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May 29, 2010

Dying to Ride a Bicycle: 4 Dead in 8 Weeks

The WDUQ News Blog, which is increasingly my mainstay source for local news, carries this: PA Bicycle Deaths Double from '08 to '09.

16 bicyclists were killed in Pennsylvania last year, doubling the 2008 death count, says the state Department of Transportation. “While that number may seem low to many people, that’s still 16 people that had their lives cut short,” says PennDOT spokeswoman Alison Wenger.

Unfortunately, there is no context, and I'm not sure how you'd quantify it. Did fatalities double because riding doubled? (okay news) Did fatalities double while riding tripled? (good news) Did fatalities double while riding stayed flat? (bad news)

In Thursday's Post-Gazette we see this unattributed story: Bicyclist killed in Indiana Township accident, and I'd like to repeat it here:

A Hampton man died this morning after his bicycle was struck from behind by a pickup truck on a steep grade in Indiana Township.

Dxxxx Pxxxxx, 52, of Clearfield Road, died at UPMC Presbyterian following the accident, which occurred at 7:11 a.m. on Harts Run Road near Dorseyville Road.

Indiana Township police said Mr. Pxxxxx was pedaling east, or uphill, on Harts Run Road when his bike was struck by a pickup truck that had been behind him.

Indiana Township police said Mr. Pxxxxx's bicycle was in the travel lane, not on the berm, when the accident occurred. They said no charges had been filed against the driver, whose name was not released.

I'm loathe to write about a specific death or accident, because it's a tragedy for all involved. I've removed the name to avoid the family finding this via Google. It's curious and illuminating that the police are protecting the driver's name, and not the victim's name.

I know that people get killed in traffic accidents, in cars and bikes and just walking, and nobody means for it to happen - that's why they're called accidents. What irks me is the uninformed bias in the report, which subsequently misinforms and maladjusts the public's awareness.

Generally media reports blame the rider. Sometimes they blame the rider for not wearing a helmet, or not having lights and riding in the dark - that's a report that indicates some understanding.

Thursday's story presents: He was riding in the lane, not the berm. Of course, Nobody was charged. No news here, move along.

He is allowed to ride in the lane. He doesn't have to ride on the berm. Daylight, no rain, a motorist runs over and kills a bicyclist who was legally on the road. No charges filed.

I'm sure the motorist in this case feels terrible. S/he certainly didn't mean for it to happen. That's not my point. My point is that until newspapers start reporting these deaths without bias, there won't be any improvement in public awareness.

Under the international Vienna Convention on Road Traffic (1968), a bicycle is defined to be a vehicle and a cyclist is considered to be a driver. In a minority of jurisdictions (the states of Arizona, California, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, and Texas in the United States) a bicycle is legally defined as a "device" rather than as a vehicle, but in all cases operators of bicycles share a basic set of rights and responsibilities with operators of motor vehicles.

In Pennsylvania, bicycles are vehicles.
They belong in the street.
Share the road.


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