The evolution of a motorist: Bicycle safety will inconvenience, but we must save lives

Vice mayor Marc McGovern talks with bicycle safety activists Oct. 17 in front of City Hall. (Photo: Marc Levy)
Vice mayor Marc McGovern talks with bicycle safety activists Oct. 17 in front of City Hall. (Photo: Marc Levy)

I drive. I don’t bike. Although I have voted in favor of every bike safety plan except one, I won’t claim to be the “bicycle councillor.” I won’t claim to be a bicycle expert. I admit that I’m arriving late to the discussion – but I have arrived. Bicycle safety is a significant issue in our city, and we are long overdue in dealing with it quickly and with priority. What does this mean for folks such as me, who drive? It means we are going to be inconvenienced. It means parking will be lost. It means construction. Why do we need to do this? Because it means the difference between life and death.

Why do I see bike infrastructure as a priority?  First and foremost: the deaths of Marcia Deihl, Amanda Phillips and Joe Lavins. These victims were mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, spouses. Regular people who were going about their business one moment and then gone the next. If that wasn’t enough to change my view, a few months ago I received a call that my 16-year-old son, Will, was doored on Broadway and fell into the road. Luckily he didn’t fall under the wheel of a car. Sometimes it takes a personal incident to be a person’s wakeup call. These deaths, and my son’s accident, is what did it for me.

Since then, I have been moved by the stories of others who have been doored, been hit or had near misses on our roads. I have been inspired by the passion and the advocacy from the bike community. I have come to realize that this must be a priority.

I know that people will say: “Well, bikes don’t follow the rules.” In many cases that’s true. Does that mean that because some engage in this behavior they should face possible death? Does it mean we should be resistant to infrastructure improvements? No. What about all the motorists and pedestrians who don’t follow the rules? We all have to get better at sharing and being safe on our roads.

I don’t claim to have all the answers. I don’t claim to know everything about this issue. What I do know is that more and more people are riding bikes. What I do know is that our roads aren’t safe, and when a bike rider – that mother, father, brother, sister or spouse – is hit by a car, they may die. We need to heed the advice of the various bicycle advocates who have testified in favor of protected bike lanes on major roads and intersections in Cambridge. We need to set short- and long-term goals and start making improvements immediately. I hope that those who see themselves primarily as motorists and those who see themselves primarily as bike riders can work together to change the culture of how we share our roads. I pledge my willingness to engage in this conversation and to support improvements to our city’s bicycle infrastructure. People’s lives depend on it.


Marc McGovern is vice mayor of Cambridge.

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One Response to "The evolution of a motorist: Bicycle safety will inconvenience, but we must save lives"

  1. dr2chase   Tuesday, November 15, 2016 at 9:02 am

    If I could add a slightly different point of view, from someone who certainly drives, but also bikes to work through Cambridge every day.

    First, if you we make it safer and more comfortable (not quite the same thing) to ride bikes in Cambridge, this can be more convenient, not less. I bike to work because it is more convenient — far easier and cheaper to bike, easier to run errands on the way home (which require parking), and not only no slower, it is often faster. Unlike the T, my bike is never overcrowded, nor is it blocked by switch problems in unrelated stations.

    Anyone who drives to work because they don’t feel safe, who decides instead to ride a bike, has the option of improving their convenience. It’s possible that overall it will even increase the convenience of driving, because bikes take up so little space compared to cars that we could end up with less competition for parking spaces, and looking for parking takes time.

    Second, the main rule-breaking that we should care about is by people driving cars and trucks. I may be inconvenienced by people stepping out into the road, or by light-running bicyclists, but they’re not that likely to send me to the hospital in a crash. A crash between two pedestrians is a nothing-burger, a crash between two cyclists is not usually that big a deal, but a crash that involves a car has enough energy in it to easily maim and kill.

    Furthermore, rule-breaking by drivers relative to cyclists is plenty common, I ride with a video camera, I see both and I can compare. Just yesterday I stopped for a pedestrian in a crosswalk and signaled my stop for the driver behind me, but they ran the crosswalk anyway: https://youtu.be/xnaZPmiPLuM . That’s rude to the pedestrian, and not so safe for me. And if your reaction to that is “that wasn’t that bad, everyone had plenty of room”, be sure to also say that every time you see someone on a bike roll a stop sign, detour onto a sidewalk, or ride across an intersection on the walk-only signal. (I’ve got more of these, that was just yesterday, the shadow gave a nice image of my hand signal.)

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