Sunday, April 07, 2013

On safe cycling

Since otherwise this web log runs a risk of turning into a commentary on selected Atlantic Magazine articles, and since I have wanted to do a set of posts on cycling safety, courtesy, and road sociability for some time, this post will serve to introduce the series.

Why talk about safety, and how do I define that term? What does safety have to do with what we as cyclists owe to ourselves, our fellow cyclists, our fellow road users, and the world, however we define it, at large? I have two answers for this. I believe they apply to me as a cyclist, which means that I believe they apply to other cyclists.

I believe, first of all, that I have an obligation to do everything I can to survive the ride. I have an obligation to get home for the people waiting for me. I don't want a police officer to come to our door and tell them I will not come home. I think most cyclists have a relationship like that: the news of almost any cyclist's death would come as a devastating blow to someone. But also, because I love cycling so much, because it has given me such joy, I do not want to make it the means by which I lose my life or my health.

My second obligation simply extends the first: I have an obligation not to hurt another road user. Hurt in this case does not mean annoy. Causing a motorist to miss a light will not hurt them. Requiring a motorist to choose between shifting lanes and driving at bicycle speed for a block will not hurt them. But I do have an obligation to avoid causing actual injury to another road user, which in almost every situation means I have an obligation to avoid harm to pedestrians and other cyclists. All the  arguments for not hurting myself on a bike apply here, with the added obligation not to impose harm, or risk, on people who have not consented to it.

I also make choices. I choose to assert my right to ride, but wherever possible, I choose to do so without causing unnecessary inconvenience. I choose to facilitate the movement of traffic, all traffic, whenever I can do it safely. I choose to respect the laws, which means I obey them when I can do so without sacrificing my safety or that of someone else, and I accept the penalties for breaking them.

In the next post, I will discuss some of the cycling practices I use to express these values and choices.

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