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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9 Responses to “Kevin Hoover – Arcata’s Bicyclists Must Step Up To Safety – March 1, 2011”

  1. Does anyone know if a seat is open on the Transportation Safety Committee?

  2. […] of people getting it wrong… Kevin Hoover – Arcata’s Bicyclists Must Step Up To Safety – March 1, 2011 The only wreck he actually documents as opposed to just mentioning in passing, is a 2009 one where […]

  3. The Arcata Eye has documented all the bike accidents that we know of, vehicle-related and otherwise.

    Yes, the cars drive suckily, and we never fail to point that out in the news and Police Log, including in the column you mention. The point, though, was that the bike advocacy groups – and you, apparently – use cars as the bogey man while willfully ignoring the excesses of the bicycle community. The bike advocates give every indication of wanting all the goodies and little to none of the responsibility.

    This kind of post only affirms what I was alluding to – the simpleton Bikes Can Do No Wrong mentality that feeds the alienation and hostility between the two user groups.

    As a bicyclist, I support the bike groups’ advocacy. I just think that for everyone’s good, they should use their influence to try and civilize the more feral bike abusers.

  4. And what’s this about “imaginary” laws? Again, that exemplifies the arrogant-biker attitude that the law doesn’t apply to them.

  5. I’m confused about the point of this article. I’ve taken four different courses on safe bike riding and none of them ever felt it necessary to warn me about not draping a shirt over my handlebars. Is the bicycling community supposed to get into an uproar when a person on a bike does something incredibly stupid? I guess I feel BETTER when so-called bike advocates don’t beat the “victim drum” when people get themselves hurt when they casually run stopsigns or ride around in the dark without lights. In case nobody noticed, BOTH of those actions are illegal.

    Does the AAA get indignant and preachy when a drunk illegally goes down a freeway the wrong way and kills people? It is not the job of AAA to “try and civilize the more feral motoring abusers.”

  6. If placing garments on handlebars turns out to be potentially lethal, as proven by that accident, it seems like it’s a good idea to warn people against that, does it not?

    Getting “indignant and preachy” probably wouldn’t be helpful to reckless drivers and bicyclists. Making clear the consequences of reckless and unsafe practices might. In the case of Green Wheels, we just don’t know yet whether that would help because it doesn’t use its position of prominence and influence to avert self-inflicted casualties by bicyclists. It focuses on lobbying for improvements and telling us over and over again that cars suck and are killing the planet, which we KNOW.

    That space might be better used to instill some semblance of safe riding practices into the more feral riders. In the largest sense, GW, AAA and other advocacy groups ought to embrace the full range of issues related to their preferred mode of transportation. Or at least show up at the Transportation Safety Committee meeting the week after another bicyclist gets a head injury.

  7. Government is run by those that show up.

  8. By the way, the bicyclist who blew the stop sign in 11th Street, hit a car and was rushed off to the hospital was a teenage girl. A young person whose life may never be the same.

    Would cultivating a culture of bicyclist safety and responsibility have helped her? We will never know.

    Since it’s not always the car’s fault, why does Green Wheels only talk about collisions when the auto driver is at fault? The point is, that’s only part of the puzzle. The bicyclist is just as injured either way.


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