Chicago recently passed laws to institute fines against motorists who cause accidents with bicycles. As a cyclist, I think that this is a great thing.
I’m fortunate to live in a city (Minneapolis) where we take cycling seriously — as both recreation and a form of transportation. But even with that level of commitment to the activity, we still have issues with being protected by the police. I know of multiple people of the type who would admit to fault if it was theirs, who have been hit by cars, assaulted by motorists, and so on, only to have the cops write up a report that blames the cyclist (if they bother to write a report at all). While these laws are a great contribution to making Chicago a more bike-friendly city, and something that Minneapolis should institute as well, they are unlikely to do any real good.
To make this change more immediate, a few things have to happen:
- Police need to start taking cyclists seriously. When my friend and former co-worker Mac is on the pavement after having been sideswiped by a van, her foot broken (run over), and her bike is looking like a very large, orange steel pretzel, there’s no reason for cops to be dismissive and to write a half-assed police report. Nor to let the driver of the van leave without getting a complete statement. That reeks of the cop having come into the situation biased against the cyclist. What I’d propose to solve this is, first, that cops are required to serve time in the bicycle patrol. If they’re on the streets, they need to do it in such a way as to make them familiar with how the experience is on two wheels. Secondly, they should all spend some time riding around the city in plainclothes so that they get an idea of what it’s like to be an average cyclist and not one with “POLICE” emblazoned all over their gear.
- All the enforcement of the law isn’t going to help unless the judges of the city are willing to actually penalize drivers who, through their action or inaction, injure or kill cyclists. I think we’ve gotten rather complacent in accepting the deaths caused by drivers and haven’t been as harsh as we should. Driving distracted (cellphone, kids, whatever), sleepy, or in an emotional state non-conducive to the control of a vehicle, when it kills or injures someone, should be punishable as harshly as someone who is driving drunk. Until then, cases such as these should be punished, uniformly, to the maximum extent of the law. That means exorbitant fines and jail time. Period.
- Lest you think that I’m whining about how the world needs to change to acommodate my needs, bear in mind that I believe that as part of this, cyclists must obey traffic laws. A large part of the confusion around cycling and its protection under the law is the grey area in which cyclists are sometimes classified as traffic and sometimes as pedestrians. Cyclists are traffic, and as such we need to follow the laws. Yes, it sucks to sit at a stoplight for 2-3 minutes in the middle of the night when there’s no traffic around, but you have to do it in your car, what makes you think you’re a beautiful and unique snowflake because you’re on a bike? Got a ticket for running a red light? Don’t come crying to me.
- More and better-secured bike parking. While Minneapolis may be bike-friendly, the rate of bike theft around here is deplorable. What’s needed (besides people being a little smarter about locking their stuff) is better facilities — bike lockers in public parking ramps and at train stations and the park-and-ride stations. Video security would be nice, too.
- Lastly, we need better public transportation. This will have two applications to a bike-friendly city — it will get more cars off the road, making it safer for cyclists, and secondly, when used in combination with bike racks on the fronts of buses and in trains, it greatly expands the range of the bike commuter.
Now, I know that a lot of this is based on my experiences with bike commuting here in Minneapolis. Where do you live and what would it take to make your town more bike friendly? Discuss.
Image Credits: Askpang/Creative Commons Zero (CC0).