The Chainlink

Mary Schmich Tribune Column 10/7/12 - Is biking less safe, or does it just seem so?

www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/ct-met-schmich-1007-20121007...

chicagotribune.com

Is biking less safe, or does it just seem so?

Death of a bicyclist on Chicago street reinforces fears

Mary Schmich

October 7, 2012

I rarely rode my bike around Chicago this summer, which was different from all the summers before. I can't pinpoint exactly why, except to say that cycling on the city streets, which I once did as breezily as Mary Poppins, feels more dangerous than it used to.

Even with more bike lanes and more bicyclists and the mayor's vow to make Chicago a more bike-friendly city, I've never felt less safe behind the handlebars.

My apprehension may not be entirely rational, and it may have more to do with my own reflexes than with the chaos of the city's roads, but the fear is reinforced every time another cyclist dies while biking.

It happened again Friday morning, on North Wells Street on the Near North Side.

Neill Townsend, a 32-year-old attorney, was cycling to work when the door of a parked car swung open in front of him. Swerving to avoid it, he wound up in the path of a semitrailer.

"Haunted by this," a friend, an ardent city cyclist, posted on Facebook, "and all the other cyclists killed."

People die in car accidents every day, and yet the death of a bicyclist, a much rarer occurrence, tends to feel more haunting than the death of a motorist. It's certainly more newsworthy.

Townsend's death was the lead story on the websites of the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times for most of the day Friday. It was widely reported on TV and talked about on Facebook.

There are several reasons that the deaths of cyclists make bigger news than the deaths of drivers.

For one thing, there is a community of cyclists, and a cyclist's death in the city reverberates widely.

For another, cyclists tend to be young, and an early death always feels especially notable, regrettable, avoidable.

There's the fact, too, that it's so easy to recognize a cyclist as a person. A bicyclist is a lone human being, exposed to the elements, undefended except maybe by a helmet, no match for the metal machines that dominate the road.

The freakishness of that mismatch — the big, hard machine vs. the small, soft body — is part of what draws our attention and turns cycling accidents into bigger news than car accidents.

But the main reason that cyclists' deaths make as much news as they do, I think, is that every time a cyclist dies, a larger fight is engaged.

Even before Neill Townsend's name was known, with the facts still sketchy, his accident incited the usual blame battle:

Cyclists vs. drivers. Who's worse?

When a cyclist dies, we quickly leap to a team. Defend the virtue of our team. Decry the lunacy of the other.

Many of us, of course, belong to both teams. We drive and we bike. We're both victims and perpetrators.

Admit it, driver: No matter how disciplined you try to be about checking your driver's mirror before you open your car door into a bike path, you've blown it more than once.

Admit it, cyclist: No matter how rude drivers are to you, you've done your share of illegal, dangerous maneuvers.

Is Chicago more dangerous for cyclists than it used to be? Some people would say it's gotten better.

But there are enough bad roads, bad traffic signals, bad cyclists, bad drivers, along with good cyclists and good drivers who sometimes behave badly, that it's still too dangerous, more dangerous than it has to be.

We face that fact each time a cyclist dies. And each time, we see the shadows of the deaths to come.

mschmich@tribune.com

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I wish it were as simple as just riding outside the door zone.  Except when drivers double-park, or park way off the curb, or you get squeezed in by an aggressive driver passing.  The guy who died was an experienced cyclist. 

I agree with Adam (also about the sad state of our newspapers), but I'd make it a part of those LAZ parking payboxes.  Even print it out on the tickets drivers have to put on their dashboard.  It seems like this is a lost cause, yet every time I'm in California I'm amazed at how drivers actually stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.  It shows that the culture can be changed, and doing something is better than just chalking it up to the status quo.

clp said:

Ha, ha, Adam!  Do you think a ROAD SIGN would be read by any of these truck drivers?  It is up to US to ride safely out of the door-zone.   And if that places us in danger from large trucks coming up from behind, why we need to RIDE FURTHER TO THE LEFT!  In order to block the oncoming traffic from trying to pass us, until we are good and ready to LET them past.  Sure, they'll be pissed off at us.  But better for them to be pissed for a couple of seconds, than for us to be dead for evermore.

Adam Torres said:

....Anyway..I wonder why there aren't just road signs that warn drivers about looking before they open their door?

It's largely up to cyclists to protect themselves.  I've seen too many regular posters here get verbally abusive toward people who take the lane out of fear for their safety.

Get to your destination safe and report raging and abusive drivers to proper authorities.  Let the motorists worry about it.  


clp said:

Ha, ha, Adam!  Do you think a ROAD SIGN would be read by any of these truck drivers?  It is up to US to ride safely out of the door-zone.   And if that places us in danger from large trucks coming up from behind, why we need to RIDE FURTHER TO THE LEFT!  In order to block the oncoming traffic from trying to pass us, until we are good and ready to LET them past.  Sure, they'll be pissed off at us.  But better for them to be pissed for a couple of seconds, than for us to be dead for evermore.

ha, ha, clp! So, if you and I were sitting having coffee or a beer or something and having this conversation verbally and I said, "You know some sort of signage or an actual ad campaigning about dooring would be a lot better way to get the awareness out  there than waiting for someone to die," would you laugh in my face, clp?

The internet sucks. I want to talk to human beings

clp said:

Ha, ha, Adam!  Do you think a ROAD SIGN would be read by any of these truck drivers?  It is up to US to ride safely out of the door-zone.   And if that places us in danger from large trucks coming up from behind, why we need to RIDE FURTHER TO THE LEFT!  In order to block the oncoming traffic from trying to pass us, until we are good and ready to LET them past.  Sure, they'll be pissed off at us.  But better for them to be pissed for a couple of seconds, than for us to be dead for evermore.

Adam Torres said:

....Anyway..I wonder why there aren't just road signs that warn drivers about looking before they open their door?

If that is the case simply press Alt-F4 -which should solve your problem immediately when reading The Chainlink

Adam Torres said:

The internet sucks. I want to talk to human beings


+1

But seriously, if there was yet another sign added to parking signposts, it would be one more thing for drivers to ignore.  We already have too much sign pollution.

Outreach campaigns, PSAs, getting the state to add info about dooring to driver education materials and licensing tests, etc., would likely make more of a difference.

Lisa Curcio said:

Heaven knows this crowd has its share of porcupines! :-)

You need to be registered for this one and for some reason my browser is giving me grief, but I saw this last night and it's a vast improvement over Schmich's milquetoast offering:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/ct-met-trice-cycling-...

Always liked Dawn Turner Trice better than Mary Schmich.

Carter O'Brien said:

You need to be registered for this one and for some reason my browser is giving me grief, but I saw this last night and it's a vast improvement over Schmich's milquetoast offering:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/ct-met-trice-cycling-...

Agreed.  And Trice did a great job with this piece.

Lisa Curcio said:

Always liked Dawn Turner Trice better than Mary Schmich.

Carter O'Brien said:

You need to be registered for this one and for some reason my browser is giving me grief, but I saw this last night and it's a vast improvement over Schmich's milquetoast offering:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/ct-met-trice-cycling-...

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