First, a confession: I drive more places than I bike, though I do both. Does that make me a bad person? Maybe. But there you go.
Now, to the point of this post, which is the Globe story reporting reaction to a City of Boston report on the causes of bicycle accidents and recommendations on what to do. Apparently, advocates for cycling are upset about the following:
In an effort to make the city safer for cyclists, police will begin to hand out $20 citations to cyclists who run red lights; and the mayor’s office may push for a law requiring helmet use by bike riders of all ages. “We’re still blaming the victim,” said Dahianna Lopez, a Harvard doctoral student who worked as a consultant compiling crash data for the Boston Police Department.
Cycling advocates have objected that (1) a helmet law won’t prevent accidents; and (2) a relatively small number of accidents (12%, per the report) are directly traceable to cyclists running red lights or stop signs – by contrast, “twenty-two percent of collisions between cars and cyclists occurred when a vehicle door opened unexpectedly on a cyclist. Eighteen percent occurred when a motorist did not see a cyclist, and 12 percent occurred when a cyclist rode into oncoming traffic.”
Regarding point 1, I’d say the objection is true but irrelevant. The argument for helmets is precisely the same as the argument for seat belts: it’s a common-sense safety measure that will almost certainly prevent a good number of serious and perhaps fatal head injuries, thereby reducing the number of shattered lives and also keeping medical costs down. I find it hard to see the contrary argument. So I think this reaction is off-base:
David Watson, executive director of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, a statewide bike advocacy organization, said he disagrees with the conclusions of city officials on bike helmets. Forcing helmets on the heads of cyclists won’t prevent accidents, Watson said. “We need to focus on preventing a crash in the first place, not just providing protection when they crash,” he said.
Hey, here’s an idea: why not do both?
Point 2, on ticketing cyclists who run red lights, is more complicated. Here’s a quote from the Globe story that I think is illuminating:
[Cyclist] Ira Kemp of Arlington said that cracking down on bike riders who run red lights, an offense that he admitted committing on occasion, would not address one of the biggest factors in bike crashes: the behavior of motorists.
“It’s a huge cultural issue,” Kemp said. “Most motorists don’t have an ounce of respect for people on bikes.”
In my view, Mr. Kemp is both exactly right and precisely wrong. He’s right that many motorists don’t “respect” cyclists. That is a problem that has to change for the city to become more bike-friendly. But he is wrong that forcing cyclists to obey traffic laws won’t have any effect on that problem. To the contrary, motorists – including myself – get frustrated with cyclists precisely because they routinely behave like scofflaws, darting in and out of traffic, running red lights and stop signs with barely a glance toward oncoming traffic, and so forth. Be honest, now: how often have you seen a car intentionally run a red light? It happens now and then, but it’s pretty rare. In contrast, cyclists do it all the time.
Respect has to be earned. If cyclists want it, they have to behave as though they deserve it. And that means obeying the traffic laws. Right now, too many of them don’t do that. So a crackdown by law enforcement – in conjunction with other efforts, to be sure, such as the ongoing expansion of the city’s bike lanes and other efforts noted in the report – strikes me as an excellent idea.