Right away Squamish residents responded on Facebook by asking why the cyclist was riding on a long weekend, demanding that cyclists have insurance and “pay taxes” if they want to use the road, and asking how cyclists could consider the highway their “personal playground.”
A number of commenters pointed out how wrong these ideas are — drivers don’t pay some special road maintenance tax. If anything, non-drivers subsidize drivers with their tax dollars, and the liability insurance drivers are required to carry would be effectively meaningless for cyclists because their “vehicles” are more or less incapable of causing significant damage. These points need to be made, but the fact that they need to be made is the bigger issue here.
When someone is hurt or killed — why is our response to blame the victim? It’s not unique to cyclists on the road — we see the same response to reports of theft or vandalism in our neighborhood groups, and it’s all too common a refrain in sexual assault cases. When you experience hardship or violence, you’re blamed for it — some sort of moral or rational failing on your part led to your misfortune. Squamish isn’t unique in this; it’s a symptom of a much broader crisis of degradation of community and compassion, a way of individualizing systemic problems so that we can avoid dealing with them as a society.
We’ve fallen victim to a widespread abdication of collective responsibility, replacing our relationships with hyper-individualism. It’s the same mechanism that pushes local residents to ask the District to criminalize homelessness. And it’s the same mechanism that drives us to worry about our individual “carbon footprints” instead of the structures that force us all to live lifestyles that are incompatible with a livable future.
I’m not blaming Squamish residents: we’re all victims of the same cultural shift. But let’s fight back and rebuild a compassionate and inclusive community. At the very least, if someone is hurt or killed, let’s first feel sympathy and support for them and their family, and second, consider what changes we can make to reduce the possibility of it happening again (like, in this case, advocating for a much-needed bike lane). Leave the blame out of it.