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On Biking: the lessons from the death of Christopher Weigl

Posted by Your Town  December 7, 2012 08:28 AM

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It’s the morning after Christopher Weigl’s death and I feel angry and sad. And just plain numb.

Christopher was the fifth cyclist this year to be killed in Boston for doing nothing more than riding his bike.

It could have been me, it could have been you, it could have been someone that either of us love. Instead it was Christopher.

I cannot begin to imagine the pain that his parents, his family and his friends are feeling. My thoughts and prayers are with them all. I wish there were a way to undo what has been done, to rewind the tape and start over again. Instead, all we are left with is sadness and loss: loss of potential and loss of all that might have been from this young man.

What happened? I’ll leave that to the police to figure out. All I can say is that this should never have happened.

Except that it did.

Perhaps it’s too soon on this, the morning after, to talk about what needs to be done. Perhaps we need time to heal and recover.

But if it is not too soon, if we can talk about what needs to be done, I hope we can talk about the changes we must make in order to prevent another tragedy like this.

I do my best. I try to follow the rules of the road, whether I’m driving my car, riding my bike, or walking around town. Good things for sure, but they’re not good enough. The truth is that relying upon individual actions to make our cities safer is like trying to reverse global warming by using a lower wattage light bulb. They don’t hurt, of course, but more is needed.

And what is that "more"? If we want our streets and communities to be safer we’re going to need to transform how we live. Meaning big changes, system changes, the kind of changes that will make our roads safer for everyone, the kind of changes that will radically transform how we get around. Changes like traffic calming, separated bike lanes, lowered speed limits in urban areas, fewer cars and more public transportation, wider bike lanes, and strict enforcement of the rules of the road for everyone.

These are the kinds of changes that groups like the League of American Bicyclists, LivableStreets, the National Association of City Transportation Officials, and MassBike advocate for (full disclosure: I support these organizations and believe you should, too). These are the kinds of changes that will make our communities safer for everyone.

On my way home from work last night I stopped at the corner where Christopher had died earlier in the day to pay my respects. It was dark and cold and there were no obvious signs of what had happened a few hours earlier. Just people going about their business. And a car parked halfway into the bike lane at the very corner where Christopher died.

I hope that we can honor and remember Christopher by changing how we get around on our streets. That way maybe, just maybe, we can prevent another tragedy like this.

Anything less means that we’re willing to accept the unacceptable.

Jonathan Simmons is a psychologist. His book, “Here For the Ride” will be published in March.

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