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September 16, 2008

100+ Rally for Bike Safety at Burlington City Hall

Img_1951 At 12:15 p.m. today, more than 100 people gathered in Burlington's City Hall Park to rally for "Safe Streets." The event was organized by the local nonprofit Local Motion in response to two recent hit-and-run incidents in which bicyclists were injured.

"This is fabulous," Judy Bond, the newly elected president of the Vermont Bicycle & Pedestrian Coalition, said after assessing the size of the crowd. But it's "really unfortunate," she added, that the event had been precipitated by two tragedies.

The first hit-and-run victim, according to the Burlington Free Press, was Rose Long, a 20-year-old University of Vermont student. Long was struck by a red Jeep last Monday while riding down Pearl Street in Burlington. After being transported to Fletcher Allen Health Care, she was treated for "multiple fractures, severe facial lacerations and a collapsed lung." The second bicyclist was hit last Tuesday while riding down Patchen Road in South Burlington and suffered minor injuries, the Free Press reported last week.

Today in City Hall Park, after Mayor Bob Kiss pledged to "do all I can to move forward" on bike-safety issues, Burlington Police Department Chief Michael Schirling said he will work with Local Motion, the Burlington Bicycle Council and the Burlington Walking Work Group to "craft meaningful and new strategies to keep our streets safe" through "engineering, education and enforcement."

During his speech, Local Motion Executive Director Chapin Spencer outlined a Five Point Platform for Safe Streets. The platform calls for "bike/pedestrian safety education," "reporting aggressive driving," lowering speed limits, "targeted" traffic enforcement, and "personal responsibility" on the part of both bikers and motorists.

According to a rep from the UVM Cycling Club who spoke at today's event, Rose Long, the student who was injured last Monday on Pearl Street, is now walking. But, since Long's insurance plan doesn't cover oral surgery, her family and friends are soliciting donations at a website they created.

How are they planning to hold cyclists accountable for their irresponsible actions? Is there a hotline I can call every time I see bikers run stop signs, run red lights, ride two-abreast in the road, dart into traffic from between parked cars, etc.? How will these types of violations be enforced on the bike side of the deal?

Or how about open containers? Here's a blog post from Local Motion's media blog that reproduces a Burlington Free Press story about the Burton Bike program, and one of the featured bikers has a beer can in her bike's drink holder:

"Another Burton cyclist, Ali Kenney, a financial analyst, , had the vestiges of the previous night’s kickball game — a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon — in her water bottle cage."

P.S. Before anyone has a chance to type it, I don't hate bicycles, I'm definitely NOT anti-bicyle. I've just seen way too many serious multi-traumas and TBIs result from the actions of a biker, not a vehicle operator. Like riding at night with no reflective gear or riding without a helmet. I just think responsibility has to be emphasized on both sides, not Bikes = Good, Cars = Death Bullies all the time.

I think that your concern about bikes respecting traffic laws would be addressed under three points: "Targeted Traffic Enforcement", "Bike/Pedestrian safety education", and "personal responsibility".

I believe that cyclists should be ticketed for moving violations as motorists are. I believe that a recent court case involving a cyclist who received a ticket for running a red light was upheld.

Personal responsibility is a somewhat vacuous term, but this is what it comes down to. The way to foster that responsibility is through education.

Somewhere in the middle is always the correct answer. However, when 5% of road users are cyclists and 95% are vehicles the middle ground is difficult to find. And, considering that most bicycles have 2 wheels and weigh less than 30lbs and most vehicles have 4 and weigh over a ton the middle ground is again blurred. The middle ground has to be in the minds of all road users. If, as a cyclist I know that I'm sharing the road with vehicles then I need to make certain they see me and I am predictable. As a motorist I need to know that I am sharing the road with cyclists and treat them respecfully. There are a lot of good actions being taken because of recent accidents and I hope it continues.

