I crashed last week. Twice!! I certainly wasn't alone, however. This was a whole month of many, many crashes, in truth, bicycle and automotive alike. Each of these accidents had a different impact on the lives they touched. Some people were injured, some lost their lives, and a lucky few walked away unscathed.
|The first time round|
It happened just east of the Georgia Viaduct, and for miles around, the traffic had descended into near chaos.
It was Saturday afternoon, and I had spent a lot of time on the roads that day, riding first with the club, and then with a good friend. The traffic was pretty calm in the suburbs that day, but it had a real edge to it here within the city limits. I saw several drivers running red lights and taking risks like doing that dodgy, high speed lane change that people do to mayyyyyybe save themselves a few seconds before they get to the next stoplight. And of course, I witnessed tons of drivers speeding. As usual. But you have to wonder just how fast you have to drive your minivan to take out two power poles and blow up the neighbouring transformers the way this guy did.
What a claim to fame. His fifteen minutes came at quite a price. There were probably a dozen fire engines in the neighbourhood, along with a number of ambulances several police cruisers, and of course, a few BC Hydro service vehicles, to boot.
He was stuck in his car, forbidden to move until those Hydro crews ensured that he wouldn't be fried in the aftermath of his mess.
And every so often he seemed to express regret, though who knows? Maybe he was sad to be missing his mates at the pub. And who knows how long it will be before he goes speeding along those very same city streets again, risking life and limb? It's a habit in this town, speeding, a habit we share with drivers across the globe.
How many people will paramedics have to scrape off the streets before we finally address the carnage on our roads? Or are those lives all expendable? How did we get to the place where ninety percent of the drivers on the road at any time are speeding, and nobody is talking about it, and yet cyclists are all tarred with the same brush, and branded criminals for treating a stop sign like a yield, even though the Idaho Stop Law has been effect for decades, and has reduced, not increased the number of accidents?
Cycling advocates argue that stop signs are designed to slow the flow of traffic, not to enforce right of way, and that in most instances they don't even do that. And if we were to consider our streets rationally for even a moment, the truth is that speeding and distracted drivers kill over a million people every year. That's right. MILLIONS. Not hundreds, not thousands, not even hundreds of thousands. Millions. According to the World Health Organisation, road traffic injuries caused an estimated 1.24 million deaths worldwide in the year 2010, slightly down from 1.26 million in 2000. That is one person is killed every 25 seconds Millions of people die in traffic accidents every year, and yet motorists have a hate on for cyclists. What. The. Fuck. ?!?!
So yesterday, after checking out the accident in which one man's leadfoot managed to shut down electricity to thousands of people, I tried to make my way safely home. Now, even though I choose to ride a bike, rather than drive a car everywhere I go, I do hold a valid drivers license. So I happen to know for a fact that in an instance where a traffic light is out of commission, drivers are obliged to treat the intersection like an uncontrolled intersection. And that means that you are supposed to approach the intersection with caution, and you are supposed to yield to traffic which arrives at the intersection before you do, which turns most intersections into a four way stop. Nevertheless, I was nearly struck by two separate vehicles as I attempted to cross the street here:
Because in Vancouver, an uncontrolled intersection is actually an out of control intersection. Nobody stopped. Nobody yielded to traffic sitting and waiting on the cross street, and nobody cared when pedestrians or cyclists tried to make their way across, either. And surely the vast majority of drivers in those vehicles think of themselves as law-abiding citizens, despite the evidence to the contrary. Most drivers are otherwise good people, and yet the vast majority of them speed every day, every chance they get. And we let them get away with it, enforcing their beliefs that they aren't really doing anything wrong. But heaven forfuckingbid that I should take the lane on my bike rather than risk death - yes death!!- at the hands of a driver who carelessly opens their door without checking to see if I am there first. Because who DARES to slow the modern motorist down for even a few seconds?
It's true, that we all take risks out on the roads. Drivers speed and use their mobile phones and engage in other questionable behaviour, and cyclists do dumb things, too. This Crash Test Dummy in particular. I took a break from writing this babblelog, and found myself keeping pace with traffic, riding down Granville St as together we descended the mile long hill travelling southbound. After twenty or so blocks on the downhill without encountering a red light, both the traffic and I were moving at a good clip - 73 km/hr according to Strava. I hit something irregular in the road, and my bike bounced. When I was finished bouncing and had finally skidded to a stop I couldn't move. Paralysed. I found myself watching helplessly as the traffic barrelled toward me down Granville St. It was in fact the scariest thing I have ever seen. My first thought? " Oh Fuck. Here we go again."
Mostly I just stayed in bed, though, contemplating my navel, and the contrary nature of life.
And that's the thing. It's human nature. We all take risks. We all make mistakes. And we don't generally go about our lives with the potential consequences of those risks foremost in our minds. But the rules of the road have to be designed with everybody's safety in mind, rather and we have to re-consider how we enforce those rules, because OMG too many people are dying. How is it that Isis kills a few people, and suddenly entire nations mobilise to stop them, but millions of people lose their lives on the roads every single year, and it's just business as usual? The consequences when a motorist speeds are a lot more significant than the consequences of a cyclist rolling through a stop sign, and yet we cyclists are the only ones branded scofflaws even though the majority of motorists are guilty of speeding every time they get behind the wheel. Every time a pedestrian is killed here in Vancouver, the police put out a bulletin telling people not to wear dark clothing, as if it were the pedestrian's fault, somehow, that the driver wasn't playing by the rules. It's an enormous injustice, and it's time we did something about it.
Sigh... we really do have a long way to go. It definitely IS a war out there on the roads, and the casualties are enormous, but we absolutely do have the power to change all that. Let's begin with a dialogue, and see where that takes us. Everybody wants to arrive safely home from their journey, however long or short it might be, and whichever mode of transportation you choose, you have the right to safe passage. Let's re-think our transportation priorities, shall we? Change doesn't have to be painful, though the longer we put it off, the more challenging it is going to be.