Cyclists: Dead or Alive

As I biked down a busy Boston area road, I saw a green light ahead, but cars weren’t moving. A black garbage bag lay in the middle of the intersection ahead. As I slowly rolled closer, I realized the bag was a person. Shit. And then I saw the discarded bicycle next to him.

It seemed like a good time to get off the road and avoid adding more confusion to the situation (and I was close to my destination), so I dismounted and walked my bike down the sidewalk. A police officer stood in the middle of the street, looking either exhausted or bored or both. Two bystanders crouched next to the cyclist, who remained slightly curled on the pavement. They seemed to be asking him about which leg was injured. No blood, and he was conscious, so that was a relief. Two police cars were parked on the other side of the intersection, blue lights flashing.

Traffic still wasn’t moving, but nobody honked. I didn’t think the people in the back could see what was going on – I hadn’t been able to see until I was almost on top of them – so I was impressed by their restraint. Normally, people start honking if it takes the person closest to the light a full second to move their foot from the brake pedal to the gas after the light turns. Maybe they could sense that something was wrong. Or maybe they had a better view of the police officer than I had.

I joined the onlookers. I wanted to know what had happened, but I didn’t want to interfere with the police officer or the people helping, and nobody on the sidewalk seemed inclined to make eye contact with me. That was enough to discourage me from asking them if they’d seen anything.

A fire truck and an ambulance both arrived by the time I managed to (very cautiously) cross the street. As I locked my bike up next to my destination, a woman with a stroller caught my eye, and I asked her if she had any idea what had happened.

“I didn’t see, but a guy who did said he ran a red light,” she replied, hastily adding “Not that I’m glad he got hit or anything.” My stomach clenched. “You be careful out there.” I thanked her as she continued on her way.

I wished this hadn’t been the result of a cyclist breaking the law. I’ve seen too many news articles about cyclist fatalities, followed by commenters theorizing what law the cyclist must have broken, and how they had it coming. Those people scare me a lot more than heavy Boston traffic.

Every cyclist has broken the law at some time or another; I won’t bother to deny it. Sometimes, it’s for our own safety: pulling ahead of stopped traffic at certain intersections can provide necessary visibility. Sometimes bike lanes are full of wheel-destroying potholes, or puddles that might conceal saw blades (That’s not hypothetical). Sometimes it’s for the convenience of drivers. If I need to take a left turn and there is a walk signal, I’ll wait for the pedestrians to clear and make a go of it in order to avoid holding up traffic when the light turns. And yes, sometimes it’s for stupid or selfish reasons. I have no idea why someone would run a red light on a busy street.

As a cyclist, I’m not scared of the traffic. I’m scared of the hatred. I tell myself that people are not psychopaths, that nobody would willingly hit a cyclist. But those comments were not left by robots. Those are people. People who think that cyclists deserve to die.

I’ve tried to be ok with that, but I’m not. And I don’t think I ever will be. When I see a cyclist on the road, I’m praying that they won’t do anything that makes the rest of us look bad. Mostly, they’re just trying to get where they’re going, the same as me and everyone else. But there are those who comport themselves badly, who not only flout the rules of the road, but common sense. And those are the ones who people remember.

I understand being frustrated by cyclists. Even when we are law abiding, we sometimes slow you down as we take left turns and the like. I do not understand wanting us dead.

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