Kevin Hoover – Arcata’s Bicyclists Must Step Up To Safety – March 1, 2011

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Arcata is fortunate to have a deeply democratic governmental structure, maintaining at considerable effort and expense a dozen or so citizen-led committees which advise, and sometimes lead the City Council. These institutions meet regularly at City Hall, and can quickly address issues that crop up.

It’s a waste, even something of a tragedy when all this apparatus is left unused. But not as much of a tragedy as what occurred several weeks ago.

One of Arcata’s continuing problems is reckless bicyclists and the harm they do to themselves and others. Head injuries are not uncommon, and seem to come in waves. You may have read a column in last week’s paper by our police chief discussing two car vs. bike collisions, one of which resulted in head/neck injuries. One rider ran a stop sign; the other was riding at night without a headlight. The drivers who struck down these young people paid a serious emotional toll, according to witnesses.

Had two people in Arcata sustained the same injuries in other ways – at a political demonstration, say, or from the dreaded Smart Meters or fluoride – there would have been a huge uproar. But for some reason, we as a society seem to just accept the casualty count from the reckless bicycle use we see every day on our streets.

It must just be human nature. A recent Doonesbury comic strip, verified by noted that trillions have been spent in response to the 3,000 killed on 9/11, while about 270,000 have been killed by gunfire domestically since then, with nothing remotely comparable done in response.

You have to really try – that is, not try at all – to outdo Arcata’s car drivers for sheer selfish recklessness. And the majority of bicyclists pull it off. At least the motorists slow down a bit for stop signs, they do occasionally use their turnsignals, and you don’t see them driving on sidewalks or habitually going the wrong way down streets.

One would think that Arcata’s politically active bicycling community would be concerned and try to address the problems, but one would be wrong.

But one week later, when the Transportation Safety Committee held its monthly meeting at City Hall, not only were there no bicyclists there looking for help in addressing the casualties among their ranks, there wasn’t even a quorum of the seven-member committee. Its chair was absent, as were the two avid bicyclists on the committee.

A police sergeant, assistant fire chief and deputy public works director were there, ready to assist with this lethal, chronic peril to bikers… but none of them, on or off the committee, cared to attend.

The cyclists have a well-oiled machine for lobbying for better trails and bike lanes. They even managed to stall the H Street sidewalk widening because initial plans weren’t to their liking. When negligent car drivers have struck bicyclists, public reaction is swift, with public outcry, vigils and intensified lobbying for more bike amenities.

But when a bicyclist is injured or even dies due to unsafe riding – crickets. The bicycling community is not willing to take ownership of its excesses and the resulting self-inflicted damage.

That was never more appalling than when a man died on Alliance Road a few years back. He’d draped a shirt over his handlebars which fell into his front wheel, locking it up and sending his helmetless head into the sidewalk at full velocity. No car was involved, so neither Arcata branch of Green Wheels ever uttered a peep about him or the simple act which doomed him.


Left, emergency response to the April 24, 2009 solo bike crash on Alliance Road. The unconscious victim could not be revived. Right, the shirt draped over the handlebars that resulted in a fatality. See the story about this incident on the Eye's Facebook page under "Discussions." Photos by TMC | Eye

Since they won’t, I will: don’t put clothing on your handlebars.

The City and Humboldt State can only do so much in trying to instill safe riding practices in bicyclists. Many act as though they are invulnerable, and they are… until the odds catch up with them.

Maybe the bicycling activists are right, though. How many selfish/careless bike riders are really going to heed calls for safe riding? There probably is a small percentage who are reachable, if only because the crappy attitude fosters hostility and aggression by vehicle drivers.

So while the local bike advocacy groups shine the problem on, others, like Bayside’s Road Safety Initiative organizers, are stepping up with training and publicity.

By failing to address the steadily growing casualty count created by scofflaw bicyclists, Arcata’s ostensible bicycling leaders are recklessly avoiding their responsibility. If they’re willing make demands for moral and financial support from the public, they need to step up and embrace the full spectrum of bicycling issues.

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