Cyclists get (rightfully) outraged when a motorist gets off with not much more than a smack on the hand for inuring or killing one of their own with a motor vehicle. And then there’s the more personal experience of the left hook, getting doored, and being cut off by someone running a red light or stop sign. We complain about motorists yelling at us to get out of the way and off the road, and then turn around and organize a Critical Mass event. We have the League of American Bicyclists, which works to educate cyclists on safety, as well as the rules of the road, and was at one time the driving (no pun intended) force and number one advocate for cyclists.
We’re a vocal bunch when it comes to our rights to the road. But some of us forget that with the right to the road comes responsibility. If you’re a cyclist and don’t live under a rock, you have probably heard that San Francisco district attorney George Gascón will be charging cyclist Chris Bucchere with felony vehicular manslaughter. On March 29th, Mr. Bucchere ran a red light on his bicycle at a high rate of speed, and struck a pedestrian, 71 year old Sutchi Hui, who was crossing the street with his wife. Unfortunately, Mr. Hui succumbed to injuries sustained days later.
At first glance, some might expect to read that Mr. Bucchere was a twenty-something messenger on a brake-less fixed gear bike. He’s actually 36, and a software developer, so not exactly fitting the profile (or perhaps stereotype) of the reckless cyclist some might expect. But he still ran a red light at a high rate of speed. And struck a pedestrian legally crossing the street. This was in San Francisco, where it’s easy to pick up speed and momentum on its notoriously steep streets. He was traveling fast enough that after the collision, they both ended up roughly twenty feet from the original point of impact.
Cyclist vs pedestrian accidents are relatively rare, but they do happen, and in most cases the cyclist is at fault. If you are operating a bicycle, you have a duty to obey the rules of the road, and that includes yielding to pedestrians. Chris Bucchere is now facing up to six years in jail, in what will surely be a precedent-setting case. On both the cycling advocacy side, as well as law enforcement community, no one can recall a cyclist being charged in such a manner. And not surprisingly, no one is disputing the validity of the charge. Although bicycles are more often than not on the losing end when it comes to collisions, they can still be dangerous when operated in a careless or reckless manner.
So now we have a situation that could have been quite easily avoided. A woman has lost her companion of many years, another man with a future is facing the loss of his freedom. And for what? It’s unlikely that the outcome of this court case is going to change the behavior of many cyclists, but it’s important that it gets heard. Whether Mr. Bucchere is found innocent or guilty, he will carry the burden of the consequences of his actions for the rest of his days. I can only hope that some cyclists do learn from this, and avoid the same fate.