A Deadly Week for Pasadena Cyclists Underlines Need for Better Infrastructure, Greater Accountability

Motorists killed two cyclists and injured a third in Pasadena last week. Two of the incidents were hit-and-runs, the third labeled an “accident.” Yet a car crash is never an accident. There’s always a cause. And it’s often preventable.

Speed plays a key role in most fatal collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists. According to Britain’s Department of Transportation, a driver whose vehicle strikes a pedestrian at 30mph has a 45% chance of killing them. At 40mph the chance of death jumps to about 85%.  At 50+ mph a pedestrian has less than a 5% chance of survival.

Given the stakes, we as a community must take steps to calm traffic and hold drivers accountable. Too often only the most egregious cases involving drunk driving and/or hit-and-run result in criminal charges for drivers that kill or seriously injure pedestrians. Although still under investigation, the recent crashes in Pasadena are emblematic of this troubling trend. One driver who stopped after striking a cyclist has already been exonerated, despite his failure to yield.

How we as a society understand these tragedies also needs to change. In most cases we fail to correctly assign blame when ultimately it’s the driver’s fault, not the car’s. Like guns, cars can easily kill if misused. That’s why drivers of larger, inherently more dangerous vehicles are held to a higher standard in other countries when they are involved in collisions. It’s a system that’s only fair when an “accident” that doesn’t at all injure one party, far too often costs another their life.

We can also help prevent accidents in the first place by working to safely accommodate all road users. At present Pasadena’s streets, like most in Southern California, lack dedicated bike lanes and similar infrastructure. In Pasadena, cross town routes tend to be thoroughfares with wide lanes that encourage high speeds. In other communities, we’ve seen how road diets, protected bike lanes, and subtle changes to lane size can dramatically improve safety for all road users. Traffic engineers and city leaders should see our streets as a way to move people efficiently, not just cars, no matter their choice of transportation.

Make no mistake: changes like these take time, resources and political will. But pedestrian and cyclist safety must be made a priority, especially in light of last week’s deaths, only the latest in a rash of needless tragedies on our streets. Otherwise, such deaths will continue to be the collateral damage of our car-centric society. In the meantime those who travel our streets by bike will continue to place their safety and welfare in the hands of motorists on the roads we all must share. There’s only so much a helmet can do against thousands of pounds of metal. It’s never a fair fight, and one we should do our best to prevent.

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