Opinion Your Views — 03 July 2013
Bicyclists breaking the law endanger themselves and others

To the editor:
On a Tuesday morning, walking from my house to King Street to catch the train to work, I noticed a cyclist pedaling south with a toddler in a car seat mounted on his bicycle to the rear of the bike seat. He approached the intersection of Queen and West streets and did what Jonathan Krall might characterize as a safe rolling stop — but he did not come close to actually stopping at the stop sign.

The bicyclist’s blatant disregard of basic traffic laws — with a toddler on board — appalled me to the point of speechlessness.

In Krall’s recent column (“The bicyclist as a scofflaw is a common misperception,” June 6), he insists witnesses to traffic violations like this should call the police. But by the time the police would get there — when a five-minute response is average — they would be too late to witness the violation or catch up with the violator.

So someone reminding the bicyclist that he is breaking traffic laws by asking, “Isn’t that a stop sign?” hardly strikes me as an assault. This is especially true when the pedestrian is at the curb, and the bicyclist is in the far lane. It certainly isn’t akin to the shenanigan he described where some Old Town pedestrian grabbed and pushed bicyclists who ignored the stop sign.

According to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, our area experienced 264 traffic fatalities last year — 194 motorists, 67 pedestrians and 3 bicyclists. Bicycling, at 0.7 percent of trips, accounted for 1.1 percent of traffic fatalities. Moreover, 579 crashes involved bicyclists — compared to 845 involving pedestrians — even though pedestrians account for 3.2 percent of trips.

Stated differently, less than twice as many crashes involve pedestrians as bicyclists even though there are more than four times as many pedestrians. Bicycling is disproportionately dangerous, yet advocates continue insisting it’s safe for bicyclists to ignore traffic laws.

One might wonder exactly how pro-pedestrian the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee is and whether pedestrian-bicyclist conflicts of the kind he describes constitute an inherent conflict of interest for such a committee and whether these conflicts of interest call for splitting the committee between its pedestrian and bicycle blocs.

But I wonder what the toddler, mounted in the car seat on the back of the bicycle, would think about the prudence of his father’s insouciant disregard of traffic laws?

- Dino Drudi
Alexandria

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(1) Reader Comment

  1. Dear Mr. Drudi,

    I note that you are continuing to equate cyclist rolling stops with recklessness and thereby promoting the hypotheses that people who take up bicycling generally do so recklessly. While I continue to believe the opposite (that people instead approach bicycling with great caution), I have no desire to further repeat myself. I also have no desire to get into a debate over the statistics of very small numbers.

    However, I am concerned that a sustained emphasis on bicycle-pedestrian conflicts distracts from the more serious problem of automobile-pedestrian conflicts. The latter has caused actual fatalities here in Alexandria. The Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) is continuing to work with Alexandria transportation planners and with our police liaison to address this serious issue. As I have stated elsewhere, what is needed is a pedestrian network with fewer gaps, more crosswalks, and faster signal-response times. These improvements would encourage pedestrians to make proper use of the pedestrian network, thereby reducing the temptation to instead cross busy streets at gaps in automobile traffic.

    I remind you that the members of BPAC are citizen volunteers who take their mission seriously. They recognize that bicycling and walking need to be improved and to be integrated with transit in order to reduce reliance on automobiles. In so doing we may yet tame automobile traffic, which kills over 4000 pedestrians per year nationwide (bicycle crashes kill less than one pedestrian per year). I have great faith in the citizens who volunteer for BPAC, just as I do in the many other citizens who volunteer their time and effort to serve Alexandria.

    Finally please do not yell at people who are bicycling, especially people who are riding with children and also negotiating an intersection. You are distracting and endangering them.

    Sincerely,

    Jonathan Krall

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