I wrote this in my sleep one night, or as near to it as one can do while typing in the dark and allowing thoughts to spill through tired fingers under heavy lids. We had come home earlier in the day from a long bike ride and many current events in the news and people's response to them were rolling around in my mind as my legs endured endless revolutions. The subject that I write about here is cyclists, a people group without much prejudice. My hope is that family and friends, and perhaps even an errant reader through the webosphere, will hear the struggle and plea of this one cyclist and see the relation between my reality and those of blacks and the unborn. We each have prejudices and perspectives shaped by our experiences that cloud our perception of others. I hope that this impassioned yet humble effort will allow us all to see that, while all lives matter, there does come a time by necessity to elevate the cause of some to progress the good of all.
I see you there, idling quiet beside us on potholed blacktop, bobbing your head to some muffled beats or chatting by earpiece to a colleague or friend. I rest beside you with one foot to the ground to steady myself and to catch my breath. I am your carpool compatriot and I would like to request your attention.
You may have noticed our social campaign #cyclistslivesmatter. Cyclists are banding together as brothers and sisters under a banner of truth to shed light on issues that threaten our very lives. Some have criticized us because they believe our catch phrase poses a threat to their way of life. They worry that by elevating one cause that we will cripple others. Our message is not that our lives matter more. Our mantra isn't a thinly veiled campaign with the intent to ascend to rule the road. But our whispers for fairness have long fallen on deaf ears and impotent hands. We are raising the octave now, a few million decibels more, to elevate awareness, not arrogance.
We believe all lives matter. We love motorists and the little ones advertised on your rear windows. That's why we ride according to the laws of our shared land - out of respect for your rights and those of the ones riding along inside. Our movement shouldn't cause you to fear that we will rise against you - we want to rise with you, beside you, together. This isn't a demand of trade - one way of life for another, my way over yours. It's an issue of justice and equality - we want to go where you are going and we want to go there without fear for our lives, without fear that the ones we carry inside will not return with us, that we will not return to those we love.
As the facts stand, we have not yet reached that place of equality.
We are killed 3-10 times more often than motorists. Though there is a slim minority among us who break the laws of the road and suffer the consequences of their folly, our innocent that perish inexplicably make up the bulk of these numbers. It isn't because our majority are veritable hells on motorized wheels intent on havoc and destruction. It's simply because we ride on two and you on four.
When I hop on my bike and ride through urban areas, I am most at risk compared to any other area that I may choose or need to ride in. If I'm out in the evening and alone during the summer months, the odds against me traveling without injury or death increase dramatically. My intent or destination have little to no bearing on this statistic. I would simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In New York alone, when a cyclist is killed by a motorist, 70-92% of the time the fault lies with the motorist. Intentional or reactionary, carelessness doesn't discriminate when a heart stops beating. Alarmingly 74% of those whose recklessness results in the loss of life get off without even so much as a citation. You can kill without consequence.
The most common place of collision between us occurs at stop signs. The laws are clear on what I am to do and what you are to do. But when we find ourselves wrecked together, it is overwhelmingly more likely it is because you failed to see my rights at this crossroads. Or perhaps because you refused to see me at all.
There are other countries where I would enjoy a more secure future. I would be surrounded by more of my kind, people who enjoy the same culture of cycling, and who have done far more to ensure the safety of those such as ourselves. Longer life expectancy, less fear that I or the ones I love will not return home, more confidence that I will not be disrespected for riding a different path are all compelling reasons to live there. But my home is here, among those of the human kind, where I was born and raised and have buried my tears and joys in the soil under my feet. A patriot deserves a reciprocation of love by the land he honors and serves.
Our children are the most vulnerable. Of all child cyclists fatalities, 80% are due to unsafe practices on the part of our sons or daughters. Perhaps the clothes they were wearing were too dark, too loose, too casual. Maybe they crossed the road at the wrong time, in the wrong neighborhood, with the wrong friends. Children are still in the maturation state and still learning to discern responsibility over indifference. Yet 8 out of 10 of those who lose their lives while on our streets will do so because of a moment of thoughtlessness. A similar moment of imprudence as a motorist will not mean his/her demise but will instead mean that he/she becomes an instrument of death. Two vastly different consequences because there was a lapse in judgement during a short minute of life.
Motorists, please don't disrespect our cause by feigning a reverse prejudice. To define what you are now experiencing as such would require an admission on your part to an original prejudice and an accompanying requirement to acknowledge the costs accrued by us who have suffered for so long and have borne far more pain than necessary. Please don't say you've seen the ghost bike "propaganda" and that they are an affront to your daily lives. Those props are a lasting memorial to lives gone, no longer present to indulge the luxury of a commute for a livelihood or a late night pleasure drive. Please don't ask us to simmer down or take a pause from the mics directed our way by media outlets and pundits referencing our message. We're not in this for the notoriety or celebrity - we are in this for life, ours and for our children after this.
When you educate yourself on the vulnerability of those of us who ride beside, you gain respect for our uphill battles and can position yourself in ways that support our coexistence.When you allow us a lane to travel on alongside you, extending an action of affirmation that we can exist together as equals, our rate of crash and burning drop significantly. When you fix your eyes on what is before you instead of what lies in the comfort and distraction of your own vehicle, our life expectancy rises.
Yesterday our family of seven rode for three straight hours. Three hours of non-stop trails and roads for approximately 40 kilometers. For the last hour my son who is fifteen months old slept soundly from his position just in front of me tucked tight up against me just below my heart. I kept a narrow grip on my handlebars so I could steady his little head lost beneath his protective helmet and thought of how helpless he was. He couldn't do a thing to stop a collision and he certainly wasn't a help turning the pedals either. But helpless doesn't equate to worthless. Vulnerable never meant dispensable. I smiled mid-stroke as I recalled his energy that morning. While dressing him, I would dive in with my fingers and tickle him just below where his arm meets his chest. Breathless from the involuntary giggles, he always, always eventually gasps a loud capitulatory, "Mum!" He isn't calling my name, he hasn't yet mastered my identification with this word. Rather it's his term for mercy -"just mercy, mom!"
The cry that cyclists lives matter isn't one fueled by anger and bitterness for the cause of revenge. It isn't to say we don't appreciate the grounds gained in respecting our rights and the efforts made to have us join the road. Its intent is to provide a microscope to the facts as they are - to acknowledge how far we've come but also to illuminate that it isn't far enough. It's a call to elevating life so that we are all equal in every matter that matters. It's simply a rallying cry for mercy - just mercy.
(All statements voiced echo a truth that parallels those of black lives and the unborn. The numbers may not match the exact statistics for every comparison but the similarities are frighteningly redundant.)