Rare pedestrian deaths exploited by bicycle foes

Enough already.

It is alleged that bicyclist Chris Bucchere sped downhill toward the intersection of Market and Castro streets on March 29, plowed through the crosswalk and smacked straight into 71-year-old Sutchi Hui, who hit his head. Hui later died at the hospital.

By any standard, if Bucchere did indeed do this, as his purported postings on Internet sites indicate, the behavior was reckless and dangerous. If he did, in fact, burn through a red light, then he should be criminally prosecuted for the death of the pedestrian.

But consider what else has happened in the past few weeks.

Someone shot a 17-year-old boy multiple times as he got off a bus in Visitacion Valley. Another young man was found shot and killed underneath the Bay Bridge. An alleged drunken driver smashed up several parked cars before flipping his SUV on the Muni tracks.

None of these incidents received the same level of press coverage that Bucchere’s case has. The only case that comes close is that of Binh Thai Luc, who allegedly killed five people in a home near City College of San Francisco.

On one level, we understand why the story of a bicyclist killing someone in the heart of one of The City’s most famous neighborhoods — and then posting comments about it in an online forum — makes for such good copy. It’s just so exotic.

But another word for exotic is rare. Bicyclists just don’t hit people very often; according to The City’s Department of Public Health, cars hit people 811 times in 2010, while bicyclists hit people just 18 times. And when they do, they don’t have the momentum to do the same level of damage.

Still, we get it. It’s a fascinating story, precisely because it doesn’t happen very often.

But there’s also a slightly less savory quality to the case of Chris Bucchere. There is an audience out there — mostly older, mostly cranky — that loves to marinate in the notion that drivers in The City are victimized by political correctness run amok.

This idea of two-wheeled liberalism is an attitude that is pandered to by the likes of curmudgeonly columnists at San Francisco newspapers. Consider this quote from a recent column on a proposal to fund Muni by slightly increasing parking fines. “OK, I get it,” the columnist wrote. “Cars are evil. And I drive a car so I must be punished. It’s the law.”

Transportation policy and budget priorities are complex, especially in tough times. It is easy to sit back and paint in broad strokes about issues, but that does nothing to truly advance the conversations that need to be happening.

And so it is with Bucchere. A bicyclist who kills someone is, quite simply, an outlier. Bicyclists can be rude — they certainly ride through red lights or on the sidewalk and are rarely punished, in part because on the scale of criminality, this is fairly minor. But the one thing they almost never do is kill someone.

We shouldn’t let this incident distort our approach to traffic laws or add fuel to the apparently endless battle of the bike and the car.

Bikes kill people. Cars kill people. People kill people. A reasonable discussion about why this is needs to happen, and it does no one any good to sit back and fan the flames by using hyperbole and half-truths.


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