Bikers, Walkers Need Cities to Protect Them

Without laws protecting bikers and walkers, the goal of having truly livable cities in America remains out of reach.

At a street corner somewhere, a pedestrian, a bicyclist and an automobile driver enter an intersection. The person in the car turns and hits either the person on foot or the person on the bike, killing her.
Question: What happens to the driver? In most states, nothing. Unless the driver is drunk or can be shown to be speeding or driving recklessly, it is, in the words of Aaron Naparstek, founder of Streetsblog, “a free kill.” The driver walks away without criminal charges, civil liabilities or administrative penalties.
This is crazy.
In the past decade, there has been a movement around the world to make towns and cities more hospitable to their primary occupants: people. Dubbed the livable city or complete streets movement, it has resulted in cities widening sidewalks, putting in bike lanes, converting parking lots and streets into pedestrian plazas, launching bicycle-sharing services, implementing high-speed bus lanes, reviving streetcar systems, tearing down freeways, and more. This is a global phenomenon, with American cities from Chattanooga, Tenn., to New York City playing catch-up to Seoul and Stockholm.
Without laws protecting bikers and walkers, however, the goal of having truly livable cities in America remains out of reach. Legal lines are more important than physical lines. Creating the right laws to govern the interactions among walkers, cyclists and drivers is more effective than painting new stripes for a bike lane.
“Ultimately, the thing that changes people’s behavior are the penalties,” says Steve Vaccaro, a lawyer in New York City who specializes in bicycle injuries.
Right now bikers -- and, to some extent, pedestrians -- are in a Catch-22. It’s long been known that there is a “safety in numbers” phenomenon. The more people walk or bike, the more the drivers of cars look out for them. But people won’t ride bicycles if it’s not safe, and it’s not safe because people don’t ride bicycles. A big step forward is to put the primary responsibility for keeping streets safe on the drivers of the two- and 10-ton vehicles that routinely kill people.
There are several ways to strengthen consequences...Read the full story here