Thursday, July 31, 2008

Screaming into the surf...

I've just read Dave Moulton's latest post about Critical Mass, about how the demonstration has lost whatever effectiveness it might have had. After all, lots of cities are trying sincerely to make cycling safer and more convenient.

He is dicouraged by the excesses of the CM participants. He's afraid those excesses will "get someone killed."

When I write about the car wars or Dave Moulton does, we are not reaching the folks who are creating problems for the rest of us. We are preaching to the choir, as the saying goes, damning Corporate America in a roomful of leftists. We get a big hand from our audience, but we won't change anyone's mind.

My old motorcycle friend JT, who has jumped into bicycling eyeball-deep, is stunned when he sees the scofflaw antics of some cyclists. I'm sure you've been startled just the same.

Tamar says that every day as she rides to work she sees cyclists riding the wrong way on one-way streets. In Denver, there's a quiet, safe street, perhaps marked "bike route," one block away.

I see cyclists on the bike path, entering tight, blind corners, drinking water, one hand on the bar by the stem. They're unable to steer or brake if someone appears suddenly on their side of the path.

You've seen as many examples of adolescent carelessness as I have.

Who knows where these pedalers think they got license to ignore traffic laws and courtesy, but they do ignore both. And they're defensive and likely to flare up when reminded that, well, there are laws and ways civilized people behave.

They only care about how civilized people behave so they can do it the other way.

Those folks don't read Dave Moulton's blog or mine. Much as we resist generalizing about them, the inescapable truth is: they are pissing in the pool.

Dave Moulton is afraid of a backlash against cyclists nationwide, open season on us. We know we aren't the ones doing the things that upset drivers, but folks who look like us do them every day. I think they relish doing those things and would do them even if doing the right thing was easier.

If they bristle at criticism or helpful suggestions about their riding, and if they don't read Dave's blog or mine or ever hear a view contrary to their own, how are we going to open their eyes?

If I run into my neighbor on the elevator, I have to be careful not to get him started. I'm the only bike rider he knows, I'm sure, and he cuts me some slack. But he hates cyclists. He and millions of other Americans. So many of us act in a hateful manner.

What do I say to my neighbor? Do I say, dude, chill, it's only a few. It's that bad-attitude minority that is making the rest of us look bad.

If I say that, am I telling the truth? Is it a minority? Or has the bicycle become a symbol of rebellious, don't give a damn, in-your-faceness? What did the bicycle do to deserve such a bunch of losers aboard? What did we do to deserve them? How long do these people's movements last?


sda said...

... just a couple more years and many will be on to something cooler. I sincerely hope that some of them see the light, come towards it as a responsible member of the cycling community, and continue to utilize the most efficient machine in the world. But I am skeptical.

Last night I was riding the moto. to go and get a pizza for take out. Cruising down one of our main arterials I had to stop on a green light as two cyclists (guy and a girl on old cruisers, looked like they were on a date) were running their red ... bringing traffic to a screeching halt in both directions. There was no reason, they weren't clearing the intersection late on yellow-to-red "amber" phase. No. They simply entered the intersection on a full red. This is a 4 Lane arterial with a posted speed of 35 mph. They could've gotten killed. They certainly pissed off about 10 different motorists right there.

I turned and followed them down the cross street. Passed them with a shake of my head and then waited for them at the next stop sign. When they rolled up (in the bike lane that the general public has provided them)I hollered "You can do better than that! You HAVE to do better than that! That stuff does not help us at all." As muffled as the message was coming out of my full face helmet, I think they got that I was a cyclist - I've rigged some old panniers to the back of the moto and I have bicycle related stickers all over my lid. I really wanted them to feel bad and I got the impression that maybe they did - shrugging their shoulders in a "no excuse here" manner. Maybe a mumbled sorry or something. But then again they were just afraid the crazy guy on the moto. was gonna jump off and head butt them. Maybe they didn't feel bad and they just don't care. Who knows. Fort Collins is a small town and I think I will recognize them around sometime. I will bring this up if I do, you can count on it.

I tend to get pretty worked up about this stuff too Maynard. A major portion of my career has been spent working towards putting the bicycle on a level playing field with the automobile.

Crap like that makes me feel like it is a huge waste of time.

Khal said...

Yup. We are the choir. I've spent the better part of the last fifteen years working on cycling advocacy and lately, working to complete the cycling infrastructure and, more importantly, bicycling acceptance in my county. This has included added road width in the form of bike lanes and decent shoulders, bike racks on our new bus system, a statement from county government that multimodal transportation is the rule rather than the exception, and most recently, proposals for improved cycling infrastructure at our biggest employer.

I used to make excuses for poor cyclist choices, to wit, people do crazy or unpredictable things because we have created infrastructure and expectations which place cyclists in the "neither fish nor fowl" category. For example, you ride on the sidewalk and get cursed by pedestrians. You ride on the road and get cussed out by motorists. You stop at a red light and it is electronically activated but only sees cars. You sit there and see red.

But that set of excuses wears thin when people do dumb, arrogant things even when they don't have to.

I think to some degree cyclists as a class are just like any other group as a class, for example motorists--they do as they please unless they know they will be caught and held accountable. A few are beyond reproach. The great majority are in the middle. A few should be taken out and shot. Since cyclists are almost NEVER held accountable, the bar gets dropped till it is bouncing on the floor. You get back what you invest.

Mike Jacoubowsky said...

The biggest nightmare is that we've taught the cagers our worst practices. Compare today with 10, even 5 years ago. Back then, it was rare to see a car go through a red at an intersection. Now? The thinking seems to be that, if you're close enough to the car in front of you, you're one big train and it's OK to go through on the red.

The only thing that keeps us all alive on the road is predictability. Cars and bikes (motorized and otherwise) alike. What people don't get is that the laws exist to create that predictability. The assumption is that people will follow the rules and create a safe environment for all users of the road.