Cycling isn’t dangerous, people are dangerous

His name is Mark Angeles.

He was 22.

Mark’s name shouldn’t be worth a mention in Bicycle Times, not because he wasn’t worthy of recognition—in fact he was recognized as one of the most distinguished students in his class at Reed College—but because he should be just another happy cyclist celebrating his graduation last week and the onset of summer.

Instead Mark is yet another cyclist killed by a driver in broad daylight. He has become something no cyclist wants to be: a statistic.

The ghost bike placed at the scene of Mark

The ghost bike placed at the scene of Mark Angeles’ death.

In what has been a particularly disheartening month for cyclists here in Portland, Mark was killed May 27 by a tow truck driver turning left in front of him, the third such “left hook” in the past few weeks.

On May 10, Alistair Corkett, a bike shop employee and budding racer had his leg severed when he was hit by a driver turning in front of him, and on May 22 David Garcia received a critical head injury when a driver turned left in front of him.

After Mark’s death on Wednesday of this week, two other cyclists were seriously injured later that same day, another Thursday, and another today in the same intersection where Alistair lost his leg.

In a twisted turn of irony, Mark’s death came less than 24 hours after the mayor of Portland, Charlie Hales, hosted a Twitter “town hall” to answer questions about bicycle safety and infrastructure in the most “bike friendly” city in America, a title that has come into some well-deserved criticism in the past few months.

On its face the city seems to be at least trying to stem the bloodshed. It has adopted the Vision Zero project, an international effort to create road networks with zero fatalities or serious injuries. It was created in Sweden in 1997 and became popularized after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio embraced it in 2014.

The Vision Zero program is simple: “No loss of life is acceptable.” At least that is a universal truth that we can all agree on, right?

Maybe not.

Mayor de Blasio’s steadfast dedication to safe streets in New York has been vilified by the local transit union, who has made it more than clear that they are unhappy that city bus drivers have been prosecuted for hitting and killing pedestrians. Since last year Six bus drivers have been arrested for violating a right-of-way law, but the Transit Workers Union Local 100 says they should be exempt from the law that makes it a crime to fail to yield and strike pedestrians or cyclists who are rightfully crossing a street with a signal.

“Bus operators should not be held accountable,” TWU 100 President John Samuelsen told CBS New York. Five of the six incidents that warrant arrest under this “unfair” law resulted in a pedestrian death. Talk about unfair.

Now never mind that the very existence of such a law seems outrageously unnecessary—how can it be that hitting a pedestrian who has the right of way isn’t already a crime?!—the union believes bus schedules are more important than safety, and has gone so far as to file a class action lawsuit against the mayor and city to revoke it.

While that nonsense works its way through the system, some folks are taking a stand against it. A couple here in Portland have decided to fight fire with fire by forming a political action committee to take an active role in fighting what they describe as “traffic violence apologists.” Instead of working within the system, Chris Anderson and Amy Subach say they will use any means available to expose and even replace politicians and other public figures that they believe are making streets unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians.

The self-appointed Vision Zero PAC will work nationally to challenge legislation, expose hypocrisy and debunk victim blaming. On its website it has a form that allows users to “nominate a future loser,” and it is offering a $200 reward for a photo of any New York City council members who oppose Vision Zero texting or talking on the phone while driving, which both violate New York state law.

So where does that leave us? Will cities embrace safety measures to allow its citizens to move about without the risk of loss of life? Hopefully. Will cars continue to hit and kill cyclists and pedestrians? Absolutely. Is there anything you or I can do about it? I don’t know.

I’m not afraid to admit that I feel unsafe nearly every time I ride a bike. It’s rare that I can make it from A to B without a car brushing past me too closely or even worse, deliberately swerving, honking, or harrassing me in some way. I hardly ever ride road bikes recreationally any more because of it, and even transportation riding has become less enjoyable. I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels this way.

Within 24 hours of Mark’s death a ghost bike had been placed at the intersection where he died with a growing collection of flowers, photos and handwritten notes. I went to visit it yesterday and left feeling heartbroken and terrified. Not a quarter mile away I stopped at a four-way stop—much to the dismay of the men in a truck going the opposite way who had waited, assuming I would run the stop sign. After they waved me through I waved back and their reply succinctly summed up the attitude that is leading to injury and death.

“YOU’RE STILL AN ASSHOLE.”

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