Type 2 Diabetic. Bike tour guide. #NextBurgh Flâneur.   Coffeeneur.    Errandoneur
A bike / map geek with a gadget obsession and a high-viz fetish. by Vannevar Bush       about       /       murals       /       Pgh-DC bike maps new

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Cars Dont Pass Bikes; People Pass Bicyclists

Many people will tell you, repeating what they've been told, that the CommonWealth of Pennsyvania has recently enacted a four-foot law for cars passing bicycles.

I prefer to say that Pennsylvania has enacted a four-foot passing law for automobilists passing bicyclists, or if you prefer brevity then drivers passing bikers.

Let's face it - Cars don't pass bikes. Automobilists pass bicyclists. There are different formulations available - drivers pass bikers, etc - but to de-emphasize the human presence, the human agency, and the human responsibility is to diminish all of us. I think it was John Forester who said, "Ask not for whom the bike bell toll, it tolls for thee..."

Consider the highly effective anti-drunk driving campaigns, which swayed media coverage and in turn influenced our language, perception, and behavior. The victim wasn't killed by a car; she was killed by a drunk driver. There's a person who did it, and we reduced violence by making people accountable. The car isn't to blame. It's about people.

I'd like to see newspapers start saying, "Driver Kills Bicyclist" instead of "Car Kills Bicyclist", or the even more abstract "Crash Kills Bicyclist". The New York Post is known for catchy headlines, having once published "Headless Body in Topless Bar", but today's issue carries this meh! headline and routine story:

The story's bias leads to these conclusions

  • a white SUV killed 18-year old David Oliveras, who wears Converse sneakers
  • the car seems to have had a driver, who feels terrible
  • the driver has invoked the British SMIDSY defense: Sorry Mate I Didn't See You.
  • the driver has no responsibility or accountability
  • the death is a regrettable, unavoidable and acceptable cost of modernity

Until now, I've focused on staying safe and alive by doing everything I can to remain visible; reflectors, lights, high-vis clothing, even a slow-moving vehicle triangle on my bikes. I'm thinking, if I do my part it'll be all right, a sort of passive salvation-by-hope.

But Lady Elaine's post today has brought me to a new kind of thinking — ensuring that bicyclists get our space by really emphasizing our humanity, by making it quite evident that there's a person on that bike. We may need to take it to the drivers.

Imagine if people rode in traffic like this:

We notice that the center cyclist has a helmet, lights, reflector, a high-vis yellow bag, and a slow-moving vehicle triangle, AND they've gone the extra step in overtly humanizing themselves to passing drivers.

You got a problem with this? I bet they get four feet, don't you think?

Please. Don't make us do this.


  1. In the 2011 PNBR, I rode merrily along with "CAN U C ME NOW?" painted on my back.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. I also want "murder" and not "killed."
    "Driver murders bicyclist"
    That poor man. His poor parents =(

  4. I made the mistake of following the link to that Elaine-mommy blog. What a worthless troll. People who pen anti-bicycling screeds in the faint hope of generating traffic are so 1998.