Friday, January 4, 2019

The Part of 'Share The Road' You Don't Understand


As you know, I've been in a position to pick out ghost bikes. I've stood in silence as names of dead cyclists and pedestrians have been tonelessly read aloud. Every time I read the news of a cyclist being hit by a car, I quickly look for the name of the victim to see if it is someone I know. 

I got that on January 1, 2019, when San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo was hit by an SUV. From the description of the crash I can easily imagine what happened: a driver turned into his path at an intersection and collided with the mayor of the 10th largest U.S. city. It's part of why Beryl invented the Laserlight - to avoid the 'right hook' - but the mayor was hit in the daytime.


The mayor of San Jose - a place I've called home for almost four years - could have witnessed his last sunset on December 31. Instead on January 1 he got two broken vertebrae and sternum because the driver "just didn't see him" which is Car-patriarcy (or 'Cartriarcy' as it were) talk for "I was driving so fast I didn't bother to look and see if other humans were on the same road as me."

So this seems like a good a time as any to talk about sharing the road, which a lot of motorists - especially those in the comments section of the news stories of this and other crashes - don't seem to understand.

While fighting and beating Proposition 6 with other bike advocates, I've gotten used to the idea that there is an entire class of drivers out there who don't think cyclists matter. People like Carl DeMaio and his ilk made that very clear in his mean-spirited and stupid Yes on 6 campaign. But we exist. We choose to ride for one reason or another. We get fewer parking options than drivers, fewer places to travel than motorists (see 40,000+ miles of interstate highway cyclists are forbidden to ride on), fewer safe passages to ride in, and someone who gets to work on a $100 bicycle or even a $1,500 and up bicycle is just not taken as seriously as someone who drives a $100,000 Tesla to work and enjoyed a fat taxpayer subsidy* from day one of owning the car. 

So we ride on whatever scraps of pavement we can find and we put our lives at risk a hell of a lot more than motorists do making the same trip - our chalk outlines are on the streets at a much greater proportion than our numbers riding on them.

Cyclist on El Camino Real in Santa Clara, not far from The Off Ramp bike shop. Cars have three travel lanes and cyclists just get whatever's left over.

That's us sharing the road. Our lives are at risk more and as long as whoever hits and maims or kills us stays at the scene and cooperates with the police, that driver will get to drive off into the sunset the next day without any punishment whatsoever. 


You sharing the road - and I'm talking only to motorists right now - means you have 3,000 pound boxes of climate-controlled air surrounding you as you travel in cushy comfort. A low-speed impact for you sends you to Maaco. The same impact at the same speed will send me to the hospital or morgue.


I've had it with people saying "why wasn't the cyclist wearing brighter clothing?" or things of that nature. If you are driving at 40 miles an hour and see a cyclist from a distance of 70 feet, the cyclist is hit no matter what they are wearing.

You get to travel at higher speeds with less effort than me. You get mass and the benefit of appearing menacing. You get a loud horn. I get a bell. 


You get to deduct every mile you drive for work or for your business. A cyclist does not.

If there is a serious accident between us, you get to tell your side of the story to the police. I get to lie in a pool of my own blood clinging to consciousness. 

The aftermath of a crash for you is only as serious as your conscience. I, on the other hand, may spend years relearning how to tie my own shoes or staving off an addiction to painkillers.

Sharing the road means neither of us get what we want. So I need you, the motorist, to respect the power you have and ease off the gas pedal. Look around. Drive slower. Stay off your phone and refrain from smoking marijuana in your car (an infraction I've seen twice in the past year).

Sharing the road also means some changes need to be made to the roads themselves so people aren't punished for not driving a car. Some of this involves building more housing near transit. Some of this means protected bikeways, and the city of San Jose has installed several miles of it recently - Mayor Sam Liccardo has been a champion of these.

Unfortunately, changes made to streets so cyclists will be less certain to face death aren't always taken well. A bewildering article about this was on KPIX 5 San Francisco: San Jose's 10 miles of protected lanes involved moving the on-street parking spaces several feet from the curb and the protected bike lane would go in. 

Protected bike lane in downtown San Jose

This arrangement allows cyclists to travel on blocks with less fear of being hit and killed and doesn't cost drivers any parking spots since they are just moved a few feet further from the curb. But a few of the motorists interviewed for the KPIX 5 piece said they do not like having to open their car doors with traffic being there. 

If these drivers would pause for just a moment and think about what they are saying: I don't want to be at risk being hit by a motor vehicle. Even though it is the last twenty feet of their 3 mile car trip or a stop at Starbucks to buy a Frappuccino with whipped cream. But reporters are notorious for creating a false equivalency about things - and one of these things is the concept of sharing the road. 10 miles of protected bike lane is all about the safe motorists inconvenienced - not people feeling more comfortable to ride a bike to work. Protected bikeways and bike lanes are necessary infrastructure and should be covered in the news fairly.

But as I've said before, infrastructure is only half of what a city needs. The other half is acceptance. This was part of why I was hard on Mayor Liccardo a few weeks ago (and also mocked him in the parody I wrote where the city banned cars instead of scooters) when complaining about the speed governor on shared scooters. In an empty warehouse or parking lot, a slower speed will make the scooter safer - what vehicle couldn't that be said about? -  but the mayor and the city council didn't think about the relationship scooters have with the infrastructure, and their unfortunate decision to keep the cap in place makes scooters not accepted on the sidewalks and not accepted on the roads - a stance which is breaking micromobility.

If people accept people ride bikes (and yes, scooters) for work or for fun, they'll look out for them more. If drivers are trained to look out for bicyclists again and again they'll do it. And if they drive slower, they'll be able to react to the slower-moving bicyclist faster.

A good number of strip malls in San Jose do not have bike racks but they have jammed up parking lots. The two are related.

The Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition - based just a few blocks from San Jose City Hall - put together a virtual 'get well' card of sorts for the Mayor. Please send Mayor Sam Liccardo good thoughts - we need him to return to work and look at biking in San Jose with new eyes and hopefully keep making sure the city gives even more infrastructure and acceptance to cyclists. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

*Hopefully the electric vehicle tax incentives will go away soon. 

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