Who Shot the Cyclist?

bike path

A decade or so ago, I was enjoying a late afternoon jog in New York’s Central Park on a beautiful summer day. Central Park is one of the world’s greatest places to run or walk, and I extended my outing by 10 minutes or so to soak up the sights.

As I came to the end of my run, I stopped at a road that winds through the park. I then crossed at a pedestrian crosswalk that used a stoplight to control traffic. Since I had a green “Walk” sign and was too tired to turn my head to check traffic, I crossed without looking.

Halfway across the road, I heard screams and almost immediately was engulfed by three streaking images, people on bicycles moving at speeds close to the speed limit for automobiles. And running a red light. Miraculously, none of them crashed into me, but one passed behind me so close I could feel the airstream from her body pushing through the air, and another one passed so close in front I could feel his handlebar graze my shirt.

The male member of the cycling triumvirate shouted an obscenity and offered a middle-finger salute as he sped away. I would have loved to share some obscenities of my own, but I had been running for 40 minutes and couldn’t muster enough wind to blow out a candle.

This all came back to me last summer as I read a news item about an altercation in Paris where a bicyclist was shot twice by a pedestrian.

This was not in Paris, Texas, by the way. It was in Paris, France where I had always assumed the carrying of small arms by citizens was rarer than here in the colonies.

The news item did not disclose the cause of the shooting, but my experience in Central Park suggested to me that one possibility was a clash between an arrogant cyclist and a wronged pedestrian who brought more to the quarrel than the harmless wheezes I offered to my cycle-bullies.

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The subject of cyclists ignoring traffic laws and road safety was touched on briefly in Chicago this year as part of the discussion about the city’s bike lanes and related services. It didn’t get much debate because criticizing bicyclists in today’s America is as verboten as opposing capitalism at a Republican Party fundraiser. More’s the shame. As much as automobile drivers in metropolitan areas need to be aware of cyclists who share the road, bicyclists need to understand the threat they pose to others, too.

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In a perfect world, bicycle lanes would be separated from auto and pedestrian traffic by barriers that make everyone safer. In a perfect world, there would be bicycle-only roads crisscrossing these United States offering those who are willing the opportunity to engage in long distance, self-powered tourism.

Ours isn’t a perfect world, but perhaps with a little awareness and a lot of mutual respect, we can avoid bicycle-pedestrian altercations without the use of firearms.