Lanie’s Law

8 Aug

The ride on Sunday in honor of cyclist Lanie Kruszewski, who was killed in a tragic hit and run accident, was described by her boyfriend Daniel Pritchett as “a beautiful thing.”  The RTD estimated that about a hundred riders participated.  Some rode in groups of five or six, but a large group of probably 50 or 60 riders left around 9 p.m., proceeding first to Maggie Walker School, where Lanie attended and coached field hockey, through the Fan, and then to the site of accident on River Road before returning to the Museum District.

I think it’s fair to say that the ride was a wonderful tribute to Lanie and an occasion to call attention to the issue of cyclist safety.  The RTD piece included a statement from Tom Bowden, Chair of Bike Virginia, that this incident will hopefully motivate the General Assembly to finally adopt a 3-foot passing law, which has in previous years met stiff resistance.  According to Biking Bis, 20 states how have such laws on the books (in Pennsylvania it’s 4 feet!) and more are on the way.  Current Virginia law requires 2 feet of distance when passing cyclists, and many drivers are not even aware of that.

What’s one extra foot, you might ask yourself (or be asked by someone if you talk to them about this)?  And how could you prove someone was less than 3 feet from you anyway?  Here’s one answer: adopting such a law is partly about publicly acknowledging and highlighting the need for drivers to exercise caution around more vulnerable road users.  It sends an important message.  It’s also an additional tool for cyclists, attorneys, and police in cases where a lack of that caution caused an accident.  That’s important because too often the cyclist is blamed for collisions.

The message sent by a 3-foot law is also an important counter to that doggedly persisting idea that roads are for motor vehicles, and other users don’t really belong.  One person who responded to the RTD article about the memorial ride with the following: “…cycles cannot, do not, keep up with the flow of traffic, impeding traffic.”

I’m always amazed at such statements.  It’s true that bicycles do not always travel as fast as cars (although I bet that if every driver went 25 mph within the city it would make a negligible difference in their travel time).  But guess which vehicles create traffic and impede this driver’s progress even more than bicycles.  You guessed it: other cars!  But somehow that’s “normal.”

Same with the accusation that cyclists break the law.  Some of them do so recklessly; but, uh, so do drivers of cars, and usually with much more serious consequences.  The writer goes on to complain about various things that cyclists do that, you guessed it, cars do as well.  So in the end the problem with bicycles is that they don’t go 40 mph and you might have to be careful and go around them, or heaven forbid, slow down and wait until it’s safe to do so.

If you’re interested in the results of the grand jury hearing for Elias Steven Webb, see the most recent coverage here.

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3 Responses to “Lanie’s Law”

  1. Daniel Pritchett August 21, 2012 at 7:32 AM #

    People in automobiles should stop after striking a person on a bicycle. The end. Harsh legal penalties should be imposed & enforced when drivers fail to do so. That’s step 1. Shoulders, bike lanes & other infrastructure are secondary….infrastructures don’t accomplish anything if a driver of an automobile irresposibly hits or kills a cyclist in a bike lane, on a shoulder, or in the middle of the road. When no bike lane or shoulder is available, cyclists have as much of a right to the road as automobiles. Glad to know you’re somewhat ok, Shaun. Give my best to Meredith. As a cyclist, I give deference to pedestrians. As a pedestrian, I give deference to pedestrians pushing strollers, as well as to pedestrians in wheelchairs, as well as as to pedestrians walking pets. Stopping to help an human being after striking them, intentionally or unintentionally, with a large object, is a good thing to do. Failure to do so is not an option.

    • Jason August 21, 2012 at 2:35 PM #

      I agree with your point, Daniel, and would take it a step further. I think it should be much easier to lose your license than it currently is. I don’t know the details, but it strikes me that someone like the guy who hit Lanie should not even be on the road. And the penalty for hit and run should be comparable to that of drunk driving so as to discourage the temptation to flee to avoid the harsher penalty. My ultimate point, though, is that I think we treat driving a car as a right that you have to abuse pretty seriously to lose, but we should instead treat it as a privilege that you can lose easily if you don’t drive safely. Safer driving would, of course, benefit not only cyclists but also pedestrians and other drivers, reducing the thousands who are killed every year on our roads.

  2. Shaun August 19, 2012 at 6:23 PM #

    On Tuesday, August 14, I was hit by a car that fled the scene leaving me in a ditch with a lacerated kidney, multiple abrasions, and a concussion. It was in the same area that Lanie was hit on Boatright. To me it is long past due that this law is passed and also more bicycle lanes. I also think those roads should have a wider shoulder to enhance bike safety from the negligent drivers in the area.

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