Still Rolling Toward Bike Parity

August 6th, 2010 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »


Predictably, the bickering and self-righteousness from numerous angles follows Bella English’s cycling column in today’s Globe. I say it will be decades, lots more cyclists on the streets, some legislative tweaking and considerable law enforcement until that discussion isn’t contentious.

The fact is that drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and cops each and all need to know more and act right. The bicycle czarinas of Cambridge and Boston (Cara Seiderman and Nicole Freedman) have longer, wider views than we cyclists who ride regularly and volunteer with bike groups. They say with great confidence that more cyclists will:

  • Make drivers aware that bikes are on the road and need accommodation
  • Force police to enforce low-glamor infractions like drivers cutting off cyclists or driving too close, cyclists running red lights, and jaywalking pedestrians
  • Decrease motor traffic, thus encouraging even more cycling
  • Lead to more and safer bike lanes keeping everyone healthier and happier on the street

English has an unfortunate lead graph. She undercuts her dramatic illustration of the risks to cyclists from irresponsible drivers by bringing in some judgment that a pickup driver was fat.

Tempting as it is, we should avoid the cheap-shot stereotypes. Some traits and appearances are still socially safe for ridicule. We can gratuitously insult, for a few examples:

  • Fat people
  • Bald men (but never women with alopecia or even thinning hair)
  • Southerners (lumped as hillbillies and rednecks to a one)
  • Cyclists and runners wearing snug athletic shorts (Spandex┬« stigma)

If you’re holding forth on something important, orally or in writing, remember how those silly asides can trivialize you.

Yet in the main, this is a welcome column. She has the obligatory share-the-blame citations of reckless drivers, wheelers and walkers. Yet, she points out laws and facts that too many drivers don’t seem to know or ignore.

With the championing by Mayor Tom Menino, Boston is slowly imitating Cambridge’s more share-the-road reality. Yet, there’s tons of education to be done at the same time.

Drivers for the key group need to know that our laws make cycles vehicles, with access to most streets and roads (with exceptions like limited access highways, with those no horse, no pedestrian, no cycles cartoons). They need to drop the pretense that they are too important to pass safely (also legally required) or wait a few seconds or even a minute for a cyclist to turn safely. In that, they have to admit to themselves that they feel and exhibit the same impatience and sense of entitlement if a motor vehicle delays them. The issue there is not specifically a biker, rather than we share the roads with others.

Drivers also need to avoid trying to justify reckless endangerment claiming it’s always a cyclist fault, that they all run every red light and disobey every other traffic law. Legally, they are required to claim a lane if they need it for safety, as any slower motor vehicle driver must.

There’s the enforcement rub. Given our natures with strong self-interest, much of the behavior by all three road using types won’t change until people know the rules and cops enforce them. When we, cyclists, pedestrians and drivers, get tickets and pay fines for our cluelessness or recklessness, we’ll start acting better.

We should all be able to understand why the police don’t want to commit to real street safety. There’s little glory or excitement in writing a $1 jaywalking citation or grabbing a light-running cyclist knowing the maximum penalty is $20 (both of those fines should get big hikes). For drivers in many municipalities, the no-blood/no-ticket rule guides. Anyone opening a door into traffic without looking or j-hooking a pedestrian or cycle should get the fine and insurance bump. Those are meaningful.

Yes, more citations mean more paperwork and court appearances. Itty boo. Safety is police work too.

I’m very sure that if cops crack down on all of us for three our four months, the word of mouth alone will have terrific positive effect. Then police can go back to pretending they are all detectives ready to pursue murderers and other evil doers.

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