On Saturday February 10, 2018 thousands of cyclists including many Canadians who winter in California’s Coachella Valley participated in the 20th annual Tour de Palm Springs, a charity bike ride that over the years has raised millions for many local non-profit organizations.
The cycling event includes various distances: short rides through the City of Palm Springs on roads closed for the event; longer rides—25, 50, and 100 miles—through the various valley cities on roadways that remain open to motorists, but with police at most of the major intersections along the routes. On event day, no matter where you travel in the valley, the cyclists are hard to miss, sometimes in clumps, sometimes loosely strung together, brightly coloured in their cycling gear.
Ideal conditions are not always ideal
The clear, sunny weather makes for ideal cycling conditions. But this year, on one leg of the longest ride, on a straight stretch of hilly road with a 50-mph speed limit, a young male automobile driver proceeding at 100 mph in the eastbound lane veered into the westbound lane, then, veered back into the eastbound lane where he struck two cyclists before sailing over a dirt berm and overturning. One of the cyclists died at the scene, the other was airlifted to a local hospital with serious injuries. Both were non-residents.
The driver, a local resident, sustained moderate injuries. Local news reports say he has been arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter, and released after posting $75,000 bail. Reports say the police are investigating whether drugs or alcohol were involved. Reports also quote participants describing the crash as “a fluke and hardly an indication that an overhaul in safety measures is necessary.” One participant said, “If there [had been] a caboose car following bicyclists to warn people of their presence, … it wouldn’t have made much difference …. “That guy, he might have killed the caboose.”
Cyclists are still at high risk
Every road fatality raise the question of how it could have been preventable or survivable, but nowadays, when it comes to cycling fatalities precise answers are sometimes elusive. On the one hand, despite all the advances in bike design, cycling gear, and bike safety rules, cyclists remain undeniably at very high risk.
On the other hand, the focus of the prevailing ethos on the alleged environmental benefit promotes and enthusiastically encourages it. Proponents have been so successful in persuading city governments around the globe of the righteousness of their cause that billions have already been spent on new cycling infrastructure. Some are saying this investment has been made ‘on a wing and a prayer’—that cycling safety will be maximized, and that people will use it.
More cycling, more accidents
Harsher critics of cycling safety—Lawrence Solomon, for one (executive director of the Urban Renaissance Institute and a frequent commentator in the National Post newspaper)— are now going so far as to use rhetoric to the effect that that cyclists have become “collateral damage in the climate-change wars.” Mr. Solomon argues that recent studies show more cycling even on dedicated infrastructure is causing “immodest increases in fatalities and accidents,” while accomplishing “vanishingly little” environmentally. “The more cities succeed in their quest to save the planet,” he says, “the more they will fail to protect their own people.”
Cars and bicycles operating on or around the same roadway will obviously continue to pose some serious risk to cyclists.
Road Rules by Cedric Hughes and Leslie McGuffin