David Whiting: Friend or Foe to Bicycling?

For some time I’d been meaning to write about my views on David Whiting’s cycling columns in the Orange County Register. But BikingInLA beat me to it. So I’ll just share the comment I left on his blog:

I agree with your assessment of David Whiting’s columns. I do think his heart is in the right place, but almost every column he writes makes things worse for cyclists. Usually it’s by making cycling seem more dangerous than it actually is, scaring away would-be cyclists and/or marginalizing current cyclists as a bunch of extreme risk takers. Don’t get me wrong, we need to improve on the current safety record, as any cycling death is one death too many. But simply stating there’s “X” number of cycling deaths per month without putting into perspective with the total number of miles/hours cycled does no one any good. Maybe he should write about automobile deaths using the same approach, that will clear the streets of traffic. 🙂

The main problem with his “Bicyclists’ behavior endangers everyone” column is that he blurs the distinction between cycling behaviors which are a safety issue (such as swerving) versus those that are not a safety issue but a delay issue (two abreast). That lack of distinction plays into the hands of motorists who claim that their safety was in jeopardy because they had to slow down for a cyclist for any reason.

Regarding the single file issue, there’s certainly merit in singling up when it makes it easier for motorists to pass safely. (By the way, that photo of cyclists two abreast on Modjeska Grade Road is a cheap shot, because it’s a low speed, low traffic volume road, where it would be easy to single up when hearing a motorist approaching.) But let’s face it, there’s some situations such as PCH in Laguna Beach where the single or double file issue is moot, because in either case a motorist would have to use the adjacent lane to safely pass. Whiting’s advocacy of single file cycling under all circumstances is simply pandering to the motoring majority, which will backfire in the long run since it reinforces current misconceptions of the law as it applies to cyclists.