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Oregonian op-ed: Time for a “truce”

Posted by on September 16th, 2005 at 9:12 am

In an editorial in today’s paper, the Oregonian weighs in on the bike/motorist safety issue that has been going ’round and ’round all summer.

The piece highlights the recent case in Corvallis where a bicyclist ran a stop sign and killed a 71 year old lady.

But, even though I feel like the piece is a bit one-sided against cyclists I think the author brings up some valuable points. The fact is, even though I think cars aren’t the best way to get around, I realize they are not going away any time soon. I would rather spend my time and effort in figuring out how to make streets safer, than joining in any car vs. bike invective.

I think it’s imperative that the bike/motorist dialogue stays productive and not polarizing. Bottom line is that we all share the road and both groups could do a heck of a better job following some basic laws that would keep us all safer. On that note, here’s a few things to keep in mind while you’re out on the road.

  • Be aware.
  • Slow down.
  • Be courteous.
  • Mellow out.

Ultimately the benefits of non-motorized forms of transit are so plentiful and obvious that eventually more people will see the light and things will get better.

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  • Jeff S. September 16, 2005 at 10:51 am

    Jonathan, i think your opinion of the Snoreagonian’s op-ed is generally on-target, but I’m a little bemused by the significance of the “truce” concept, at least from the motorists’ point of view. As someone who spends a fair amount of time driving around Portland, I can’t think of the last time I felt endangered or threatened or even mildly inconvenienced by the behavior of a cyclist. So I’m at a loss to understand exactly what kind of “truce” the Big O has in mind. I know a lot of drivers complain bitterly about cyclists, as if they’re the spawn of the devil. But I just don’t see it.

    Perhaps the “truce” that the Big O has in mind is that cyclists should just stop their incessant bitching & moaning about being run down by [select all that apply: drunken/distracted/careless/malevolent] motorists, then motorists will…what? Use their turn signals more than half the time? Drive no more than 10 mph over the speed limit?

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  • Russell September 16, 2005 at 11:36 am

    I’m one of those hostile bicyclists. I don’t burn stop signs, run lights, or pass on the right, but I don’t calm down when someone callously risks my life with a 2000 lb machine. I challenge them to fight or damage their car, and I’ll continue to do so until the people who can kill us and get a $200 ticket for their trouble start regularly going to the kind of prison they talk about in Office Space for 10-25.

    For some bicyclists to claim it’s me and my attitude that is making drivers even more aggressive and hateful to bicyclists, and therefore it is really people like me who are putting other bicyclists in danger is just dumb. As soon as I turn on News 8 and see soccer mom in cuffs on her way to Pendleton for running one of us down in her SUV while talking on her phone / putting on make-up / screaming at her insufferable child, then I’ll “mellow out”.

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  • West Cougar September 16, 2005 at 11:45 am

    It’s a load of kumbaya, why-can’t-we-all-get-along crap!

    I am so sick of the bromide about most cyclists being drivers too. Big deal. First, the cyclists that are drivers are not the ones driving like selfish bullies cutting-off, menacing, maiming, and killing cyclists. Next, most drivers are not cyclists, distinct from having “been on a bike”. They have no idea off the many and marked differences in traveling between bike and car. But that doesn’t stop them from having an opinion and getting all bent out of shape when cyclists don’t conform to their opinion.

    Another point, I love the irony when the side doing the maiming and killing says, hey why don’t we all call a truce. Um, splendid idea. You all with the multi-ton boxes of steel decide to drive the speed limit and repeat to yourself 10 times while behind the wheel: I can spare 25 seconds, I can spare 25 seconds. Us all, behind the handlebars, promise to never, ever injure much less kill a car driver.

    As for equating the real, undeniable, uncurable, finality of death, with the psychological harm of ‘accidentally’ inflicting the death… yeah sure. Those hit and run drivers I’m sure are just all torn up. Their friends, families, and co-workers too. Same with the careless teens drifting into cyclists while doing who knows what. I’m sure every Christmas their parents, grandparents, and siblings all share those uncomfortable, spontaneous silent moments as everyone in unison remembers the dead cyclist, but dares not mention it. Yep, a whole lot of therapy going to be needed there. Such a shame.

