It’s the same argument time and time again. Every couple months, one side or the other instigates it and the back-and-forth rebuttals saturate our Opinion pages for the next couple weeks.
And no, I’m not talking about politics or elections. I’m talking about the great Ahwatukee motorists-versus-cyclists debate.
Most recently Jim Thompson wrote a letter to the editor on May 9 in response to Bob Beane’s April 20 commentary, “Drivers don’t own the road, share it with others.” In his letter, Thompson said cyclists ride “most often three-abreast, blocking traffic flow.”
True to form, Beane responded a few weeks later. As president of the Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists he said the group simply wants all road users to exercise care. Sounds fair enough. Who could argue with that?
However, (and this is not a knock on Beane, I’m just trying to make a point,) he goes on in his response describing drivers who are either distracted by gadgets or impaired by alcohol and cyclists who are “simply exercising/training on their bikes and following the law.”
Do you see where I’m going with this? Both commentators paint a completely different picture. One side vilifies the other and concedes nothing. And the argument goes nowhere. For years this has been happening. And quite frankly, I’m tired of hearing it.
I’m tired of hearing it because I honestly believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle. No, I have not personally seen cyclists riding three-abreast blocking traffic flow, but I also do not believe cyclists are completely blameless here.
A very specific example that comes to mind, on May 2 a coworker and I were headed back from lunch at Nello’s, headed north on 48th Street and approaching Elliot Road, when we saw a biker riding on the bike lane line itself with his hands on his head. True story. I remember commenting to my coworker that, because his hands were off the handlebars and he was riding mere inches away from the passing cars, one unintended swerve could be catastrophic.
At the same time, I completely agree that motorists can potentially cause more damage to a biker than vice versa, and therefore drivers must be courteous and aware at all times. I’m not an avid cyclist, but my husband and I have been known to ride our bikes to the local Fresh & Easy if we only need to pick up one or two things for dinner. So I know how helpless and fragile cyclists feel as these 4,000 pounds of metal rocket past you.
So Bob, Jim, you’re both right. But you’re also both wrong about some things, too. And this goes for every community member who has ever written on this topic in the past, as well.
Now, I know you’re going to want to run to your computers and start typing up a response to run in our Opinion pages, but before you do that, just stop to think: What does all this finger-pointing really accomplish? And is your side that you’re defending really, truly blameless?
I propose instead we do something about it to alleviate this animosity. According to Beane, the Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists seems to be off to a good start by “educating bicyclists (adults and kids), motorists, and law enforcement on Arizona laws and safe cycling and driving.”
But at the same time we as a community should keep cyclists accountable as well. From now on, instead of painting broad, “three-abreast” strokes of cyclist infringements that can easily be dismissed as hyperbole, take note of specific instances where cyclists maybe are not being as safe as they should be. Once we have actual facts to work with, maybe we can form some sort of committee to see what can be done to fix the problem.
My intention here is to not turn this blame game into a tattle-fest, not at all. My hope is simply to turn this vicious “cycle” of finger-pointing into a constructive way to make this community a safer and more pleasant place to live.
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