Globe Gets It Wrong: MassBike’s Response

The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine ran an article last weekend (written by a bicyclist, no less) that seriously missed the mark, offering a mixed bag of advice for bicyclists and assigning too little responsibility for road safety to motorists. See the article here.

I was quoted, accurately, in the article, but the quote did not reflect the main point of my comments to the reporter, so here is the Letter to the Editor I sent to the Globe today:

Doug Most’s response to a recent cycling tragedy in Boston (“What cyclists neglect, Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, May 9, 2010) is well-intentioned but off-target. As an initial matter, Mr. Most’s advice for bicyclists has one serious fault: Bicyclists should not leave the roadway and ride on the sidewalk to avoid buses and other large vehicles – sidewalk bicycling is illegal in many places, creates conflicts with pedestrians, and endangers cyclists reentering the roadway where they are not expected. Instead, bicyclists should wait for the bus to move on, or pass it safely on the left after making sure the driver can see them in his or her left-side mirror. Of greater importance is Mr. Most’s disproportionate assignment of responsibility for safety. While he is correct that bicyclists, like any road users, bear a large measure of responsibility for their own safety, he too readily dismisses changing the behavior of motorists as impossible. The greatest responsibility for protecting other road users must lie with the people piloting the most dangerous vehicles – multi-ton steel machines – in space shared with bicyclists and pedestrians who are vulnerable even when acting entirely legally and sensibly. We are in the midst of a culture change as more and more people choose to get around by bicycle, and that change must extend to motorists, through driver education, public outreach by our transportation agencies, enforcement to curb aggressive behavior, and a recognition that we are all people trying to get somewhere safely.

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4 Responses to Globe Gets It Wrong: MassBike’s Response

  1. Paul Schimek May 12, 2010 at 3:33 pm #

    David —
    I agree that David Most’s piece was wrong (as you & shane point out) and misleading.

    However “Ride like you’re invisible” is poor advice as well. Obviously the main advice is Be Visible, primarily by using lights at night, and secondarily by wearing bright clothing during the day. Be Visible also means Ride in Places Where Motorists are Looking for Mack Trucks (and other things that might do them harm) — that is, on the road, in the direction of traffic, and not so close to the curb as to be outside of the normal field of vision.

    I know that if I were to literally follow your advice — I wouldn’t ride a bike. An invisible bicyclist is a dead bicyclist.

  2. David May 13, 2010 at 4:12 pm #

    Paul,

    I completely agree with you that bicyclists should make themselves more visible, whether by lights, clothing, position on the road, etc. But making oneself more visible does not mean that you will actually be seen. I don’t know how many times I have been in the middle of the lane, nothing else around me to possibly conceal me, made eye contact with a motorist or pedestrian, and had them pull out right in front of me. The invariable explanation: “I didn’t see you.” Here I am folks, big as day, right in front of you, sometimes wearing Day-Glo yellow, always using super-bright lights at night, but still invisible. People see what they expect to see, and most people just don’t expect to see bicycles – yet. You can light yourself up like a Christmas tree if you want, but there’s no harm in still assuming no one can see you. Because they might not.

  3. Phil Lindsay May 17, 2010 at 11:11 am #

    We wrote a letter as well pointing out that there are hundreds (if not thousands) of automobiles that run red lights everyday as well as pedestrians j-walking with impunity. The idea is that we have a scofflaw culture on Boston’s roadways and that needs to be addressed, not just the agressive bike rider. We also pointed out that the more folks that got out riding the safer it would get. The Globe Magazine wrote suggesting they may run it, but no bike letter this week… We’re hoping they all run next week.

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