The catch-22 of bicycle safety

As many of you have heard, a few nights ago a 29-year old woman riding her bicycle downtown was struck and killed by a truck. Several weeks ago, an 11-year old boy in Vancouver was struck and killed by a C-TRAN bus. The response in more than a few media sources was “oh dear, urban cycling is unsafe”.

That observation I don’t necessarily have a problem with. Riding a bike amongst a large number of two-ton (or twenty-ton) hunks of steel, many of which are traveling at high speeds, is a risky endeavor. Lots of things in life are unsafe. Being a pedestrian along a busy street is unsafe, as is riding in a car. As is sitting at a desk or on a couch, doing nothing.

What I do have a problem is the claim that because these things are unsafe, they shouldn’t be done–especially from sources who then turn around an oppose projects that seek to make cycling safer.

It’s a kind of Catch-22. And while I don’t normally like to inject sexual politics into this blog, it reminds me of certain religious fundamentalists who insist upon abstinence because premarital sex is unsafe–then turn around and oppose things like contraceptives or the HPV vaccine, because they would hypothetically make sex less unsafe and encourage more of it.

Generally, when you hear this sort of argument, you can rest assured that the safety of bicyclists isn’t the speaker’s prime concern–their concern is that they, for whatever reason, don’t like bicycles on the roads on the first place. People really concerned about bicycle safety would look for ways to improve the urban environment for bicycles and their riders–even if it were simple things like just slowing traffic down, as opposed to cycle tracks and the like–and not use danger as an excuse to tell the bikes to stay at home.

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