Built For Two

Our View: Bicyclist's Death Is A Grim Illustration Of Road-sharing Challenges

August 07, 2009

The death of John R. Yates this week is a reminder of the dangers bicyclists face not only on the streets of Baltimore but along most every thoroughfare and intersection where they must share the road with cars. The 67-year-old died after running into the rear wheels of a truck turning right from Maryland Avenue to Lafayette Avenue.

It's not entirely clear who was at fault in the incident. (Running into a slow, right-turning vehicle is one of the more common bike collisions). The truck driver may not even have been aware of his presence, according to a city police spokesman.

But what is indisputable is that too many drivers are unprepared - and perhaps unwilling - to share the roads with two-wheelers. Yet more bicyclists are taking to the streets each year, a trend that ought to be encouraged. The health and environmental benefits are too great to be ignored.

For every commuter who elects to take a bike to work, there's one less car on the road. That should be cause for the impatient motorist to rejoice, not complain.

Drivers can be educated, but a lot of cyclists could use a bit of training as well. Call it defensive cycling. Cyclists need to understand that complying with the rules of the road is not enough. To stay safe, they must learn to anticipate the hazards ahead.

That includes parked car doors that can suddenly fly open, drivers that can't see something as small as a bike in their blind spots, left-turning cars that may not yield to an approaching bike, and hurried drivers who attempt to pass too close.

Smart bicyclists know how to improve their odds: They avoid busy streets, and while they make themselves as visible as possible, they ride as if they were invisible. Better to assume a driver doesn't see you than to stake your life on a stranger's judgment.

Baltimore and many other jurisdictions have made great strides in recent years in making communities bike-friendly. The city's three-year-old bicycle master plan calls for more bike lanes and other accommodations to promote the use of two-wheelers in the future.

But while bike lanes are helpful, there are still going to be potentially dangerous interactions between cyclists and cars. Officials need to not only change roads but behavior. That will require more than the modest public education campaigns of the past. Mayor Sheila Dixon, an avid cyclist herself, would be ideally suited to spearhead such a campaign.

Mr. Yates death was tragic, but perhaps it will serve a purpose if it steers drivers - and cyclists - toward at least thinking about these issues and discovering ways to better share the pavement.

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