Every time I buckle my bike helmet, I wonder if it will be my last ride. I commute to class by bike and train on the road as a competitive cyclist, and each day I worry if my safety precautions will be enough. In the past year, two of my teammates have been struck by vehicles and injured while they were following the rules of the road. Without asking for it, I’ve become an advocate for cyclists and bike infrastructure.
We love to hate cyclists. They’re on the road with the cars, taking up space and making it harder to drive. We love to tell stories about irresponsible cyclists running red lights or making it hard to pass. It is unfortunate that we generalize this group of road users and fail to bring up in these conversations the staggering number of irresponsible drivers that make roads equally unsafe spaces.
Despite the fact that cyclists are doing good for the world by reducing traffic and greenhouse gas emissions, I can put up with people who choose to see the negatives of road users on bikes. What I cannot put up with, however, are those who are unwilling to support the efforts to make roads safer and more effective for community users. The new two-way protected bike lane on East William Street is a step forward for everyone.
Recently, I was infuriated when the driver of my Uber mentioned his distaste for the road changes. He said he doesn’t like these types of new accommodations for cyclists because it makes the roads narrower and reduces parking space. He was concerned the narrower roads would cause more drivers to hit one another. While I’m sure he did not mean to, what he was implying was that he favored the protection of vehicles over the protection of human lives. Bike infrastructure saves human lives — I, personally, am unconcerned with a few extra cars getting dented.
What if the money used on this bike lane installation was instead used to fix other roads? Yes, that could happen, but if we are talking about the issue of potholes and disintegrating roads, we should also think about the damage to a road done by a person on a bike versus that by that same person in a motor vehicle. The cyclists of Ann Arbor are paying taxes just like everyone else, yet they are not doing nearly the same damage to roads.
People make jokes about how entitled the pedestrians are in Ann Arbor. They love to make fun of the idea that pedestrians walk in front of cars and are asking to be killed. I laugh at these jokes here and there, but I’m worried about how this humor may actually affect how we think about driving. Drivers often think they own the roads and that if something bad occurs, it’s because any pedestrian or cyclist involved was unpredictable or stupid. While we should all be alert on the road, the person with their hands on the wheel should not assume that the other road users are trying to get killed.
The way we think about pedestrian safety is closely linked to that of cyclist safety because these two groups both comprise vulnerable road users, meaning they have little or no external protection in the event of a collision. Crosswalks, sidewalks and well-known right-of-way laws help make Ann Arbor a pedestrian-friendly community. Meanwhile, cyclists exist in a gray space. The pavement they use as transportation is designed for and shared with vehicles much larger and more powerful than them.
The lack of parking in Ann Arbor is a disaster. The traffic in Ann Arbor is a disaster. The road quality in Ann Arbor is a disaster. The new bike lane is incentivizing biking as a safe and effective mode of commuting for the community. There are people who are hesitant to mount a bike because they know the threatening nature of motorists. People die all the time while following the rules of the road because of irresponsible drivers. But better bike infrastructure means more people on bikes, which means fewer in cars. And fewer cars means a better experience for people who live and work in Ann Arbor – including those who continue to drive.
Leah Adelman is a junior in the Ford School of Public Policy and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.