments, mostly calling cyclists idiots; it only took minutes for someone to win the Bike Bingo game.

Cyclists should have to do all the things motorists must do. Checks on their bikes for road-worthiness, a road fund tax, a proficiency test (including the Highway Code), at least third-party insurance, a bell or horn, compulsory wearing of helmets and it should be illegal for them to have earpieces in or use mobile phones. No riding on pavements or in parks. That would level the playing field a little and hopefully get rid some of the inconsiderate zealots.

He missed the hi-viz but still won.