Last week, on the blog that goes by the same name as this column, I posted a sad item about doctors giving up hope for the "meaningful recovery" of a 20-year-old Johns Hopkins student who was injured when struck by a car while riding his bicycle on University Parkway.
The response was tremendous in volume, but not so encouraging in tone. Instead of focusing on the tragedy of a family's loss, it became a sounding board for bicyclists and motorists to air grievances against each other. The level of discourse made me want to send both groups to bed without their supper.
Now, we're talking about a distinct subset of each group — the motorists who can't bear the thought of sharing the road with smaller vehicles and the bicyclists who have begun to froth at the mouth about drivers — but it's still distressing to realize how unhinged some people can become over something that ought to be no big deal, like sharing the road.
A reader named Jessica seemed to be very moved by the bad news, which she called "tragic." But she used it as an opportunity to draw an absurd conclusion: "I do believe that roads are for cars and it is extremely hard for bicycles and cars to coexist peacefully on roads as they are at the moment. Roads need to be widened, bike paths need to be added."
Someone who professed to be spouting common sense instead offered this: "When cyclists have to title and tag their bikes, then they have the right to share the roads. Autos and trucks pay taxes, and fees to use the roads, which give them the right to full lanes. Share the cost and you can share the road."
A more strident variation of the theme — reproduced here without editing — was posted by another reader, who seems to be a prisoner of the CAPS LOCK key:
"BICYCLIST DO NOT BELONG ON THE ROAD PERIOD..WHY ARENT GO CARTS NOT ALLOWED THEN?BECAUSE THEY HAVE THEIR OWN TRACK LIKE BICYCLIST SHOULD HAVE TO:)"
The three readers have this in common: They're flat-out, 100 percent wrong — legally, historically, logically and morally.
Yes, the roads are for cars. They are also for bicycles, pedestrians and sometimes horses. Drivers of cars and trucks enjoy the advantages and responsibilities of being the biggest and most powerful users of the roads. Thus, motorists must know how to drive around bicyclists, pedestrians, horses, etc.
This is not an optional skill. Motorists who find it difficult to share the roads with other travelers who have a legal right to use them need to seek remedial education or stop driving. It's a given that some bicyclists and pedestrians will perform badly. Drivers have to be alert and ready for those occasions, too.
The notion that cyclists have no right to the roads because the state does not require taxes and registration ignores the fact that the state has chosen through its elected representatives not to do so.
Why not? There are some obvious reasons. Bikes, unlike motor vehicles, add almost nothing to the wear and tear on the roadways. Those who use a bike do all motorists a favor by not being other motorists. Bike lanes, where they exist, do drivers as much good as they do bicyclists by moving them out of the way.
And talk about Big Government: Who but some leftist radical would want to expand the bureaucracy by imposing a licensing scheme on every child who gets on a kiddie bike with training wheels? Widen all the roads and build bike lanes? Show me the money! You can't get Marylanders to agree to a gas tax increase to keep bridges from falling down. You think we're ready to pay to widen all the roads for the sake of those who can't deal with bikes?
Some might think from my comments I'm a fanatical biker. Hardly. You'll find me on one maybe twice a year, while I'm in my car almost every day. But in 40 years of driving, never have I had the slightest difficulty sharing the road with bicyclists. It's so easy even a reporter can do it. Just be patient, keep some distance and pass when it's safe. And don't honk.
Getting around on a bicycle isn't rocket science, either, if you just give reasonable deference to traffic laws. (Treating stop signs as yield signs: Cool. Whizzing through stoplights? Not cool.) Don't give the finger to motorists who annoy you. Don't ride two abreast and delay drivers needlessly. And don't whizz down a lane of traffic next to a line of parked cars oblivious to the dangers and then whine about being "doored."
Earth to bikers: Drivers aren't thinking about bikes when they open car doors. They aren't about to start in this lifetime, so either move into the travel lane or slow down and watch carefully for parked cars with people in them.
The debate over a bill to expand the definition of vehicular manslaughter to allow criminal prosecutions in more cases didn't elevate the tone much. Some of the comments posted to my blog by bicyclists put me in a pox-on-both-your-houses mood.
For instance, where does a bicyclist get off saying: "Most, not all, motorists have no regard for those around them?" Gee, thanks for allowing that only 99 percent of us are goons.
Then there's the bicyclist who responds to a driver's taunt that "Your [sic] nothing but a bunch of BULLEYS [sic] on BIKES" by calling him a "moron."
Make them share a cell.
But occasionally in this tawdry debate there shines through a comment of such clarity and perceptiveness it makes one think it isn't yet time to consign the human race to the protoplasm recycling vat. Wrote one reader:
"Bicycles? Yes. Most assuredly. Spandex? Please no. It seems a reasonable compromise to me."
Thank you for restoring my faith in homo sapiens.