A recent cyclist/pedestrian collision in San Francisco is forcing a lot of questions about cycling and the enforcement of traffic codes as pertaining to cycling.
The New York Times has a very fair article on the collision between the cyclist, 36-year-old Chris Bucchere, and the pedestrian, 71-year-old Sutchi Hui. Mr. Hui died as a result of the wounds he received in the collision. The article takes care to point out that, nationwide, only 63 people have died in cyclist-pedestrian collisions between 1999 and 2009, as compared to 4,834 cyclists and 59,925 pedestrians killed by automobiles.
Naturally, any death is a tragedy and needs to be addressed. In the case of this collision, Mr. Bucchere was clocked at 35 miles per hour and blasted through a red light, basically out of control. If you've ever been to San Francisco, you can see how easily one could get out of control as the city is extraordinarily hilly. Bucchere was definitely in the wrong in this case and reportedly surrendered to the police on his own.
But some of the comments that have come up have been very disturbing, as usual. Naturally, there are all the "those darned cyclists think they own the road" comments that come up, and in a case where the cyclist was out of control and consciously flouted the law that can be expected.
But the truly disturbing thing about this is that it's giving more ammunition to those who want to limit the rights of cyclists to the roads. Proper enforcement of existing cycling-related traffic code would be more than adequate - an effort that has been widely ignored in Columbus (when was the last time you heard about someone being ticketed for riding a bike on the sidewalk)? But of course, this sort of story and its relation to a "scofflaw cyclist" (the term widely used for a cyclist who doesn't stop at red lights and the like) can only bring negative attention to those who are trying to get more rights for all cyclists.
On the other hand, many folks have looked at this accident another way: pointing out that if Mr. Bucchere had been in a car, he might only have received a legal slap on the wrist.
And the rights of pedestrians are rightly being called to attention as well. Pedestrians are the most vulnerable of road users, and as the population ages there will continue to be more pedestrians on the streets. Again, motor vehicles are still the primary killers of pedestrians, not cyclists (by a long shot), but any death is a tragedy.
It's clear: better cyclists education and enforcement could have prevented this accident. Too many municipalities, including Columbus, are more interested in putting in sharrows, bike lanes, bike paths, and more because those are politically more valuable. The public can see them going in and it's clear that something is "being done" to make cycling more encouraged, even if it's not making it safer. Education and enforcement, on the other hand, are harder to see but much more valuable for the community as it actually teaches people the proper way to ride and makes sure they do it.
And it's very important for communities to remember that these accidents are RARE. Motorists are still the primary killers of pedestrians on the road and this needs to be addressed as well.
But, it definitely calls to attention the need for all cyclists to be more law-abiding and vigilant as they ride. Everyone has the right to get where they're going safely.