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The Great Bicyclist Responsibility Debate Continues

10:52 AM EDT on May 11, 2010

308024633_8595a910aa.jpgSearching for clarity when road users conflict. (Photo: squacco via Flickr)

Today on the Streetsblog Network, Boston Biker takes issue with a recent column in the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine about how people on bicycles need to "earn" respect on the road. In the view of the Globe’s Doug Most, it’s essentially the responsibility of bicyclists to stay out of the way of motor vehicles and to ride with the assumption that they’re invisible.

Here’s what Boston Biker writes about the Globe’s piece:

The subheading of the article is, "After a fatal crash, they want more respect on the road. They need to earn it." ("They" meaning cyclists.) If everyone is breaking the law why do cyclists need to "earn" respect? Why don’t car drivers and pedestrians have to "earn"

respect?…

[T]hat is not how our legal system works. Everyone has the full protection of the law at all times. You don’t lose that protection because you didn’t wear your helmet, you also don’t lose that protection if other people making the same transportation choice you are break the law. Car drivers don’t lose protection and respect because some of them don’t wear seat belts and run red lights, neither do cyclists.

Too often in the mainstream media, cyclists are assumed to be at fault in any conflict between modes. Even when a person on a bike is following all the rules and is hit and killed by a car, frequently the implication in news coverage is that the bicycle rider was somehow "asking for it," simply because he or she was daring to ride a bike. And riding a bike shouldn’t be something you need to dare to do.

There’s nothing wrong with defensive riding. And there’s no question that many people on bicycles break the law in dangerous ways. But as bicycle use increases around the country, there is a real need for balanced discussion of the ways that pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers interact in traffic. That means recognizing that all road users should respect each other. It’s all well and good for bicyclists to see themselves as ambassadors (that’s how I personally choose to ride). But they should be allowed to be just people, as well, like the members of any minority.

Related: Ditching the Car for 40 Days has a rundown of all the scary ways drivers pass bicyclists on the road.

More from around the network: Reinventing Urban Transport writes about "car-sharing on steroids." Newton Streets and Sidewalks wonders about the viability of village-to-village bike paths. And Urban Out reports on an important advance for the Cincinnati streetcar project.

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