I don’t want to die. I have a wife, a dog, and a reasonable fraction of my life still ahead of me.
You don’t want to kill me. I’m not worth it. Have you heard of the deplorable conditions in America’s prisons today?
I don’t want to die, and you don’t want to kill me. But you wouldn’t know it by watching how we behave on the roads — me on two wheels and you on four, six, or 18.
At times, we forget the precarious nature of our situations. How long it takes to stop a thousand-pound vehicle (six car lengths at 30 miles per hour). How easy it is to fall from a 20-pound rubber-shod tightrope.
On Wednesday morning, we were forced to remember, as cars detoured and cyclists dismounted to get around another accident scene. Their paths and views were obstructed, first by sheets, then tarps. Maybe the jolt of seeing a bicycle frame contorted under the weight of a semi will bring a temporary stunned peace to the evening commute. Before long, the memories will fade, and we’ll continue to forget.
We’ll forget what really matters. How, if I die or you kill me, neither of us will arrive where we are rushing to get to on time. The appointment we were trying so hard to keep will only serve to illustrate how senseless this all was, at the start of a friend’s eulogy or a prosecutor’s case.
I don’t want to die, and you don’t want to kill me, but sometimes our actions contradict. A loss of focus or a miscalculation may lead me across your path. A forgotten directional or disregarded mirror may send you into mine.
How quick we are to classify these as more than innocent mistakes. How quickly we forget the similar mistakes we make ourselves. To cyclists, each driver is reduced to the red-faced model of self-absorbed road rage. To drivers, each cyclist is nothing more than a militant, with a self-righteous disdain for traffic laws.
At times, we both embody our respective honking, swearing simplifications. We treat the roads as lecture halls, using our voices and vehicles to make examples and teach lessons that will never be learned. But most of us, most of the time, have neither death wish nor bloodlust. We’re regular people seeking nothing more than a safe trip between our own points A and B, without incident.
I don’t want to hold you up more than I have to. I know how frustrating it is when I’m behind a steering wheel instead of handlebars. Most cyclists understand this, whether out of idealism or realism — angry drivers (like cyclists) make unsafe decisions.
But I don’t want to hurt anyone, either. Relegating bicycles to sidewalks will only substitute cars for pedestrians in this struggle for safe passage. The 20 miles per hour I average on my short commute more closely matches the prevailing speed on a city street than it does a sidewalk with people traveling one-sixth as fast. What’s more, studies show that cycling on sidewalks actually leads to more crashes with vehicles, as well.
Until the day when ubiquitous sidewalks, bike lanes, and roads allow us to live in peaceful harmony, we have to learn to get along with what we have. We’ve come a long way in Boston, but we still have far to go.
I don’t want to die, and you don’t want to kill me — we have to see ourselves in one another. The seconds we give each other on the road can be easily forgotten over a lifetime, but the seconds we take in moments of inattention or impulse can last forever.
Tim Snyder is a freelance writer based in Boston. He has bicycled to work every day for more than a decade.