Watch the video of a vehicular homicide attempt, get outraged, and then commit to doing something to make your streets safer.
[Update, 3/2/2011 7:10am ET: According to O Globo, the leading newspaper in Brazil, the driver was arrested early this morning. He is rightly being charged with murder. Huge thanks to commenter victordemartino for the heads up.]
Unfortunately, sometimes, people aren't awesome. Last Friday night in Porto Alegre, Brazil, during a peaceful Critical Mass bike ride, a driver accelerated through the crowd of cyclists, sending bodies flying and injuring many. Amazingly, nobody was killed in the attack, but eight were hospitalized.
There is video of the incident, which I'll embed below. I don't want the shocking and violent video to be the focus of this post. (I wrestled with whether or not to embed it at all.) The driver literally accelerates while plowing through the cyclists. It's disgusting. And it's an awful reminder of how many automobile owners still think of city streets as being exclusively for cars. We forget that less than a century ago, streets weren't for cars: they were for people. For pedestrians and street carts and bicycles and games and everything else.
In New York City, where I've spent thousands of hours in the saddle and have long since grown an uneasy sort of comfortable with the persistent threat of cars, the NYPD has made an ugly habit of treating car-on-bike or car-on-pedestrian incidents as mere accidents. Even in cases where aggression is clear or the disregard for the vulnerability of motorless commuters is blatant, arrests are rare and criminal justice is rarer still.
Yesterday, as on every last Friday of the month Critical Mass was held, which is a manifestation of what happens in the world when cyclists seek space in traffic, to raise awareness that we ARE PART of the traffic. Bicycles are a self-sustainable, less expensive, and environmentally friendly alternative, even if they're commonly associated with leisure and recreation.
But what happened yesterday was beyond any expectation we could have had. A driver / killer ran over our group of cyclists. What happened was very scary, and I did not understand what was happening, because we could hear screams and the sound of people falling on the ground, the sound of bodies in the hood, windshield, on the asphalt. I saw legs in the air, helmets, bicycles, arms, all mixed together with parts of the car... all flying and making noise. It was like a horror movie.
Okay, here's the video (which local organizers have translated for international viewers). Warning, it's violent, and my stomach dropped. But it's not explicitly graphic or anything. So here you go if you want to get outraged:
The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy issued this statement that puts the incident into broader context.
Sadly, cyclists and pedestrians face subtler forms of this violence each and every day on the streets of Brazil – where over 11,600 pedestrians and cyclists are killed each year (WHO, 2006). The transport system as it currently exists places little value on vulnerable street users such as cyclists and pedestrians. Cities need to do more to raise the awareness of the rights of cyclists and pedestrians as part of the transportation system and to make accommodations for cyclists and pedestrians, so that they can get where they are going safely too.\n
I spent some time in Brazil, god, ten years ago now, and my experience there fits the ITDP's description. The notable exception: Curitiba, where I spent a few months, and where the the safety and convenience of pedestrians and cyclists and bus commuters is given top priority from city hall and local law enforcement.
The cartoon, from Blog do Kayser , responds to the incident. The heavily armored cyclist on the right is, essentially saying, "Yeah, well, I'm from Porto Alegre."
As for the legal case in Porto Alegre: the driver is claiming self defense. No kidding.
Maybe this March, Critical Mass rides throughout the world should be dedicated to our fellow advocates of livable streets in Porto Alegre. If you're looking for some way to get involved right away, I'd steer you to Streetsblog in the immediate term. I've emailed Critical Mass organizers in Porto Alegre (using my pidgin Portuguese) and asked if there's anything more that concerned citizens around the world could do to stand in solidarity.