Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Taking Issue with the Fredcast

Though I am not a racing cyclist by any means (I don't even own a road bike), I enjoy listening to the Fredcast, a wonderful podcast for the high-end racing cyclist. David Bernstein is a great podcaster, he has a very even keel and covers all the issues well.

That being said...

I am going to take exception with some of the things he said regarding comments by a friend of Matthew Manger-Lynch, the alley-cat rider who was killed recently during the Tour Da Chicago when he ran a red light and was killed by an SUV. For those not familiar with alley-cat races, I'll refer you to the Wikipedia entry for Alleycat races, with the normal disclaimers about what you'll find there, it being Wikipedia. In an interview that David 'casted (not an interview he conducted, mind you, but one that he picked up from local media there) with Manger-Lynch's friend, the friend discussed the fact that our legal system is geared almost exclusively toward cars, a fact that I don't think anyone can deny. He went on to say that until laws are written to give liability to cars and other more deadly forms of transportation in the case of accidents, we'll never have any progress.

This jibes with what I've been saying about the US adopting the EU 5th Motorist Directive, which puts the liability on auto drivers in any car/bike or car/pedestrian accident, simply from the standpoint that cars cause more damage in an accident and can more easily maim or kill.

I didn't take the interview the way that Bernstein did, apparently, as he argued that the friend was simply making excuses for the deceased Manger-Lynch. I disagree, obviously. I think the interview was taken out of context, as we have no idea what led into that discussion based on the snippet we heard.

Are Alleycat races stupid and dangerous? Absolutely. Was the driver of the SUV at fault? Of course not. The racer ran a red light. It's as simple as that.

But, were the friend's comments about the legal system correct? Absolutely. Any legal system that takes the responsibility away from drivers of large, dangerous vehicles like cars is at the very least negligent, and at worst purposefully endangering lives.

David, keep up the great work with the podcast, I will keep listening because you put out a great show. But please keep in mind that our legal system is most certainly not perfect. And it is the job of riders, whether racers, commuters, or recreational cyclists, to work to fix it. I recommend you read the American Bicyclist article on adding "Equality" to the five E's of the League of American Bicyclists and think about this issue a little more deeply than simply within the context of a rather stupid bike race.

Edit: David has responded to my criticism in the comments, and as usual he's done a splendid job with explaining his views. Thanks David!

People, not speed.

3 comments:

  1. Jamie,

    Thanks for a well-written and well-considered blog post. I re-listened to my story on the death at the Tour da Chicago, and while I stand behind what I said in general, I think that I should clarify a few points. I will do that here, on my blog, and on my next show.

    First of all, I think we need to separate the issue of this race from the larger issue of traffic laws, especially since Mr. Manger-Lynch's death was reportedly as a result of cyclists not following the most basic of laws (i.e. running a red light). So let's talk about the race first and then we can discuss traffic laws.

    I still believe that this so-called race (and others like it) should not continue. The simple fact that cyclists run red lights at breakneck speed just to win a meaningless event should have given someone a clue that a catastrophe like this was bound to happen. And it is bound to happen again. On that I hope we can both agree.

    As for Mr. Wilson's comments, I took them as presented by the local TV station in Chiacgo so I don't know what questions were asked to elicit these responses or what answers were edited. So is it possible that they were taken out of context? Possibly, but I do know that there were two parts to his comments and that I tried to make this clear in the way I edited the piece. If it wasn't clear, then I will endeavor to do a better job in the future.

    In the first part of his comments, Mr. Wilson says that it is 'an injustice' to blame the victim because our culture is 'so imbedded into auto use and the convenience of autos that we are willing to let our friends and loved ones be killed.' This is a totally specious argument when applied to this case. It implies that the SUV driver and/or our entire so-called car culture is to blame for Manger-Lynch's death. Is it really fair to heap blame upon the SUV driver who was following the rules of the road and had no warning about a renegade bike race that was about to cross his or her path? Is it really fair to blame our car culture for causing the death of someone who chose to flout the laws and, thereby, disregard his own safety? I don't think so.

    The second part of Wilson's quote talks about the inequity of traffic laws and it is here that I think we have some common ground. Wilson says, 'the laws don't reflect the liability of the vehicle.' On this matter, he is absolutely right.

    As you know, I've been doing The FredCast for over two years and I have talked time after time (and will continue to do so) about the attitude of motorists and the lopsided nature of our traffic laws. How many times have we all heard about a case where a cyclist is seriously injured or killed by a motorist's inattention or negligence, and the motorist gets a slap on the wrist? How many times have we, as cyclists, felt that our lives were endangered by the careless, negligent or intentional actions of motorists?

    The simple fact is that we need laws that make sense, laws that protect the rights and lives of cyclists, and a government and law enforcement community that understands the dangers we face as cyclists. I wholeheartedly agree with the League of American Bicyclists and their desire to add that additional E. As someone who has the ears of a great many cyclists, I will continue to talk about these matters on my show and to encourage my listeners to become involved in bicycle advocacy.

    I hope that clarifies my opinion on this race, on Mr. Wilson's comments, and on my ideas about our need for equality under the law. I welcome additional comments and would welcome Mr. Wilson on my show if he is willing.

    Thanks for your comments and for listening to the show.

    All the best.

    David

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  2. David, this response is one of the reasons I think you're one of the classiest acts in cycling media.

    You're absolutely right, this race and other alleycat races are irresponsible and any organizers should think twice before holding more of them. They encourage unsafe riding and sour the image of cyclists in motorists' eyes, and do a great injustice to anyone who is working for cyclist equality.

    I guess the question of context for Mr. Wilson's comments is what I question the most. Like you, I'd like to have heard the whole interview (which I realize wasn't available to you) and get some insight as to what was asked of Mr. Wilson.

    I'd be surprised if Mr. Wilson was talking specifically about the Tour Da Chicago incident when discussing blaming the victim in this case. However, I'm not so blind , and you and I both know that there are cyclists who do and will always take the stand that cyclists are always right, no matter what stupid acts they do and what laws they break.

    Again, it all comes down to context.

    Thanks again for your well-spoken response, and I look forward to future Fredcasts!

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  3. I've been on both sides of the media WRT interviews. I've had comments taken so completely out of context that the message printed wasn't even remotely what I meant! In my case I don't think the journalist meant to twist my comments, he just wanted to get the best and most provactive "sound bites" for his article.

    I've also written for a national magazine and gotten feedback that I misunderstood what my interview subject tried to tell me. Writing about unfamiliar topics is a hard thing to do.

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