I was both pleased and concerned as I read about plans for “sharrows” and bike lanes coming to Jamaica Plain. Our neighborhood has long been a leader in promoting green alternatives, and in the area of transportation, we are no exception.
Unfortunately, as we move toward sustainability, we must also place such change in the context of the world as it truly exists. And in our fast-paced, often litigious society, we must also consider the ramifications of road-sharing as it pertains to liability.
As an attentive and careful, yet automobile-dependent, individual who has had the unfortunate experience of being “biked” (as opposed to having “doored” a bicyclist) on Centre Street, I have been made keenly aware of the legal aspects of the situation. As we continue to promote the use of bicycles—as we should—we must also consider the following: a) Bicyclists are not required to pass a safe-driving test or be licensed; b) Bicyclists are not required to carry insurance; and c) Despite the protestations of the many conscientious and law-abiding bicyclists, there remain many, many who are non-compliant.
I daily witness bicyclists riding the wrong way down my own one-way street as well as down one-way streets off Centre and South. I also watch them speed down the edges of main roadways in Jamaica Plain, often helmet-less. For those who flirt with such danger, there are no consequences except potential or realized injury. And any car owner or driver remotely connected to such injury will be held wholly responsible for medical and wage compensation if their vehicle comes into any sort of contact with the bicycle—no matter whose fault it may be.
As it is without doubt the time to create bike lanes and sharrows and promote awareness of the need to “share the road,” it is also the time to hold bicyclists responsible for their road performance. Requiring licensure and insurance that would cover their injury or damage to others’ person or property is critical to our ability to move toward road equality.
The rules of the road will always be broken by someone, and the only true way to effect change is by taking it out of that person’s pocket.
Anne Morton Smith