    Also wrong, “it’s not because [drivers are] hotheads.” Drivers are hot heads, and careless, and criminal. All at least once. Some of them most of the time; most of them some of the time. However, the consequences are not borne by them. In any interaction with a cyclist (or pedestrian), the driver *knows* their physical well-being is secure.

    So given that, we cyclists have only one realistic recourse, vigilantism having its own set of problems. That is the criminal justice system being proactive in sending a message and creating an environment where drivers know that their actions toward cyclists, whether deliberate or careless, will have real adverse consequences. As opposed to those psychological ones that the Oregonian editorialist think are so overwhelming, I believe an example being made of a few careless drivers will have a wonder focusing of the mind effect on many drivers. And for those pathological repeat drunken drivers that seem just not to give a damn, internment in our prison system is the only certainly safe remedy.

    I cannot end without pointing to yet another contradiction of the shoddy editorial. While arguing for some four or five paragraphs more or less we’re all in this together, so why can’t we call truce and all get along, they decide to end with this quote “Ride responsibly — and as if you are an ambassador for a new species.” Huh? Which is it, are cyclists a new species, by definition separate and distinct, or are cyclists and drivers largely overlapping subsets that should learn to all get along?

    Yeah, that editorial was a real piece of crap.

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  • Patrick Cassidy September 16, 2005 at 12:01 pm

    So much for productive and not polarizing…

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  • West Cougar September 16, 2005 at 12:09 pm

    One last thing, there is no mystery to figuring out how to make the streets safer. The streets will be safer when motorists are more conscientous. Its that simple.

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  • West Cougar September 16, 2005 at 12:15 pm

    RE productive and not polarizing

    Martin Luther King Jr was quite polarizing. As was Martin Luther. And heck, Jesus Christ. Speaking truth against entrenched power often is.

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  • Jonathan Maus September 16, 2005 at 12:16 pm

    West Cougar:
    Believe me, I feel where you’re coming from. I have a ton of dislike (bordering on hate) for the behavior of some drivers and cars in general. But I don’t know how conveying this in public helps the situation in any way except for my own catharsis. That being said, I still struggle with how to best respond to an editorial like this.

    Also, I don’t agree with how you downplay the anguish and depression that comes to someone who kills another person. The hit-and-run folks are one thing..but in other situations, whether by accident or negligence, being the cause of someone’s death is likely to cause serious mental health problems in most people normal people. And determining precise fault in these crashes is often very difficult as we have learned in the recent example of Noah Cardamon.

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  • Jonathan Maus September 16, 2005 at 12:19 pm

    West Cougar said:
    “…The streets will be safer when motorists are more conscientous. Its that simple.”

    Actually this is not simple. Educating people and changing their behavior takes tons of resources, outreach, programs, volunteers…and so on.

    RE: Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus Christ

    Good point. I guess I’m trying to figure out how to best communicate the truth. I’m hoping to find a way that is truthful to my beliefs, yet has maximum impact to the people I’m trying to persuade to them.

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  • Russell September 16, 2005 at 12:49 pm

    Come on.

    The O first wrongly portrays the death Jean Calder as a divisive event for bicyclists. The unsigned writer of the piece must have access to bicycle riders I don’t know, since I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s said we should be able to run stop signs, kill someone’s grandmother, and walk away like some drunken teenager who just sent a biker flying 35 feet and speared him through a car window.

    Point me to the public statement by one of us that claimed she deserved it since she wasn’t wearing a bright blinking light and had some marijuana in her handbag. I haven’t read it. Some have pointed out the irony of the situation, but that’s not forgiving the guy for an obvious negligent homicide.

    After setting up this straw man of an argument we all knew was coming after Mrs. Calder died, the editorial goes on to insult the intelligence of anyone who commutes by bike as outlined better than I could by West Cougar. I’m sure the motorist who runs me down will spend the rest of their lives attempting to make it right to my family volunteering money and time as needed to make up for the taking of my life; being that they have been so totally destroyed and humbled by the experience.

    If we really are worried about public venting being counter productive, let’s just agree then that anyone on bicycle or car who kills or maims another person due to operating the machine they are on deserve and should receive swift, harsh, and just punishment. Let’s also agree that bicyclists will push for the enforcement of laws that when broken cause harm and death to others. Let’s also agree that we’ll push for expanded laws when needed to protect those on foot, on bike, or in vehicle who are harmed by the negligence or criminal behavior of another.

