Posted by: bkivey | 29 May 2015

Two – Wheel Casualties

So far this month there have been four serious car – bicycle accidents in Portland; one of them fatal. The local cycling community is upset and demanding action from government. The last cycling fatality that generated big press occurred nearly three years ago, and I posted on it. From that post:

“It’s an unfortunate byproduct of this areas cycling culture that riders feel a certain sense of entitlement; an attitude shared by pedestrians. It’s not uncommon to see cyclists and pedestrians cross intersections with nary a look around, confident in the knowledge that they have the right of way. It’s a testament to driver awareness and modern brake systems that there aren’t more incidents between motor vehicles and bikes and pedestrians. It’s a tragedy that a young woman died, but the reality is that no amount of regulation or technology will mitigate bad judgement.”

Of the four recent accidents, two were known to be cyclists hit by vehicles making left turns. In those situations, my experience is that the fault probably lies with the driver. I’ve nearly been clipped several times by cars making left turns through intersections, and the most serious cycling injury I sustained was from a driver making a left turn onto the street. She never even looked left before pulling out.

There isn’t enough public information on the other two incidents, including the fatality, to make a judgement about liability. Given my experience driving in the area, and the cavalier attitude many cyclists and pedestrians have toward traffic laws and basic self-preservation, I’d not be surprised if much of the blame lies with the non-motorized vehicle. As an example, I was driving in downtown Portland yesterday and nearly hit a cyclist blowing through a stop sign at speed. That guy was literal inches from becoming a statistic. You’d think given the month’s events he’d pay a tad more attention to traffic regulations.

From the comments made by interviewed cyclists, it would appear Portland was plagued by hordes of metal monsters hell-bent on running down innocent cyclists. The blame is entirely on the drivers. Nary a word about how maybe cyclists should pay more attention to their surroundings, traffic laws, and the fact that 200 lbs of rider and machine is never going to do well against 3,000 lbs of metal, and people should ride accordingly. Because the commentary is monolithically one-sided, I doubt that the cycling community at large is really interested in solving a problem as much as pushing a narrative. This isn’t public debate; it’s divisive rhetoric intended to push an agenda.

And it’s not even a realistic agenda. Cyclists are calling for city measures designed to reduce cycling casualties to zero. That’s not even remotely possible. Nothing made by humans can be perfect, certainly not a system with tens of thousands of independent variables in the operators of various vehicles.  Realistically, people determine what level of system error is acceptable, and plan resource expenditures accordingly. Anything else is wishful thinking.

There’s also the annoying, but in this part of the world common, belief that it’s other people’s responsibility to address what amounts to an individual problem. I understand that there are parts of the city’s streets that can benefit from improved safety measures, but when you’re out in the world, your personal safety is primarily your responsibility. All the programs and money in the world won’t fix bad judgement.

If the cycling community wants real safety improvement, they should realize that any solutions will require support from all parties involved. Incriminating the majority of the community isn’t going to get that done. In the current climate, the real two-wheel casualties are truth and inclusiveness.

How to Be a Nerd

Anyone who listens to AM radio knows that it’s a great lightning detector.  I turned the ball game on today and the radio was popping and cracking. A check of the weather radar revealed thunderstorms across the high deserts of Washington and Oregon. Sure, it was nerdy thing to do, but it was cool, in a nerdy way.



  1. Totally agree! I ride my bicycle around Chicago (where we’ve had major improvements in designated and protected bike lanes throughout the city in just the past two years) and also drive my 12-year old sensible, economy size car. Pedestrians, bicyclists and car drivers all need to adhere to traffic laws as well as local law enforcement actually citing pedestrians and bicyclists for violating said laws instead of literally looking the other way when an infraction occurs. (I witnessed this first-hand when a pedestrian crossed against the light into the path of an oncoming taxi cab – who honked – and the two CPD officers standing on the corner just ignored the entire scene.)

  2. Hi Starr,

    Thanks for commenting. I have major experience in urban cycling, but the ‘blame cars first’ attitude really irks me. Most cyclists also drive, but the minority who don’t seem to think they are the Chosen Ones. When you’re riding a bike in an urban environment, you really do need to be aware.

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