The blinking bike lights debate has taken a new turn in Portland.
Two readers have contacted us this week about a message painted in large red letters across roads in northwest Portland that reads: “Fuck you and your epileptic bike lights.”
We don’t know who painted them, but we do know that this issue is real and that there are strong opinions on both sides. It boils down to this: Many people believe that when bike lights blink they are more visible to other road users and are therefore safer. However, there’s another school of thought that maintains blinking lights are actually less safe for the same reason: Because, like a moth attracted to light, other road users (especially people operating cars while drunk or otherwise impaired) notice them too much and can actually be drawn to them.
Then there’s the sentiment expressed in this graffiti where people with epilepsy are particularly at risk of having a reaction to lights that blink. And that’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. A small percentage of people with epilepsy can have a seizure triggered by flashing lights.
Our friend Halley Weaver (you might remember her as the biking harpist, the devoted advocate, the tall-bike rider, or the Naked Bike Ride volunteer) has a form of epilepsy and she has written at length about this topic on her “Bikeleptic” blog.
I agree with much of what Halley wrote. Even for people without epilepsy, having bright bike lights flash in your face as someone passes is annoying and doesn’t seem necessary. In fact, the mentality that one person’s perceived increase in personal safety trumps the needs of those around them seems downright selfish. It reminds me of when people bought (and still buy, although thankfully in lesser numbers) massively large SUVs because it made them feel safe, regardless of the increased risks they posed to others.
Keep it steady Portland. And save your flashing for the Naked Bike Ride.