Tuesday, March 22, 2016

If you're not biking, you're part of the problem

I have had so. many. people. point out to me that biking is dangerous. I realize that, from friends and family, this comes from a place of love. People want me to be safe, and thank you for that! I appreciate your concern.
Others, however, exclaim over how unsafe biking is to dismiss it as viable transportation, or even to try to scare me out of doing it and to excuse themselves from biking. There are even drivers out there who will deliberately drive in a dangerous manner around cyclists to highlight how dangerous it is.
Whether you're the jerk whose purposefully making biking less safe, or just the person who won't do it out of safety concerns, I have this to say: you are part of the problem. That should go without saying for the group of people who drives dangerously on purpose around bikers, but the people who are too scared? What?
There has been a lot of scientific analyzing done on why people don't bike (especially women) and it turns out that over half the population is interested in biking but is too concerned about safety to actually do it. (Source and source.) But if you won't bike simply because there are big, bad cars all around you, you're probably also not in the minuscule minority of people who doesn't bike and doesn't own a car, which means that you own a car and are one of the scary drivers you don't want to bike around. You're just making the rest of us do it, and making biking scarier. The perceived danger of biking goes up, and even more people decide not to bike because it's too scary and dangerous. It's an awful feedback loop. By not biking, by giving in to the fear and worry, you become just one more driver on the road, one more person for the rest of us to be afraid of. Hence, you are part of the problem.
It's not that I don't understand the fear, either. Believe me, I'm not immune to worries that someone will take me out one of these days and, at best, I'll end up with massive medical bills. I worry about my husband getting hit every time he bikes away. I've woken up from nightmares in which someone missed me but hit the bike trailer with the Munchkin and...well, you can imagine where my brain goes next. I live with the knowledge that if someone killed my child while we were biking, I would never forgive myself.
But I also ask myself, if someone hit me while we were driving and it had that same tragic outcome, would I beat myself up about it as much? I actually think that the answer might be no, I wouldn't. Would other people judge me as harshly? The answer to that one is definitely no. If we got hit while biking, a majority of people would think that I had it coming for biking with my kid, whereas in a car the same thing would be considered a tragic accident. Why is this? Well, in a car it's much easier to tell myself that I've done all I can to protect her, while the bike seems so exposed. Except, once again, the car would be the dangerous factor in this, whether it was a car-on-car collision or car-on-bike. Cars are, in general, far more dangerous for both the people in them and the people out of them than bikes are. They're also easier to be monumentally stupid in. (Witness the rise of people texting while driving.) The best I can do in either situation is to make us as safe as possible, play defense, and hope that no one around me is insane, intoxicated, or distracted.
And you know what? I actually prefer biking for safety in many ways. For one thing, my bike, even with the attached trailer, has more maneuverability and better stopping power. It always goes slower, so I have more time to react to sudden moves by others. My vision is less obstructed on a bike, so it's easier to see all around me. I don't even hear my phone, and there's no music playing to block the noise of traffic or lull me into complacency. I also make frequent stops in which I can check in with my kiddo. I can't do that in a car because she still faces backwards, but on the bike it's easy enough to attend to her needs most of the time, or gauge her mood.

She likes to steal the butter when we ride home from Costco,
Did you notice a common theme to my worries? I am not ever worried about us being stupid on our bikes. Yes, there have been times when we've made stupid decisions, and it's only ever led to bruises and scrapes. Trips to the emergency room (or morgue) tend to be for those who've been hit by cars*, so I am only worried about the drivers around us. Which brings me back to my earlier point: if all the people who are too worried about drivers to bike would take even one trip by bike a week, it would make the roads massively safer for everyone. After all, the more people who bike, the more drivers will look out for us all. The fewer people who drive, the fewer accidents there will be simply because there will be fewer other drivers to hit. There is no down side to this.
I can understand it if you're in the group of people who hates biking and never wants to do it. There are plenty of things which I can't understand the appeal of, so the fact that biking would strike some people that way isn't bizarre to me. (Well, okay, a little bizarre....) But for those who think only of the safety risks posed by biking, don't! Don't let fear dictate the course of your life. You will never be able to make yourself 100% safe, and it's an expensive illusion to think that you are.
Twice in the last year there have been storms around here which have produced news stories that struck me right to the heart. In both storms, trees fell on cars and killed the male drivers, but didn't scratch their toddlers in the backseat. Now, if they were on bikes the outcome might not have been different - trees might have fallen on them and killed them still. The point is, however, that there are many factors we cannot control, and we are not actually safer in cars than we are out of them. People die in their cars every single day. I don't know about you, but I'd rather not be one of them.

*Kids and/or mountain bikers tend to be the others who end up at the emergency room, but that's mostly just for single broken bones, not for broken bodies like car-on-bike accidents are.

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