Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dispatch Columnist Misses the Mark in Call for Bicyclist Responsibility

From the very first line of her most recent column about the death of Tracy Corbin on Alum Creek Drive today, Ann Fisher misses the point about safety on roads. Read this first line:
It's hard to blame the drivers along Alum Creek Drive south of Watkins Road, where bicyclist Tracey Corbin was killed three weeks ago on his way to work.
I'm sorry... but what? How is it hard to blame drivers who don't watch the road? If you don't see cyclists when you're driving, you're driving unsafely. That means you're driving distracted, too fast, or both. Either way you're breaking the law and you're a menace.

Should riders be doing everything they can to be seen? Absolutely. That's why I wear either a fluorescent orange vest or yellow jacket when I ride.

But to say that you can't blame the drivers when a person has been killed? That's one of the most preposterous things I've ever heard.

Here's the entire column today.

Commentary
Bicyclists should do their part for safety
Wednesday, September 10, 2008 3:17 AM

It's hard to blame the drivers along Alum Creek Drive south of Watkins Road, where bicyclist Tracey Corbin was killed three weeks ago on his way to work.

Everything about that route -- frequent big-truck and semi traffic, two narrow lanes, an uneven gravel berm, 40-mph speed limit and no sidewalks -- conspires against them and the bicyclists with whom they share the road.

Yet it must be shared because that's just about where the bus route ends.

And even if there were a bus, Wayne French couldn't afford the fare on his $7.50-an-hour income. At 5:45 a.m. yesterday, he was pedaling furiously along the white line that separates the road from the gravel to meet his landlord and pay his rent before going to work.

Dressed all in black and without a helmet, his sole source of safety is his head, which he turns to look behind him when traffic approaches from the front. If it's coming from behind, too, the 45-year-old French knows he must steer onto the gravel to avoid a collision, one that almost surely would kill him.

He is riding through a death trap. And he's not the only one.

These days, Brent Nimmo is lit up like the Short North arches (on a good night), with a headlamp over his helmet and reflective tape on his hunter-orange vest.

Since Corbin's death, the 50-year-old Nimmo has installed two blinking red lights and a yield-shaped sign on his bike. Reflective letters that spell out Don't Kill Me are affixed to the sign, which faces the traffic behind Nimmo.

He centered a 3-foot dowel along the top edge of the sign to give passing truckers and other drivers a notion of how much room he needs in the darkness of his own morning commute.

Since the spring, high gasoline prices have forced Nimmo to commute about two weeks each month to his maintenance job at the Statehouse. Without a bike lane or sidewalk, every trip is a calculated risk, he said.

"The day (Corbin) was killed, my son called to see if it was me. My neighbor drove down (to the crash site) to see if it was me."

His get-up might appear to be overkill, he said. "But maybe Tracey saved my life. Maybe a bike lane would save a whole lot of other people's lives."

Last week, I asked drivers to be more aware. Yesterday, as I traveled Alum Creek by car to observe Nimmo, my right front fender almost clipped French. I barely saw him.

French knows he needs better gear to be safe, but he can't afford it. He said others like him also commute along Alum Creek.

Nimmo suggested a helmet program for low-income bicyclists who need their wheels to commute. He also supports a provision in House Bill 390 that, among other things, would require a 3-foot minimum distance when passing a bicycle.

"The strippers got 6 feet," Nimmo said, referring to the legislation that, until it was amended in the Ohio House, required strippers to stay 6 feet from strip-club patrons. "We're only asking for half of what the strippers got."

That would help, but only if the driver can see the bicyclist and has time to react.

Ann Fisher is a Dispatch Metro columnist. She can be reached at 614-461-8759 or by e-mail.

afisher@dispatch.com

People, not speed.

3 comments:

  1. I agree: Drivers bear the responsibility for controlling their machines. If they're not paying attention, or driving too fast to avoid a cyclist, they're guilty of negligent driving, and if they kill someone, they deserve to be charged with a very serious crime.

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  2. Read the whole article in context. The area is horribly dark, and street lights and a bike lane are needed, trucks with brights easily blind a motorist from seeing a bike with ordinary lights, and even a vest...Fisher has a heart for cyclists. She had Wayne put his bike in the back of her wagon and drove him to where he needed to go so he wouldn't get hit....
    Tracey did what he thought was enough to be visible. While I will not go so far as to absolve the motorist, you should come down and see the location, and try to see a cyclist where Tracey was killed while a truck with its brights is coming to you. Ann did that. I can be seen in that circumstance, but I have gone beyond reason to be visible.....

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  3. I realize that Fisher has cyclists in her heart, her previous column on the topic makes that clear. But anything that tries to relieve motorists of their responsibilities to drive safely - not only for themselves, but for everyone around them - is dead wrong.

    And though the rest of the article makes that clear, the first rule of journalism (as I was taught) is to get your story across in the first paragraph, because few people read any further. In this case, the first paragraph doesn't lead into the rest of the column at all well, and sets up the wrong message.

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