Writer. Warning: opinions. My lawyer advised a disclaimer, but didn't include any jokes to go with. Damned if I can think of any either.

Understanding The Why of Bikes

When something bad happens, there is a tendency to talk about why. Sometimes, “why” makes things easier to understand, or perhaps even excusable. Other times it seems less relevant — perhaps negligent to even consider. Nevertheless, it creeps in and muddies things up.

Such is the case when a driver, not paying attention on a country lane, plows through a group of cyclists. Several whys immediately begin to be hashed over. Here are some of the whys:
Why did it happen?
Why wasn’t the driver able to stop?
Why were the cyclists in the road to begin with?

It is the last one with which I take issue, because I think it is dangerous, but before I go any further, take a look at three news articles on the subject of the crash in question.

First there’s the AJC article forwarded to me by Amy, which starts like this:

A crash involving an SUV and a group of cyclists near Augusta has led to a cultural collision between people who want to use the roads for exercise and others who just want to get where they’re going.

Already I think we’re in trouble territory because it doesn’t matter why the cyclists were on the road any more than it matters why the car was on the road. Cyclists are traffic. They don’t need a reason to be in any public street other than they feel like being there.

There’s also an update from News 12 in Augusta, which contains this:

A Dodge Durango driven by Daniel Johnson of Beech Island came up behind the group and was not able to stop, striking all the riders, Robinson said. Troopers believe Johnson was not paying attention but no charges have been filed in the case.

And then there’s an article from the Augusta Chronicle, which goes into further thought about cyclists’s right to be on the road:

Regardless of people’s opinions on sharing the road, Georgia and South Carolina clearly spell out the responsibilities of motorists and cyclists. Both states consider bicycles vehicles, meaning they can ride on the road and must stop at stop signs and other traffic signals.

In my opinion, the most important “why” here is this one, bolded for emphasis:

Why aren’t people better to one another?

You’ll note that I’ve neglected to continue to refer to “cyclists and drivers” as two disparate groups. We are all, after all, people.

I think I have an answer, but I’m interested to hear yours if you have one as well. I think the answer is “Because they do not always understand each other” and unfortunately I don’t think that infrastructure is going to fix that lack of understanding in this context. As cool as it is to see dedicated bike lines in the city’s streets, for instance, the extra painted line that denotes a bike lane doesn’t stop people from parking right in it, as demonstrated here by a post office van.

lets all park in bike lanes!

I think that increasing understanding should be the top goal of anyone who wishes to improve transportation. People on bikes or in cars are occasionally going to make mistakes, like not paying attention, and accidents are, unfortunately, going to happen, but ultimately we’re all citizens of one community.

I think that we can understand each other if we want to.

7 thoughts on “Understanding The Why of Bikes”

  1. Scott Patton

    Jim, your post hit home for me today. After a bit of a non-injury commuting incident this morning – I’ve been pondering the same issue. I really don’t know what to say – but I can’t quite understand why there is a drag race to the next red light – and why other peoples safety is so unimportant to these red light dragsters.

  2. Neil

    Even out here in supposedly bike-friendly Portland, we have the same accidents, the same arguments. And of course there’s no possibility of any true discourse on any news site.

  3. Jake

    I think one of the problems, which comes from human nature, is that when a group exists that you aren’t a part of, you view them by their worst and most egregious members. I recall that one of the main impetuses to getting gays to come out of the closet was to demonstrate that homosexuality existed in all sorts of people, not just the visible ones.
    The average non-cycling motorist views cyclists by the most entitled. That guy who zips in and out of traffic, onto sidewalks, through stop signs and lights, and shows no empathy for the traffic around him.
    The average non-driving cyclist views the motorist by the lane encroaching, cell phone talking, distracted, driver who clearly values his latte over the other people in traffic.
    Neither of these people make up the majority, but both exist, and in existing, they represent the rest.
    It is the responsibility of a community to vocally shun people who identify as part of the community who do not follow it’s ideals and ethics. Cyclists condemning cars and cars condemning cyclists will always be tossed aside as partisan bickering. However, a cyclist admonishing the behavior of another cyclist, or a motorist admonishing another motorist…this is where the influence lies.

  4. A.Ron Burgundy

    Non-cyclists can’t/don’t understand why anyone who isn’t a child would ride a bike. People fear what they don’t understand and this in turn makes them angry.

    Unfortunately some people, whether they are a cyclist, a motorist(?), or a motorcyclist, are dicks.

  5. AB

    This was an intentional harrassment gone wrong. PERIOD. I know many of the riders involved and have ridden that route on my bike thousands of times. No way the driver was distracted.

    Just this Saturday, one quarter of a mile from where Dr. Burke was critically injured (he still lies in a coma and no charges have been brought) a 40 year old man in white pick up truck swerved at three of my friends missing them by inches. The lady in the group got the license tag numbers. Then 10 minutes later, this same guy swerved at a faster group a mile ahead on a four lane road with suicide lane; even going off onto the grass on the side of the road. The idiot he was stopped in the liquor store a half mile up the road; where my buddies caught up with him and called the Aiken County Sheriff Dept. The group that got buzzed the first time caught up to the faster group and verified the license tag. So you tell me doing this two times within 10 minutes is just a lack of understanding each other?

    My friend approached the guy and told him he could have mamed or killed one of them. He stated one of his buds was in the hospital in a coma; after being hit by a SUV. The idiot just stated “Well, I just got out of the hospital myself”.

    Here is to mutual understanding; if you want to stoop that low.

    God bless Dr. Matt Burke.

  6. Jim

    To all the cyclists in Aiken County….please be careful and watch out for the motorists in Aiken County. IT’S BEEN 4MONTHS NOW AND My friend is STILL fighting for his life with severe brain stem damage after being struck from behind in broad daylight while cycling on a straight one mile stretch of road. The driver was less than 3/4 of a mile from his house which happens to be on the same road on which he ran my friend down. He claims to have been distracted (as if that weren’t a crime in itself) and has changed his story at least 4 times. Fortunately for him, he obviously knows the right people. Unfortunately for my friend Dr. Matthew Burke, having recently returned from Iraq, is still fighting for his life with severe brain stem damage. Dr. Burke’s career as a surgeon in the Army is over, his family is devastated and a beautiful 7 month old little girl will grow up without her dad.

    And to make things even worse, the driver has never been charged with anything even though he was going fast enough that when he did decide to break, he threw Dr. Burke more than 40 feet down the road in the air landing head first in the pavement without his helmet which he lost when first hitting the drivers windshield. Be careful, there is no justice in Aiken County. If you know the right people you can get away with anything there. Try doing a goole search on something like “Aiken cycle accidents” or Matthew Burke Cycle Accident. You’ll be shocked. Just yesterday a cyclist was struct and remains in critical condition after being hit by a hit and run driver. This place is something right out of a Stephen King novel.