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The cycling epidemic 

Drivers who text while driving are six times more likely to crash.

Pregnant women are 7.7 times more likely to die of the H1N1 flu than other people.

Babies who sleep on their stomachs are 12.9 times more likely to die of SIDS than those who sleep on their backs.

Governments and well-meaning people have spent millions on programs and public service campaigns to save lives by eradicating these dangerous behaviors.

Now consider this: You are 12 times more likely to die bicycling to work than you are if you ride in a car, according to a study by professors at Rutgers University and the European Commission. Other studies put the likelihood of death at 10 times higher per kilometer traveled on a bike.

So where are the public service announcements against bicycling on public roads?

The city of Charlotte is in the process of tearing up East Boulevard at a cost of millions of dollars to shrink part of it down from four lanes to two. The purpose? To "choke off" auto traffic -- or deliberately cause congestion -- so as to encourage bicycling and pedestrian travel. (Walking is 23 times more dangerous than driving per kilometer.)

Recently, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx led a highly publicized bike-to-work excursion down East Morehead Street aimed at encouraging people to travel on two wheels. It stood my hair on end just thinking about 40 bicyclists on Morehead during rush hour, but the media showed up to heap positive coverage on Foxx as the bikers took off from South Park, risking their lives unnecessarily to get to their destination.

Think how appalled those reporters would have been had Foxx concluded his speech on cycling with fond stories of putting his daughters to bed on their stomachs and a reminder that you can maximize your time management by texting while you drive. I wouldn't be surprised if a statement like that from a sitting mayor made national news. Yet it would be logically consistent.

These days in America, you'll find a campaign against just about any activity that makes you 10 to 12 times more likely to die -- except cycling. The fact that smokers are 12 times more likely to die from lung cancer and six times more likely to die of heart disease has been the basis of successful multibillion dollar class action suits against the cigarette industry.

Yet the powers that be not only insist that cyclists share the road with drivers, but actively encourage it. The husband of a friend of mine, an avid bicyclist, spent a couple of days in the hospital after hitting a pothole at top speed. He went flying nearly a dozen feet through the air and smashed headfirst into the side of someone's car. He still blames the driver, who he feels got too close to him.

I feel just as badly for the drivers in these situations. God forbid a cyclist in front of you in traffic hits some gravel, goes flying and ends up under your car's wheels. He and his lawyer will wreck you financially for the rest of your life and pat themselves on the back for doing it.

So you've got no choice. You've got to drive way behind them in case they take a spill, pacing them at whatever speed is convenient for them. That's fine if they are driving in a residential area, where slow speed is a necessity. But on the open road? On East Morehead where there's no shoulder? Are they nuts?

Don't ask them that, though. They get righteous. They come unglued. Lectures are for other people who do things that make them 10 times more likely to die ... like smokers or fat people.

Last week, a cyclist and mother of two was mowed down on Faith Road, just north of Davidson, by the driver of an SUV who ran into her and sent her flying 30 feet. (She was seriously injured, but will thankfully be OK.)

Members of her family lashed out at drivers for their risky behavior in news reports. Drivers could do a better job, but I'm not sure what her family expected. Faith Road is a narrow two-laner with double yellow lines down the middle and no shoulder to speak of. Passing a cyclist on roads like that with a wide enough space in between to avoid a lawsuit should they wobble or fall requires a driver to swerve onto or over that yellow line or trail behind the biker for miles, plodding along.

Cycle on roads like that long enough and eventually you're going to have a close call or worse. So why not accept some of the blame when you've taken a risk like that?

Cyclists won't and here's why: It's politically incorrect to point out the risks of cycling because cyclists have become yet another protected class.

If they stuck to cycling on a stationary bike, or we outlawed it on public roads, it would save 763 lives a year in this country and immeasurable financial and emotional devastation to the drivers who hit them. That's roughly 7,630 lives a decade.

If they died any other way, we'd call that an epidemic.

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