This is a post that I dreaded writing.
This is a post that I should never have to write. Each time this happens – and it happens too often – I have a very difficult time getting my head around it all. My mind refuses to dwell on the details. The trauma. The pain. The suffering. The gravity of the loss to the rider's loved ones. “There but by the grace of God go I”… I literally cannot process the enormity of these cycling fatalities.
My thoughts are with the loved ones of the yet-to-be indentified 50 year-old cyclist killed by a turning truck at Augusta and Ashland this past Wednesday morning. I’m still struggling for the words to comment on the senseless death of Neill Townsend who was killed by a tractor trailer while swerving to avoid an opening car door nearly one month ago.
I feel like lashing out at every careless motorist.
Get your head out of your ass! You’re not the only one on the road. Your actions have consequences! No cyclist should ever have to surrender his or her life because you exhibit a complete disregard for anyone but yourself. Pay attention #@*!
As good as it may feel to vent, to admonish someone - anyone - everyone, it won’t put an end to these avoidable accidents. Cranial-rectum disorder runs rampant in our society and encountering others who can’t see beyond their own butt cracks is a hazard we all encounter each time we step outside the security of our homes. You can’t fix stupid, so the saying goes…
Researching the details of this latest fatality, I came across an article shared by a Grid Chicago follower on Twitter. Though well-intended advice about defensive cycling, this article from Commute Orlando reads like the Jim Crow Voter Manual of 1950. Technically, you do have this right. Just remember, there are others more powerful than you and if they refuse to acknowledge your existence it’s your own damn fault for being anywhere near them…
This attitude infuriates me and most other transportation cyclists.
It is beyond insulting that at any given moment - without even a moment’s notice - cyclists have to accommodate the illegal and inconsiderate actions of motorists. We should expect to be treated as second class citizens. Our safety is our concern and our concern alone. We chose to share their roads, they didn't invite us. This attitude is wrong on so many levels.
But it's also a reality that each cyclist can't ignore. Rights don't do you much good when you're dead...
Beneath the natural human tendencies toward disbelief and denial in the aftermath of these tragedies, there lies an unsettling desire to derive some sort of meaning. Why did this happen? What can I learn from this? How can I prevent this from happening again? What can be done?
We can advocate for safer streets. Protected bike lanes. Green zones. Bike paths. Signage. Motorist education. Legislation. Criminal prosecution. Cyclist safety programs. Public service announcements. National, state, and local advocacy groups are already doing a great job with this and will continue to fight our fight admirably and aggressively.
We can bicycle better. Follow the letter of the law. Make ourselves more visible. Ride more defensively. Err on the side of caution. Avoid distractions. Elevate our level of personal responsibility.
But we can only do so much to ensure our own safety. A cyclist's fate is in the hands of anyone who possesses more mass and suddenly chooses to enact physics' irrefutable law of occupying the same space at the same time.
There is no sense to this senselessness, only probability.
Probability is a factor for each of us when we wake up each morning. Insurance actuaries can accurately predict how many of us born in a certain year won't make it to our next birthdays. They just can't tell us who, when, where, or why.
Each time I drive my car on the tollway, I see the sign with the statistic for auto-related fatalities year-to-date. It's more than 100 times the annual number of cyclists killed. When one considers this number and calculates the percentage of trips taken by bike, the odds of being killed while riding equate to about one-half the odds of driving.
Still, each fatality is a tragic loss. For the loved ones involved, it creates a void that can never be filled. For the cycling community, it's a reminder of our own mortality - a warning to remain ever vigilant in the face of ignorance, inconsideration, and incompetence.
Keep riding and be safe.
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