But it seems like most cyclists are not at all aware that there are rules and laws governing their behavior which, if practiced, contribute tremendously to their own safety. I'm 100% sure that Rose Long knows and abides by these laws, but every day in the summer I see bikers who don't. And they get really angry at drivers who cannot psychically anticipate that they're going to turn without signaling or zoom through the red light at the intersection in front of you. I'm nervous that I'll end up getting reported by cyclists who seem to have no idea that they are in the wrong and endangering their own lives through their ignorance of road sharing safety rules.

For instance:

My aunt and uncle were driving recently. They stopped at 4-way stop sign, looked, and proceeded when it was their turn. A woman on a bike pulling a child in a trailer didn't even slow down for her stop sign and pulled right out in front of them, causing my uncle to slam on the brakes. He nearly hit her. She indicated through angry gesticulations that she felt he was at fault for not seeing her and anticipating her illegal sign running. So, if she pulled out her cell phone and called in my uncle's plate, what recourse would he have?

I would like to respond to the first comment:

Of course there are cyclist who fail to live up to the standards of the law. This is a problem both for drivers and responsible cyclist. Most problems between cyclist and motorist arise from ignorance of there own responsibilities to the other party. It is tragic to see people riding around town sans helmets; even at the low speed that Rose was traveling the lack of a helmet could have significantly changed prognosis. This is an educational problem, as it is not required by law. Darting from between a car is an inconvenience to motorist, but is no different than the actions of a pedestrian or a motorist leaving a parking spot. It is crucial for motorists to understand that Vermont State law does afford cyclists the right to ride two abreast while traveling on the roadways. Complaints of this nature when decrying the illegality of cyclist use of the road only shows the ignorance and unfamiliarity with the actual laws which the motorist seeks to have upheld.

The fragility of life and limb should be the central precepts of every motorist and cyclist when they take to the streets. Though each patron of Vermont's roadways is responsible for the aversion of crashes the penalty for collision lies heavily in the camp of the cyclist. The price which Rose paid in blood, pain, countless hours of surgery, and loss of mobility should stand as a tragic reminder of the need to look twice before trying to beat a cyclist through an intersection.

"No one is winning when it is life we have to loose"

Riding two abreast with the effect of obstructing vehicular traffic is NOT legal. Thanks for illustrating my point about cyclists being ignorant of relevant statutes.

23 VSA § 1139. Riding on roadways and bicycle paths

a) A person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction.

b) Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway may not ride more
than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles or except as otherwise permitted by the commissioner of public safety in connection with a public sporting event in which case the commissioner shall be authorized to adopt such rules as the public good requires. Persons riding two abreast shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic and, on a laned roadway, shall ride within a single lane.

Let's not forget that an increasing nubmer of bikers (of the careless variety) are talking on cell phones. Like the woman who rode in front of me - against the light, on the left-hand side of the street - a couple weeks ago. Apparently almost getting hit by a car was not important enough to warrant hanging up.

I guess I don't really understand this line of argument. As a driver, and a cyclist, I see motor vehicles operators violating myriad traffic laws every day, often with disregard for me as a fellow operator, or cyclist. I don't take this as evidence that cars should be banned from the streets. I take it as evidence that some people will behave as though the law doesn't apply to him or her, and others are distracted, blinded by the sun, etc. Bicyclists, like car drivers, are individual operators. I will not accept responsibility for an ill-behaved cyclist any more than I would accept responsibility for an ill-behaved driver.

As for the beer can comment, I know nothing about the circumstances. However, I can drive after a beer. I can ride a bike after a beer. It takes more than one can of beer to make an average adult approach the "legal limit."


1. I am simply pointing out that most cyclists are unaware or willfully ignorant of laws pertaining to their safety, and I never hear of bike safety initiatives addressing this dangerous state of affairs. They all seem to be aimed exclusively at vilifying and punishing drivers. I just wish the "education" effort went both ways.

2. You have never heard of open container laws? Plus, alcohol is a CNS depressant. Your judgment, alertness, coordination, concentration, and reaction times are impaired at BAC .03 - that's one 12oz beer to anyone weighing less than 160lbs.

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