Reflections on recent bike deaths

Reading about the eight people who died in Italy Sunday morning after a car crashed into them head-on, my heart sank. So much death. It’s overwhelming.

Meanwhile, a little closer to home, the death of a Tampa Bay woman who was hit by a car that ran a red light marks the city’s ninth cyclist death in just four months.

Livable streets and roadways are not luxuries. Bike advocates are not being whiny when we stand firm behind our need to make roadway changes. People on bikes around the world die senselessly as a result of a car-centric culture that builds car-centric infrastructure.

I have very good friends who won’t ride a bike in Seattle because they are scared of the cars. Their fears are not completely unfounded. Sure, people are injured and die while driving all the time. But it is dishonest to gloss over the injuries and deaths of people on bikes. By biking, you allow yourself to be vulnerable, and there is something heroic about that. Everyday bikers should be proud. You are refusing to contribute to a system that is dangerous to everyone, whether they are walking, driving or biking. And you are willing to put your skin on the line.

This is not about being holier than thou, it’s about acknowledgement. It’s a way of saying thank you to all the people around the world who are killed by a deadly car culture while demonstrating an alternative. It is possible to be proud without being a jerk.

I don’t despise people who drive cars. For a long time, I was one of them. Everyone makes their own decisions based in the circumstances of their individual lives and the experiences they have had. I didn’t start riding a bike until I lived in a neighborhood where it felt safe (Denver’s Capitol Hill). Once I started, I couldn’t get enough. I couldn’t believe how easy, fast, cheap, fun, healthy and low-stress it made my life. My car got more and more rusty and covered in street sweeping tickets. I sold it to fund my move to Seattle.

I would not have started riding if it weren’t for the people I saw biking around that city every day and some great city investments — such as the incredible Cherry Creek bike highway, which made biking downtown by far the fastest way to get there. 

We live at an exciting time for American biking. Thanks to the blood and persistence of people biking despite the dangers, we are seeing some real changes. The concept of livability is part of every roads discussion in Seattle now (though it is not always the strongest priority). With each new, hard-fought bike lane, new neighborhoods full of people may find that biking is a viable option for them and give it a shot. As people who bike know, once you get on that bike the first time, you’re likely hooked for good.

The more people riding bikes, the less dangerous it becomes. Studies have shown that as the number of riders goes up, the number of injuries stays relatively flat. Our numbers are growing. Every day, biking in Seattle becomes a little safer. We have some big battles left to win, but the battles only get easier the more people ride.

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3 Responses to Reflections on recent bike deaths

  1. Kelli says:

    Thank you for writing this. I think it is really important to remember to support friends who are new to cycling. Having a friend show me favorite routes when I first started by biking in Seattle helped me get to know the city from a new perspective. Mentoring and encouraging people out of cars and on the streets is an important step. Having a friend help you makes it less scary. Also, if you are the mentor be sure to go at a comfortable pace and talk to your friend about how comfortable they are with traffic, e.g. only want to bike on streets with bike lanes.

  2. Alexis says:

    Tom, I love the way you balance your own passion for this movement and the stories you find every day. And you don’t shy away from the topics that beg very serious consideration and new perspectives. Keep writing, not just for the ones who live in your city, but for all of us who will get there some day and think about these same consequences for bikers in our own cities. I know you will.

  3. You can die at any time, anywhere in the world. Really, more people riding bikes, the less dangerous it becomes.

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