After almost getting hit by a car on the way home from a bike ride today, I came across an op-ed piece in the Providence Journal (my local newspaper) titled 'Get Bikes off the Road.' The article began as follows: "It is often suggested that automobile drivers should learn to share the road with bicyclists. In my opinion, it is foolhardy and dangerous for bicyclists to be on the highways with motorists, period. Bicycles no more belong on roadways than autos belong on bike paths." In all likelihood the driver that almost hit me, as well as many drivers, would agree with that statement.
Now before we all pile on the author of the article for ignorance, it is worth noting that he recognizes that cyclists have a legal right to use the roads. Instead, his argument is that cycling is simply dangerous: "No one owns the roads; bicyclists are permitted and certainly welcome on them. Still, it is folly and dangerous for them to be out there." Continue reading for an analysis of his arguments and to partake in the discussion.First, let me begin by breaking down his arguments into a few main points, and then I will address them one by one:
1) Bicycles are slow, hard to see and vulnerable.
2) Too many cyclists don't know the rules of the road.
3) Unlike drivers, cyclists are not required to have insurance, and if a cyclist causes an accident he or she may be unable to pay for damage to the car or driver.
Bicycles are slow, hard to see and vulnerable.
Okay, so obviously a bicyclist can't move as quickly as a gasoline-powered automobile, and perhaps bikes are harder to see because they are smaller than cars. However, by that logic trucks and buses should be banned from the roads, because they are slower-moving than cars, and large SUVs should be outlawed because they are large and can crush smaller cars. What's more, while cars are capable of going faster, they are often left idling at 5 MPH in traffic, spewing CO2 and other pollutants in the air.
With respect to the argument about vulnerability, one wonders if the author would like all of us to spend our lives moving around in bullet-proof vests; after all, aren't pedestrians, joggers, rollerbladers, and motorcyclists vulnerable to drivers that run lights or jump curbs?
Another point the author ignores is that every year roughly 40,000 people--over 100 people a day--die in highway crashes, accounting for "more than 94% of all transportation deaths." (source: unitedjustice.com) Yes, given a choice between an accident involving two cars and an accident involving a car and a bicycle, I'd choose the one with the cars, but let's not pretend like driving is a safe activity (for more on this, see: It's More Dangerous NOT to Ride a Bike.) What's more, our roads have become so congested, and the social costs of driving--from climate change to air pollution to obesity--have risen so high, that cyclists are doing American taxpayers and the world a favor by opting out of our car culture.
Continue reading for points 2 and 3.