Friday, December 5, 2008

Make Way for Bicycles, Kathy Knafl

In the wake of the economic crisis, regional gas shortages, and concern about the environment, there has been growing interest in alternative forms of transportation, especially with regard to the daily commute to work and school that is a routine part of life for so many Americans. Motivated both by economic and environmental issues, increasing numbers of Americans are busing, biking, mopeding, and taking the commuter train to work. While politicians and scientists wax eloquent about how best to address current economic and environmental challenges, individual Americans are changing the way they live our everyday lives (Add some interesting stats here). Until last week newspaper and television stories about the increasing number of people finding alternative means to get to work were little more to me than intriguing examples of the infinite adaptability of the American public. That changed when my daughter Anne was hit by a car while biking home from work in Chicago. Anne and her husband Gabe exert great effort and take great pride in living a life that is environmentally friendly, and, for Anne, that means biking from her home in the Bridgeport neighborhood to work at the University of Chicago.

Today Anne is recovering from the broken arm and shoulder she sustained from the biking accident. She was hit by an uninsured driver on her way home from work. The course of events and interactions that occurred during the week since the accident has me wondering about the perils of alternative modes of transportation in a society still dominated by the automobile. From the policeman first arriving on the scene to the paramedics, emergency room staff, and surgeon, the initial response to the accident has been to question Anne’s judgment to be biking to and from work. (Add some quotes). Anne was both surprised and dismayed that expressions of sympathy for her injuries were couched in a message that her poor judgment caused the accident. Surely she should have known better than to be biking in that neighborhood at that time. Sadly, Anne’s story is not unique. “In 2001, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 728 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles and 45,000 were injured,” It matters little to the bikers and their families if these accidents take place on busy city streets or quiet country roads; the pain and anguish is the same. However, I suspect the city bikers are at high risk for being accused of perpetrating the accident as a result of their own poor judgment. Surely they should have known better than to be riding a bike in “that” neighborhood at “that” time.

So a week later I am left wondering, if, as a country, we really are serious about alternative forms of transportation, shouldn’t we make every effort possible to assure those hardy souls who make the effort to bike or moped to work that this is not a life threatening undertaking. Further, as someone very engaged on the education of the next generation of health care providers, I would like to think that we are conveying to our first line responders that caring is more important that chastising. Blaming the victim is not central to health care education. If, as a country, we are serious about alternative forms of transportation, let’s put in place the policies and roadway systems that make way for bicycles.

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