In its approach to the death of a 30-year-old Chelsea bicyclist, the front-page article “Harsher penalties urged after bike death” (April 5) introduces a myopic discourse around the question of who to blame in bicycle-automobile collisions.
On the one hand, the article offers the position that “increasing penalties . . . could lead drivers to be more vigilant.” On the other, such laws might “absolve bike riders of their responsibility to ride carefully and follow the rules of the road.” Both positions are worth considering, but focusing exclusively on individual culpability and on punishment as deterrence ignores the circumstances under which both drivers and cyclists operate.
Our city’s infrastructure does not yet demonstrate a serious commitment to the safety of cyclists. The bicyclist who died was riding in a designated bike lane, riddled with potholes and demarcated with worn-out paint. Many of Boston’s bike lanes are painted into uneven gutters or between traffic and rows of parked cars, as on Mass. Ave. Cyclists are often forced to make a split- second decision between colliding with an opening door and swerving into heavy traffic.
Cyclists and drivers alike are responsible for road safety, but they are negotiating unnecessary risks because of our city’s poorly designed roads.
Here we go again. Should drivers get worse penalties for hitting bicyclists? Should bicyclists get worse penalties for breaking traffic laws? Instead of trying to develop an infrastructure that allows both bicyclists and drivers to travel safely, we are pitting one group against the other. As long as there are no committed bike lanes that are clearly separated from the auto lanes, there will be accidents.
Some drivers are not careful, and some bicyclists don’t pedal defensively. Some bicyclists blatantly break the rules. Some bikes can’t be seen, and sometimes there are just too many things that drivers and bicyclists need to look out for at the same time. Are we willing to fund bike lanes and driving lanes, and expand roads so that there isn’t further gridlock and congestion as we make more of this transition to sharing the road?
If not, then we can keep fighting about whether drivers or bicyclists are to blame for accidents, but in the end, accidents will keep happening. All the finger-pointing is diverting us from where we should really be pointing — at us, the taxpayers, and at our government, for not developing safer conditions.