Wednesday, September 02, 2009

sharing the road

Back when I bike-commuted I observed lots of aberrant behavior among the four-wheeled vehicles with which I shared the road. I learned to be especially careful of ones that made turns into my path of travel as I was entering an intersection. An oncoming driver would lurch leftward at me with no prior signal and very little chance for me to react. Frightening. After one of these near misses it would take half a mile or so before my heart rate began to return to something like normal. Fortunately I did always escape and only once had a car strike me — and that when the driver tried to make a right turn as he was overtaking me; then, since we were both going the same direction before he began the turn, the damage was negligible on my part and non-existent on his.

During these commutes the most terrifying drivers were those men and women who cruised without hesitation through stops signs and red lights. At certain busy intersections I learned to wait after my light had turned green to be sure all cross traffic was stopped. At the very worst of these intersections I was happy to see the bright flashes of the red-light cameras and can attest that they make a big difference in driver behavior.

You might think the drivers who failed to stop were simply distracted, as by cell phones, but — while I did see many who were so distracted — this group of drivers was no nearly as scary because they were almost all driving at or below the speed limit. Drivers seem to slow down a bit while cell phoning, texting, or reading a book. The scary ones were the ones who were already going fast and who sped up as lights turned red.

This came to mind on reading an account of a state lawmaker in Wisconsin who ran a red light and struck a bicyclist in Madison near the state capitol. A local TV station covered this piece of news. The driver did not flee the scene of his crime; police showed up and cited him. What's most interesting is that the collision was caught on camera.

It turns out that an out-of-service bus was at the intersection — and in fact right next to the cyclist, blocking the cyclist's view to his left — and the driver had his on-board video camera turned on and pointed to the front. Here's what the camera caught:

The lawmaker was cited for running the red light. Police reported that there was no evidence that he was high on drugs or alcohol. So far, the city attorney's office has made no other charges against him, but may yet decide to do so.

The cyclist is a regular commuter. He was taken to a local hospital and has since been released. There have been no comments from him or his family about his injuries or recovery.

Some news reports on this:
Unfortunately, it's quite common for what are euphemistically called "accidents" involving redlight runners and cyclists or pedestrians to be treated as something like acts of God, that is to say regrettable but not culpable actions. Drivers who recklessly endanger the lives of others are considered to be "inattentive" rather than asocially, and maybe criminally aggressive.

Here are some blog posts on this subject:
Yes, it's true that bicyclists run red lights, fail to stop at stop signs, and frequently don't signal their turns. However, there's a difference, is there not, between one whose actions endanger himself (or herself) but pose little threat for others versus those who are operating motor vehicles (which to bicyclists and pedestrians do frequently seem to be agents of death and destruction)?

Here are images of some ghost bikes. Part of a grassroots action to call attention to the deaths that drivers cause by their actions. You can read about the campaign here, here, here, here, here, here, and here (these web pages are the sources of the photos given below).

No comments: