A newspaper story of a tragic, fatal bike-car crash in Boulder, CO raised some painful contrasts between Boulder and Louisville (Kentucky, not the Louisville in Colorado). The bicyclist, Casey Najera, was riding southbound through an intersection, with the right of way, when a motorist traveling northbound turned left across Najera's path. Najera hit the car and was killed. The motorist said that she did not see the bicyclist and "was terribly upset about the accident," according to her mother.
One could remove all town names and geographic references from the article and know that the crash had not happened in greater Louisville, KY. First of all, the driver was cited with careless driving resulting in death. Colorado Revised Statutes 42-4-1402 defines this as a class 1 misdemeanor. This carries a penalty of 6-18 months in prison, a fine of $500 - $5000, or both. Kentucky law, as best I can tell, has no similar charge. Besides, Kentucky law requires the police to witness the crash before issuing a citation or making an arrest for anything short of a felony. Any media report of a bike-car fatality in greater Louisville hedges about whether charges will be filed, because the only hope for filing charges rests on results of toxicology tests. The Colorado newspaper story gave a different picture: "[The motorist] was cited by police for careless driving resulting in death." The driver did something unacceptable and stands to get punished for it.
I found even more startling the reader responses to the online story. All of them spoke of the tragedy of the bicyclist's death. None ranted against the driver or "the system." None attempted to blame the bicyclist or suggested that bicyclists should stay off the roads for our own good. These reader comments contrast shockingly with those that swarm like flies at the end of any Louisville KY online news story of a bike-car crash.
The news story ended with mention of a recent bike-car crash resulting in a bicyclist's injury, and two fatal car-bike crashes earlier in the year. Yet neither the reporter nor any of the comment writers felt a need to declare an epidemic of bicyclist injuries and deaths or make any sweeping statements about the dangers of bicycling. I guess that the newspaper readers of Boulder, Colorado see bicycling as a good and ordinary activity that sometimes results in crashes, injuries, and deaths. Folks here in Louisville, KY seem to feel that way about driving cars, but not about riding bicycles.
Health and crash data paint a clear picture: the benefits of bicycling vastly outweigh the risks. Here in greater Louisville, we continue to read and hear opinions that bicyclists should, "for their own good," stop riding on streets and rural roads. I hope to live to see the day when anyone stating that opinion will be viewed as a crackpot. In other words, I want the public at large to view bicycling on streets as normal and appropriate. Then, we might have a bicycle-friendly community.