Saturday, August 6, 2011

Why the hating on cyclists?

It seems everyone hates cyclists these days.  Pedestrians don't like them and certainly motorists don't care for them.  Now pedestrians are an urban and especially an NYC phenomenon--they rule the streets of the City of New York, which is part of what makes it such a great town.  Meanwhile, there is the problem of relations between cyclists and other users of the road. There are legitimate complaints, which I write about elsewhere in this blog, but the real problems are the illegitimate complaints.  These really amount to one, maybe two reasons.  First, we are perceived to be on the way, including when we are in bike lanes because now we are taking up even more space.  Thus, we are an impediment, which is both a legitimate and illegitimate complaint.  The latter because even the least inconvenience would still result in irritation.  Second, cyclists are viewed as subversive to our consumer economy and culture.  The notion that this might catch on is terrifying!  Folks might have to accept a decrease in their standard of living.  This is the real problem. 

It should be kept in mind that after one's home, cars are the other big sign of wealth that people get very touchy about.  I don't blame them.  I just think that their fears are a little disproportionate.  As I've written elsewhere, the role of the automobile is secure in our society--anyone who thinks otherwise is deceiving themselves.  The question is not whether the car stays or goes, but whether we make room for other forms of transport.  This goes back to impediment, which no one cares for.  Traffic is inescapable.  The surprise is that folks insist on enduring it.  I think cycling offers one solution and should be encouraged not resented.  In fact, I think drivers should insist on accommodations to limit their exposure to traffic.  That would be a true increase in the standard of living.  Wider roads, more taxes--I don't think so. 

Urban Bicycle Commuting Policy Thoughts

As I ride, often many thoughts go through my head.  Among them are good bicycle commuting policy ideas.  I am quite taken with the commonsense and utility of the bicycle for individual urban transportation.  The placement of bike lanes must be credited with having a significant effect in having people see the light because in the six years I have been bike commuting I have seen the number of cyclists on the street explode just in the last year or two!  It fills me with contentment and indeed it is lamentable, though predictable, that there is such push back on lanes and bikes.  This doesn't mean there aren't good reasons for the push back, but there is a resistance to seeing the benefits of bikes in general.  This is silly and can be overcome fairly easily, I think, by taking a non-punitive approach--at least outside New York City.

When I travel outside the city, usually to Ohio where my wife has family, I am struck by how different life is out there, but also how much it is changing.  North Canton, Ohio is a nice town. Naturally, it is not New York, but I am taken with how bike unfriendly it is.  This is not intentional, it just is.  Nevertheless, with fuel prices being what they are, and seem poised inevitably to become, inclusion of the bicycle seems like plain commonsense.  Now let me backtrack a little, this is a big country and cars aren't going anywhere.  I'm not sure we should invest in a national public transportation system, which is very expensive and at a time when technology is changing so rapidly it may become quickly obsolete.  Nevertheless, within the confines of an urban area a bike is the best form of transportation.  In smaller towns traffic congestion has become a problem.  Congestion means fuel waste, greater environmental impact and its just no fun.

With a few lanes where practical, signs everywhere warning motorists to look out for cyclists and an ad in the local dailies announcing the intention, a town can be made very bike friendly.  Remove some municipal parking space in town (make it into a park) and build a municipal lot on the outskirts of town for suburban commuters.  Increase bike racks--very cheap--in town, and watch to see if town life doesn't improve.  I suspect the roads will need less maintenance.  Cyclists stop to smell the roses a bit more, which may translate into more traffic for businesses in town.  The parks may see more use as communal space and thus, with people actually seeing and perhaps even speaking with one another, community life may be improved.  Pie in the sky?  Maybe, or maybe there's something to it.

Oh, one more thing, this should not result in extra cost to drivers.  That seems unreasonable, I know, but this is one of those "shovel ready" projects that the stimulus money should have paid for.  If there is another one (stimulus, that is), maybe it will go to projects like this--we could do worse.

Time to Reflect, Heal

I had an accident in the autumn (last year) in which I suffered relatively minimal physical damage.  However, I actually inflicted more harm on another, a cyclist.  It could well be argued that it was just an accident, a somewhat freakish one at that.  It could just as well be argued that the other cyclist and their partner were being careless or thoughtlessly reckless.  The fact that I came away rather mildly injured while the other party was more seriously, though not terribly, injured troubled me regardless of the cause.  It was a reminder that we do not control the world around us.  It is unpredictable, sometimes irrational--especially when people get involved--and one must be very careful, extra careful as a cyclist because while the rules of the road are relatively clear and well regulated with respect to automobiles and pedestrians, they are not with cyclists.  I don't care to be regulated further as a cyclist, but cases like this argue that there is a problem.

The injured party did engage an attorney to contact me.  The matter went nowhere and quite frankly it was irritating.  I knew I hadn't done anything wrong, yet I felt there should be a way to provide for injuries in a case such as this.  Apparently, some apartment insurance plans might do this.  I didn't carry it. When accidents happen and people get hurt it is always regrettable.  The lesson, in my eyes, is two-fold: for urbanites, get apartment insurance, find out what it covers and watch out for your fellow cyclist who, yes, is often a jerk.  Furthermore, if you see someone peddling constantly going downhill they're probably riding a "fixie."  These folks try to ride like the rest of us, but they are riding a very different kind of bike, which sometimes produces unexpected results.  Any bike can be converted to fixed gear, but usually they are road bikes.  Just be vigilant.