Commentary: Respect cyclists’ humanity and rightful place on the road


Cycling is a point of convergence for being present and focused both body and mind. With body, you must focus on each pedal stroke, maintaining position and flexing your core. With mind, you must be ever aware of your surroundings, always on the lookout for debris in the road, the next corner, other riders and cars. When either commuting by bike or training for races, I find myself to be more aware and concentrated when I am on the bike than any other domain of my life.

It shouldn’t be, though. Driving should be the sphere where I am the most focused on each instant. In no other realm am I more in control of the fate of another person’s life. Life can change in an instant. Life can change in the same period of time it took you to notice this article. Life can also end in an instant. It did this winter for two Central Texas cyclists I knew at the hands of cars. It does for 50 other Texas cyclists each year and over 700 cyclists nationwide each year. I wish I could say those will be the last cyclists I will know to die on the roads after being struck by cars. But I can’t. It could also be me.

However, there is another “it could be me” statement: It could have been me behind the wheel. I am also a driver. While I like to consider myself a kind driver to cyclists, giving more room than the 3 foot passing law when I safely pass, I am also guilty of distracted driving. While it is frustrating as both a cyclist and a driver when people on the roads don’t follow the rules, the stakes are higher when it is a driver. Unfortunately, cyclists face the weight of that responsibility head-on every time a car passes too close or doesn’t use a signal.

People behind the wheel have a spectrum of attitudes towards cyclists — both positive and negative. Since learning of the death of a friend this week, Tommy Ketterhagen, a 19-year-old cyclist from Georgetown left on the side of the road after a hit and run, every time a car has passed me I wonder what the driver’s attitude towards cyclists is and whether they are distracted. I brace myself each time I hear a car approaching.

It does not have to be this way. Public health issues are often approached through an ecological lens looking at the multiple levels of influence on a problem. Certainly, the attitudes and awareness of drivers is one of these levels that needs to be addressed. But the design of roads needs to take into account the safety of all users and is a factor that could be more easily controlled on a population level than the attitude of every driver. Local and state agencies have a significant role in determining the safety of a transportation network. Transportation agencies, enforcement agencies and elected officials have the role and responsibility to plan roads and sidewalks, ensure awareness, and pass and enforce laws that protect and enhance safety for all on roads.

Does this seem like a big ask? It is. Local organizations like Bike Austin and Please Be Kind to Cyclists work every day to make it happen — and you can support their work. You can talk to your City Council member and ask for safer roads for you, your children and your community.

There are other things you as a driver can do to support safety right now: Be aware of cyclists, acknowledge our humanity and rightful place on the road, and be present. Have the time in the car be the sphere where you are the most present and most focused, and by doing so, save my life and the lives of my friends on Central Texas roads.

Ganzar is a doctoral student and Dell Health Scholar at the University of Texas School of Public Health. She is also a competitive cyclist for an Austin-based women’s racing team, Athlete Architecture p/b Hyperthreads.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Letters to the editor: July 24, 2017
Letters to the editor: July 24, 2017

Like many others, I find it strange that a state government that styles itself as conservative — against “big” government, and in favor of citizens’ rights — would be against local governments establishing ordinances to protect their trees. Is it that those trying to micromanage us from Austin are so deep into the pockets...
Opinion: Why would you want Putin as a friend?

Leaving aside the question as to whether there was actual collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 election, it is undisputed that candidate Donald Trump was eager for a friendship between our two nations. The most recent accounts of the president seeking out more one-on-one time with Putin at the G-20 dinner...
COMMENTARY: Wait for Trump to sabotage your health care

Is Trumpcare finally dead? Even now, it’s hard to be sure, especially given Republican moderates’ long track record of caving in to extremists at crucial moments. But it does look as if the frontal assault on the Affordable Care Act has failed. And let’s be clear: The reason this assault failed wasn’t that Donald Trump did a...
Opinion: This isn't the first U.S. opiate-addiction crisis
Opinion: This isn't the first U.S. opiate-addiction crisis

The U.S. is in the throes of an "unprecedented opioid epidemic," the Centers for Disease Control reports. The crisis has spurred calls for action to halt the rising death toll, which has devastated many rural communities. It's true that there's an opioid epidemic, a public health disaster. It's not true that it's unprecedented. A remarkably...
Herman: Austin pioneers resting in peace in ABIA flight path
Herman: Austin pioneers resting in peace in ABIA flight path

Welcome to the latest installment of “What Is That?” Today we’re off to a cemetery in a highway interchange. So that’s kind of different. Today’s inquiry comes from Austinite Sherry Statman who thinks she’s come across bodies buried near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Maybe you’ve seen them...
More Stories