Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tempered Thoughts

My blahg has undergone a bit of a metamorphosis from primarily a cycle-centric rant about the thrills and spills of daily life aboard a bike to a series of essays about family and expanding interests. I'm still on my bike, every day. I'm still thinking while I ride. I've been riding consistently for long enough now that perhaps I've chilled out a bit. And the other reality is I just take less time than in the past to sit at a keyboard and work it all out.

Last night I perused a recent edition of the Southwest Journal, a neighborhood rag that presents moderately insightful, if decidedly terse, coverage of the happenings in and around southwest Mpls. Mostly it seems to be chock full o' airbrushed ads for services I'd never patronize nor could ever afford. Our new residence is not included in this geographic area, but the issue caught my eye because it promised an interview with three Mpls "bike experts" concerning the state of cycling in the city. Gene O was pictured and I consider him a bonafide bike guru. The other two cats I didn't know from Adam.

Gene was Gene, camo Swobo hat and all. One guy looked like a pretty typical enthusiast -- screaming yellow attire and lycra toe covers gave that away. The dude front and center looked like a typical Wedge-dwelling, starving-artist MCAD student in thrift-store trendy duds, riding a 70's junker with no helmet. Turns out he's the "official" one of the group, the Mpls Non-Motorized Pilot Program Coordinator something or other. Go figure. (Hope you got a nice note from your boss about your stellar job representin'.)

I won't go into the article since it seemed to ask the typical questions. But as I was reading it something personally profound occurred to me: While not long ago I thought bike advocacy was my calling, right now I don't give a shit. Now that may sound harsh, but give me a minute.

I said I wouldn't go into the article but I'll mention one of the things that came up -- regulation. The idea, of course, is one of creating legitimacy through licensure and training. The inevitable result is fees and bureaucracy. Register the bike, license the rider and legitimacy will follow. Hold cyclists accountable to the (motorist created) rules of the road. I think many of us all know the intended cycle, certainly no pun intended.

This was the point where I had my slight epiphany. Advocacy means fighting for recognition, "fair treatment" or some legally protected notion of acceptance. When I ride my bike, sure I want to be accepted as a rightful user of the road. I want drivers to honor my place in a lane. I want to live -- get to work and do a good job, get home later and drink a beer, see my family and start a new project in the woodshop. I also want drivers to understand I am a different kind of vehicle, with a different vantage point, a different acceleration potential and a vastly different potential for inflicting harm upon others.

But you know what else I want to do? I want to have fun. I want to enjoy what I regard as one of the last vestiges of freedom readily available to everyone in our culture. I want to hop curbs and grab the sidewalk to beat traffic. I want to withhold my middle finger and instead pass that car who just buzzed me at the next light. I want to be faster and smarter and prove a point that I'm getting somewhere when those caged fucks in a car are stuck in a wallow of their own creation and demise.

But let's get back to freedom. I'd pay if it came down to it because I'm fortunate enough to be able to pay. But I resent with every ounce of bile in my body the notion that cyclists should have to pay to ride their bikes. What more ludicrous idea could there be? Our society is steeped in the idea that everyone should "pay to play." The cyclists I pass on the Lakes trails could certainly be beholden to that. But the folks I pass on the inner city streets are just doing what everyone around the world has the right to do -- get somewhere faster than on foot. I don't care if you landed 3 DUI's or haven't been granted a green card. More power to you -- ride a bike. And, brothers and sisters, ride with the freedom from governmental regulation and bureaucracy.

I'm not stuck on advocacy anymore because I think popular advocacy is missing the point. The point, to me, is why do we need to spend billions on new trails and bike lanes when cyclists already have a right to the road? I'm not opposed to greater bike-specific infrastructure but the point is we've let cars overrun our roads and drivers overrun our culture for far too long. Enough.

Quit saying bike paths and regulation will solve the whoas of the transportation cyclist. What will solve those whoas is a combination of factors. Ticketing cyclists for slipping through a stop sign; requiring them to pass a test or license their bikes will not, however. I've traveled enough around the globe to know that what works in other countries is placing the onus mutually on all users of the road. But the lion's share of the burden falls on motorists whose vehicles have the irrevocable power to mame and kill with one quick misjudgment.

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