Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Modest Proposal for the Bicycle: A Motor Vehicle Without the Motor

Watching Heather Ishimaru's report last night on KGO-TV on expanding the bike sharing program, I found myself thinking again about the extent to which too many cyclists seem to behave as if they were not under the jurisdiction of the same "rules of the road" as motorists. I know this is a hot-button item for all parties involved (cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians). However, I also know that having a system in which bicycle riders are obliged by law (and therefore subject to punishment) to operate their vehicles responsibly to the same degree that motorists are is a major problem that has now crossed the Atlantic Ocean and is invading the United Kingdom as well as the United States.

For this reason I decided to visit the Bay Area Bike Share Web site to see what rules were imposed on members, if any. Fortunately, it was not very difficult to find what amounts to a rental agreement. This is not that different from all those agreements you encounter when you are purchasing software over the Web. In other words it is a very long body of text that just about everyone ignores. In this case I was amused to see that the Web page made use of two colors and three font sizes. It took me a while to work my way down this Web page and to finally land on the following text in the smallest of the fonts:
You represent, warrant, and agree that You are a safe and competent bicycle operator, You are sufficiently fit and physically capable to safely ride a bicycle without any risk to Your health, You are knowledgeable about the operation of a bicycle, and You are knowledgeable about the laws pertaining to bicycles operated within the Counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara. Like any physical activity, riding a Bicycle may cause minor or major injuries or discomfort and may worsen or complicate underlying medical conditions or diseases.
By choosing to ride a Bicycle, You assume all responsibilities and risks for all such injuries or other medical conditions.
From a legal point of view, this establishes that the only person who needs to affirm that an applicant is fit to operate a bicycle is the actual applicant. The idea that any third party should be responsible for validating the applicant's affirmation (as is the case for a motor vehicle operator) is simply not part of the equation.

Like many, I would prefer to see fewer motor vehicles on the streets of San Francisco. On the other hand I have probably seen about as many instances of reckless bicycle operation as anyone reading this text. Isn't it about time that we take the operation of bicycles as seriously as we take the operation of motor vehicles?

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