Reflections on my chaotic life of minivans, tantrums, deadlines, and diets ... a life I wouldn't trade for the world.

Friday, May 18, 2012

In Defense of Defensive Cycling

In response to the recent death of Kathryn Rickson, I'd first like to say how awful I feel for her family and friends. I can't imagine what they are going through. I just know that every time my husband leaves on his bike for the traffic-heavy commute to work, my heart races a bit, and I wait for confirmation he made it to work. I've seen drivers acting as though they own the road, sometimes yelling out their windows for me to get out of their way. I've been threatened by a driver for giving her a look when she parked in the bike lane. I even ran into a car once as it cut me off in the bike lane, resulting in an ankle strain and fried nerves on my part. It's a scary world out there for us bike commuters, and we put our lives at risk every time we head out the door.

A bike box like the one at the
intersection where Kathryn Rickson died
On the other hand, we cyclists carry a lot of responsibility for whether we make it to our destination in one piece. We can't ever let our guards down. A bike lane is a wonderful thing, allowing us some security that we are protected from normal traffic, but a bike lane doesn't protect us from human nature.

In the case of Rickson's death, there is a chance the truck driver just didn't see her. Maybe he looked, but she was in his blind spot. Maybe she was going faster than he thought. Whatever happened, I am sure Rickson isn't the only one whose life was ruined.

A 140-pound person is no match for a compact car, let alone a 30,000-pound truck. That is just the nature of the beast; no matter what our legal rights are as cyclists, fast-moving metal boxes will always win in a fight. And the easiest way to get hurt or killed is to assume a driver has seen you. The point is, some of the onus is on us cyclists to ride defensively.

I really feel for Rickson's family, especially her parents, who lost a daughter who had a long life ahead of her. But I hope cyclists will not react by persecuting motorists and truck drivers as a group, but instead focus on what can be done to increase bike safety--including a better, safer infrastructure for cyclists, as well as defensive-cycling education.


  1. I wish there were more opportunities for adults to learn how to be better bike commuters. Being able to ride a bike is not the same as riding safely in traffic, and so few of my fellow commuters seem to know the rules of the road. Cycling safety is the *cyclist's* job first, we can't rely on drivers to look out for us.

    I'm seriously tempted to start a grassroots "How to Ride Your Damn Bike" class series considering how much stupid stuff I see commuters do every day. Frankly, they scare me more than the cars do.

    1. Agreed! The class is a great idea; however, the people who really need the class are the ones who don't think they need to learn anything.

    2. At least we could help the people willing to learn ;) When you start bike commuting in Portland you're pretty much thrown to the wolves, and if you're not especially observant it's not easy to pick up the cues on how to ride. Or wear a helmet correctly.

  2. I think you advice applies to everyone. I wish that everyone had to answer the following question it get anything from the DMV.

    Every time you leave one location to get to another (by car, bike or foot) your priority should be

    A. Getting to your second location without hurting yourself or others
    B. Getting to your second location quickly. If you left late, don’t worry, you can make up the time on the road.
    C. Feeling important. Traveling on the road is a great time to prove to others that your needs are the most important.
    D. Being right. You know the rules, make sure that everyone else knows that you are right and they are wrong. If they go out of turn at a four way stop, or fail to yield when you have the right of way, tell them! You can use hand gestures if necessary.