Over the last two weeks, we have seen the tragedies that occur when bicyclists and motorists are in conflict; lives are lost, while other lives are ruined.
As of this writing, it is my understanding that the investigators are still trying to piece together the sequence of events of both accidents, it would be premature and irresponsible to jump to any conclusions and I am not about to do that here.
But, what I am about to do, is to present my own personal opinions on the matter. I temper these opinions by sharing with you that I work for the City of Piqua. The City has been nationally recognized as a leader in developing policies that require streets to be seen as more than just a convenient way to move vehicles. Streets should be built and designed for multiple modes of transportation. This is a sentiment that I agree with; in fact, I would argue that most people agree with this sentiment.
However, there is one thing that is often left out of public discussion that I believe deserves to be debated in the public forum.
Currently, in order to drive a motor vehicle, you must have an operator’s license. The same holds true for someone who wishes to use a motorcycle on a public road as well. These licensing requirements at least put forth a basic standard of education that the license holder has in terms of traffic laws and safe vehicle operation. My contention is that it isn’t equitable when those on bicycles do not need to demonstrate the same type of knowledge or skill.
To make matters worse, it appears that many, if not a clear majority, of those that use bicycles, could care less if they follow traffic laws. I sincerely doubt these individuals are trying to intentionally break the rules, let alone trying to be a danger to themselves or others on the road, but yet, these individuals run the risk to themselves and others. Think about it, how many times have we seen, or even been on a bicycle, and disregarded a stop sign, used hand signals or even stayed close to the curb, I am sure we have all been guilty of this, myself included.
And it is at that specific point, many of the conflicts both on the road and in my own mind collide. On one hand, as a motorist, I believe I am held to a higher standard of following traffic laws when I am behind the wheel; I have a license to prove I know rules and it is expected that I follow them. As for those on bicycles, the same is not the true. By simply having a bicycle, there is no expectation that the individual using the bicycle has any inherent knowledge of traffic laws; there is no credential a bicycle operator has to possess to demonstrate that they understand the rules of the road.
The issue gets magnified when we look at how communities, like Piqua, are working harder and harder to reclaim streets and roads to be used for all modes of transportation. As we look into the future, we can certainly expect more and more people to use bicycles as a form of transportation and those individuals will undoubtedly be on streets and roads. These conflicts between bicyclists and motorists are not going to go away anytime soon; if anything there will be more of them.
It’s safe to say we need more training and education for our bicyclists if we expect them to be on the roads. Perhaps it is time for some type of basic licensing or permitting system. Requiring bicyclists to fully understand and follow traffic laws can have a positive influence in making our streets and roadssafer for both bicyclists and motorists.
This isn’t to say that training bicyclists is going to prevent the tragic events that occur when vehicles and bicycles get into accidents. However, reasonable actions should be considered to ensure the safety of everyone on our community’s streets, whether they are behind the steering wheel or whether they are behind handlebars.
William (Bill) Lutz is the Development Program Manager for the city of Piqua and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org