Friday, May 10, 2013

Through All The Changes, City Cyclists Must Protect One Another

Lots of folks - well meaning and otherwise - claim to be watching out for the best interests of city cyclists.  At the end of the day, if we truly are the "community" we often claim to be, it is up to each of us to watch the backs of our fellow bicyclists.  Our infrastructure in Chicago is changing.  The law is changing.  Through all of that, and whatever is to come, let us remember that, corny as it sounds, if you pedal on two wheels you are my brother/sister.

The following column originally appeared as part of my column on the Urban Velo website, Cycling Legalese.  

Many of us who are deeply involved in cycling and cycling advocacy find ourselves referring to a bicycling “community.” But is there really such a community of cyclists, and, if so, what does that even mean?
People who ride bikes are not really part of a discreet group. I would venture to guess that most people who ride do not define themselves by the fact that on occasion they hop onto a two wheeled contraption and go for a spin. Even among those that consider themselves “cyclists,” there are tribes that have little to do with one another. A spandex clad roadie in his 50s may run (and ride) with a very different crowd than a 20 something year old polo player. In my experience, however, despite the purported existence of such tribes, there most certainly is a “bicycle community.” It is made up of people that, while often very different, are bound together by their love of self-propulsion on two wheels. Not everyone that rides a bike could fairly be referred to as a member of this community. But for those that love it, that bond exists, creating an important oneness, a community.
This community is important in a couple of ways. First, it provides a means of meeting people having a common interest and with whom the love of biking can be shared. It can even help expand one’s enjoyment of cycling by promoting introduction to different forms of it. Maybe the middle aged roadie would love playing polo and vice versa. Secondly, the bicycling community provides a support network, and an important one at that. Time and again in my law practice I have seen bicyclists rally to help other cyclists in need. This sometimes happens in the most literal sense. For example, last summer I represented a cyclist who was doored while riding home from work along a busy cycling corridor in Chicago. The bottom edge of the door that was flung open into him caught his shin, slicing it open. He was bleeding profusely and the driver that injured him was freaking out, offering no help. Thankfully, however, a cyclist who happened to be riding right behind my client with her teenage daughter saw what happened, stayed calm and came to the rescue. She tightly wrapped the wound to quell the bleeding while her daughter called for help. The cyclist’s leg was saved and he ended up with little more than an ugly scar. On several other occasions, bicyclists have acted as witnesses for clients involved in crashes with motorists. Several months ago a woman who I ended up representing was riding her old mountain bike home from work. She did not commute by bike everyday, but since the weather was pleasant she decided to ride to the office. On her ride home a motorist doored her and she was injured. When I brought a claim against the driver he alleged that his door had been open for some time and that the bicyclist inexplicably ran into it. Unfortunately, the bicyclist could not remember accurately what had happened. However, a bike messenger was riding behind her at the time of the crash and saw it unfold. He explained that the door was thrown open suddenly just as she rode by and that there was nothing she could have done to avoid it. Thanks to his statement we successfully resolved the case. Though the messenger and my client were arguably of two different cycling tribes, the messenger stayed at the scene and provided his contact information to the police, an act of decency that helped us tremendously.
Sometimes the help that cyclists provide to others is less direct, but no less important. Online forums do more than just offer bicycle maintenance tips. Great examples of this appear regularly on websites like The Chainlink, an online forum based here in Chicago. Daily, cyclists take to The Chainlink to update each other on upcoming cycling events, and on what is happening, often in near real time, on the mean streets. Cyclists post photos of existing street hazards and even put out APB’s on drivers that fled the scene of a collision with a bicyclist.
What can you do to help your follow cyclists? Watch their backs. Be a witness. Offer aid to those in need. If you see a cyclist stopped on the side of the road ask if they are okay. Offer them use of your tools, or pump. Join an online forum and participate constructively in discussion and debate. Bicycling is not inherently dangerous, but in the city streets a network of aid can be tremendously helpful. Be a part of that network. Join the community, and lend your voice to other bicyclists in proclaiming the popular rallying cry of today, We Are Legion!

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