    I have no sympathy for Jean Calder’s murderer. I also have none for the killers who’ve taken out a good number of us this year, regardless of how many times I’m told the number of deaths is “statistically insignificant”. There are some drivers who can be reached though education and there are some who’ll only be reached by consequence. The guy who rides my ass honking on Ankney st, then buzzes me, then slams on his breaks in front of my bike isn’t going to listen to reason, and as long as he feels he can put me in harms way without reprisal from the law, editorials like this one will only make me angry.

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  • James September 16, 2005 at 4:20 pm

    I could go on and on about each point in this piece, but I will choose just one.

    The editorial states that most drivers have been on a bike so they should be able to mentally switch positions with cyclists. This is a load of hooey. For example, I was recently in Germany for an extended period. There, EVERY driver has been on a bicycle and drivers treat cyclists in much different ways. When passing a cyclist, drivers generally give plenty of room, drivers almost always use their mirrors and look over their shoulders as they turn to see if a cyclist is coming to the right or left of their car, and drivers wait patiently for cyclists if it is unsafe to pass.

    This differs greatly to the drivers here. For most people the last time they were on a bicycle was when they were 12 or when they recently were in Sun River and rented a cruiser for a few hours. This is no comparison. What really needs to happen is for driver education to include situations with bicycles and the rights that others have on the road, not just other drivers, but cyclists and pedestrians as well. It would also help to truly put people in a commuting cyclists place – car doors, oblivious teenagers, buses, wet pavement, turn signals, valet service at hotels downtown, etc. Then they could only truly switch positions mentally.

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  • Dave September 16, 2005 at 4:43 pm

    I certainly agree that the editorial was not useful. I’m very disappointed, given some of the positive coverage the O has given cycling lately.

    However, the tone of some of these posts doesn’t sit very well with me either.

    Here’s my idea of a real truce: cyclists quit blaming all motorists for the actions of a relatively small minority, and vice-versa.

    Cyclists and motorists that break the law and injure or kill someone need swift, sure punishment.

    Cyclists and motorists need to be better educated in their responsibilities while operating a vehicle. Motorists also need more education about how to share the road with cyclists. I like the idea of requiring people to experience the streets on a bicycle as part of getting a driver’s license, but doubt there is a practical way to do that.

    That still leaves an open question in my mind about a cyclist or motorist that injures/kills someone due to inattention that does not rise to the level of a criminal act. And yes, given the relative size issue, motorists are much more likely to fall into this category.

    In the US the assumption is that civil courts and monetary judgements take up the slack, however I’m not sure that having your insurance company pay a settlement to the family of a dead cyclists really achieves justice.

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  • Bryan September 19, 2005 at 11:36 am

    I think what got under the skin of a lot of cyclists (I know it did mine) was that there was an apparent double-standard made by the editorial. While the Editorial Board thinks that bikers should pay more attention on the road and put an end to the acrimony, the O asks what of others on our steets? They ask the rest of the community to do what to make the roads safer?

    I’m glad that the O mentioned that a lot of riders also felt that another double-standard exists for when bikers are hit by cars and only rarely do the automobile drivers face any type of punishment – I only wish that the writers of this piece had actually expanded that thought to inform the readers as to that fact. I really wish they hadn’t stopped short and failed to mention that we have some serious greviences to how the law treats cars and bicycles differently, even though both are classified as vehicles; the consequence of which is that our complaints now sound childish through the O’s editorial lens.

    Lastly, I wish that the O had actually mentioned what their proposed “truce” might entail – if bikers are given more courtesy on the road, we’ll stop writing letters-to-the-editor in our local papers expressing said frustration? If cyclists stick to certain roads, drivers won’t be pissed and yell at us to stay off of Hawthorne (not that I propose this)? Or should we all just kiss and make up?

    The real problem with this article is that it appears to confront a serious issue without the smallest degree of seriousness to the writing – nothing is proposed beyond a “get over yourselves” attitude. And considering how this has been a summer of rising death toles and escalating tensions between motorists and bikers, we deffinately need more than lip service paid to this matter.

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