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Cyclists Have Mixed Feelings About New Road Safety Campaign

Matt Nemeth
90.5 WESA

Bicyclists in Pittsburgh are reacting to a new billboard along Baum Boulevard in the East End, which tells drivers “Riders aren’t always in the right. But they are always fragile.”

The nationwide campaign is sponsored by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the Orthopaedic Trauma Association, and comes as the Tribune-Review reports an increase in crashes involving motor vehicles and bicycles over the past five years.

“The thing to remember is riders have much less protection. They don’t have the big steel monster protecting them,” said Lisa Cannada, an orthopaedic trauma surgeon in St. Louis who was part of the team that developed the ad. “Even if riders are breaking the laws, don’t take your anger out on them because they are much less protected than you are in your car.”

But the message is rubbing some cyclists the wrong way.

Ted King-Smith, a teacher and bicycle mechanic from Bloomfield, said the fact that some riders break the law is irrelevant.

“We’re legally allowed to use the roadway and regardless of what some cyclists do," he said. "That does not change the responsibility that motorists and other road users have to keep other road users safe by not intentionally or unintentionally striking them with their motor vehicle."

King-Smith said the “Pittsburgh left” is a good example of motorists regularly breaking traffic laws. He has even been hit by a driver making such a move in the past.

“If you hit a car doing this, depending on your speed, it could just be a fender bender,” he said. “If you hit a cyclist doing this at about any speed, you go flying over the hood which is what happened to me.”

Ed Quigley, a retiree who regularly drives in from Monaca, Beaver County to ride in Pittsburgh had a similar reaction to the billboard.

“Last week I saw a bicyclist run right through a red light," he said. "You know, I see drivers go through red lights. I see drivers that don’t pay attention to the speed limits. It’s as if we have to apologize and acknowledge that some people sometimes do things wrong before we can say, ‘Don’t kill anybody with your 3,000-pound car.’”

Quigley called the ads “victim blaming,” but acknowledged that it’s important to have a public conversation around bicycle safety and motorists’ responsibilities on the roads.

However, Virginia Paul, a teacher from Polish Hill who rode her bike daily before becoming a parent, said she liked the ad.  

“It wasn’t black and white, it allowed for a little bit of gray area,” she said.

Paul said while biking she would sometimes break traffic laws that she would never break in a car. For example, while biking uphill she didn’t always obey stop signs when there were no other cars coming, because she would lose momentum if she stopped.

“Everyone should ride on the road and see what that’s like,” she said. “It makes your heart race sometimes, it's scary sometimes and you have to be hyper vigilant about your own safety. I think it makes me a better driver in an automobile having had that experience. You really do feel like your life is on the line sometimes.”

Cannada said the most common injuries she sees from crashes involving motor vehicles and bicyclists are hip and upper extremity fractures.

“We don’t really want to blame the bicyclists or the drivers, but remind everyone that the roads are to be shared,” she said. “In situations of a bicycle versus a car, the bicyclists are more fragile and more susceptible to injuries.”

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.
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