Friday, July 18, 2008

Cycling in the News

Here in the Twin Cities I've definitely noticed a sharp increase in the number of riders I see daily who are obviously on their bikes for a reason other than recreation, meaning they are using their steeds to get to work, run errands, etc. It's not too difficult to gauge someone's "greenness" just by observing them and asking a few internal questions: Do they handle the bike confidently? How do they react to other cyclists around them? How are they dressed and how new is their gear? What do they do when negotiating a traffic-clogged intersection? Those are just a few.

Of course, I'm a cyclist and you'd think that would mean I'd be overjoyed to see so many more people out on bikes. On a certain level I am, but I am also hip to the fact that I need to be aware of safety concerns posed by the presence of a glut of newbies on the trails and in the lanes. If I, as a cyclist, think like that then imagine what the increased presence of cyclists means to habitual motorists and commercial/professional drivers.

Well, this issue has made, and will continue to make, its way into the media. I don't have to point out that one of the mainstream public's favorite things to do is address the safety (or most often the lack thereof, as depicted in the media) of cycling. This article from MSNBC, Cars vs. Bikes, is no exception but it presents some valid observations from the "outsider" perspective. Four Wheels make Room for Two is a local story from Rochester MN. It features quotes from and a video of legendary rider Chewie Moffit. (Never mind that they call him "Brian". News folks always check their facts and get the details right y'know.)

In both articles there are two fairly distinct sides presented. Sounds kinda like American politics, eh? The cyclists and advocates say "Yay! Give us more space, acknowledge our rights, take notice!" The drivers say "Geez! You guys and gals are in the way, we can't get around you, this is a real problem." Who's right? Both, of course, and while I am no fan of the villification of transportation cycling it cannot be denied that there sure as hell have been no provisions for the boom that the US is experiencing in ridership. And I do not feel the least bit out in left field to say we're only viewing the tip of the transportation cycling iceberg.

What does this mean? A lot of different things for sure. But one big one is don't expect, brothers and sisters, for the stink eye to shift away from cycling anytime soon. Legislators and officials are baffled. Drivers are frustrated, in some cases justifiably so. They're gonna bitch and moan and that, combined with the regally stoopid stuff I see some riders do, will likely increase scrutiny and regulation of cyclists' actions. That means I think we can expect more enforcement (i.e. citations) in an effort to make cyclists "ride safer." And perhaps that is not entirely bad to get some of the lackbrains on 2 wheels to clean up their acts. I am, on the contrary, extremely resistant to the idea of regulating cycling, but that's a topic for another essay.

Ride safe, ride aware. Take the highroad whenever possible. Keep your third eye open and carry your Zen mind in your hip pocket. Most of all, be aware that the psychological impairment of habitual driving can only be heightened by high fuel costs and more of us -- the "annoying cyclists" -- on the road. Rubber side down.


Carrie said...

" all you want til you can't pay no more for gas then ask why the fuck is gas so expensive and try to suck it up and drive some more..."

Clearly stated, you hate motorists.

"How are they dressed and how new is their gear?"

If people are new to cycle transportation and aren't dressed appropriately or aren't riding a 5 year old Surly with well-worn treads then they shouldn't be riding either? I understand your concerns about safety with so many naive new cyclists out there. However, this sounds a bit snarky and snobbish to me, Fleck.

It leaves me confused about which you'd rather see. People continuing to drive or people trying to do better by our environment and themselves by riding a bike?


Patch O'Houli said...

Actually, I'd rather see neither drivers nor more cyclists as long as they are incompetent. (And to think, I read my post and thought I sounded a bit soft on drivers for a change. After all, I actually said they have a right to be pissed by more riders on the road!) My question "How are they dressed ..." was meant as a qualifier. You can tell a lot by that on any given day on a typical summer morning in the Cities. But given the "bike boom" we're experiencing thanks to more honestly-priced fuel, appearances can speak volumes to the ilk of fellow riders.

For the record, I don't hate motorists. I hate ineptitude, ignorance and incompetence, as well as physical and mental laziness in all its guises. I ride a bike everyday, therefore I get to observe these qualities in great abundance from folks moving about -- that includes motorists, cyclists, bladers, roller skiers, even walkers. I choose to rate motorists' negligent behavior as particularly egregious because their wrong moves and blatant lapses of control have the power to kill.


Singletrack Mind said...

This is an interesting post. In the last week I've had two occasions where I felt that a person on a bike nearly caused me injury. I'd say I yell at/pound on a window of an automobile about once a month, but twice this week it was a person riding a bike that engaged my ire. Both times said bike rider was going the wrong way on a road.

I can only think that in the long run more people on bikes is going to be better for everyone, and that this is just a growing pain...I hope. It's discouraging to see these people ineptly riding bikes making all of us seem like irresponsible recreationalists clogging the road for everyday commuters. But, if we're going to take cycling advocacy seriously, part of that will have to be actively educating nascent riders.

I'm not sure if I made my point, but, good post. It resonated for me.