The cyclist’s dilemma

awhile back i got into a debate with my colleagues about the ethics of riding a bicycle on a sidewalk.

in some US states this is illegal, so the argument ends there. but for the sake of this blog post let us assume riding a bicycle on a sidewalk is legal. now we can debate its ethics.

i took one (1) critical thinking class in college. here goes!

meet your players

  1. cyclist — yuppie who works at a startup
  2. pedestrian — also a yuppie who also works at a startup

opening statements

cyclist — riding a bike on the sidewalk is safer.

pedestrian — it’s not safer for me, it puts me at risk.

counter arguments

cyclist — true, but if you get hit by a bike that is less dangerous than me being struck by a vehicle.

pedestrian — OK, but when did i sign up to risk any danger on the sidewalk?

cyclist — hmm. when did i sign up to be at risk on the road?

pedestrian — haha. silly biker. you agreed to risk your well-being on the road when you traded safety for speed. by increasing your odds of accident you travel faster to your destination.

cyclist — what do you trade?

pedestrian — nothing! that’s the point. i take the slow path, a sidewalk, in exchange for low risk and high safety.

cyclist — unfortunately for you, sidewalks are made for all of us to share.

pedestrian — true. but you have the option to ride on a street. i am not allowed to walk on the street.

cyclist — so? why would i ride on the street when i can ride on the sidwalk?

pedestrian — because riding on the sidewalk puts people like me at risk.

cyclist — look, i’m careful. i will do my best not to hit you.

pedestrian — how is this any different from drivers, doing their best not to hit you?

cyclist — drivers aren’t as careful as i am.

pedestrian — you can’t prove that.

cyclist — 50,000 (made up) cyclists were killed last year by motorists. only 1,000 (made up) pedestrians were killed by cyclists.

pedestrian — that is 51,000 too many. neither number concerns me as you should not be voluntarily endangering pedestrians. the 1,000 figure that does concern me is therefore preventable by you.

cyclist — but the 50,000 cyclist deaths are not preventable by me.

pedestrian — that’s true. they are preventable by me, when i am driving. but i am not driving, i am walking. so we each ought to do our part to prevent death or injury.

cyclist — i am doing my part. by riding on a sidewalk i reduce chance of injury by 98% (1k vs 50k accidents).

pedestrian — not exactly. you are increasing chance of injury infinitely, from 0 cyclist <> pedestrian injuries to 1,000.

cyclist — agree to disagree.

pedestrian — no, ride on the street.

cyclist — whatever, you have no skin in the game.

pedestrian — no, YOU have no skin in the game. i have 1 transportation option (sidewalk), you have 2 (road / sidewalk). i have no ability to inflict harm. you do.

cyclist — sounds like you are in a weaker position.

pedestrian — that is correct! i value safety over speed and choice. you are attempting to achieve both speed and safety.

cyclist — agree to disagree.

pedestrian — next time i’m driving, if i see you i will try to hit you.

cyclist — i’m calling the police.

pedestrian — good, the deputy is my uncle.