Tuesday, October 18, 2005

An open letter to Thunderhead Alliance

I approach advocacy from the standpoint of what's best for cyclists, not what's best for the bicycle industry or bicycle advocacy groups. Like most of you, I firmly believe that getting more people to ride bicycles for transportation and recreation serves a host of needs; health, environment, and congestion mitigation, among others. Besides, it's fun, and adults don't get enough opportunities to have simple, child-like fun.

Yet it would seem that stating a differing opinion of bicycling advocacy is sufficient to get onto Sue Knaup's 'enemies' list. It doesn't quite have the panache of making Nixon's enemies list, but I suppose I can live with it. I don't own a bicycle shop, nor do I receive any remuneration from the Oklahoma Bicycle Coalition. I work with several advocacy groups because I believe in promoting bicycling. Frankly, being called an enemy of cycling is a cheap shot, but not unexpected. Sue demands an unquestioning acceptance of bikeways as a public good, something I cannot do, for reasons I'll touch on in a moment. "Anti-bikeway rhetoric will never be tolerated..." but apparently insults are OK.

The condescending snobbery from John is best answered with this from Fodor's Road Guide USA:

…"Few visitors to Oklahoma leave without remarking on the friendliness of the people, who blend Southern hospitality with the openness found in the West. Many an out-of-state visitor driving in the western plains has been mystified by the number of total strangers who wave hello. "Oklahomans are what other people think Americans are like," Will Rogers said about his native state in the 1920s. "Oklahoma is the heart, it's the vital organ of our national existence."

Will Rogers wrote that over 80 years ago. It's still true today. We give better than we get. I think an apology is in order from both Sue and John, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for it.

As I said, I do not believe uncritical acceptance serves cyclists. I follow a few rules. First, question assumptions. The basic tenets we adhere to must be tested and tested again. As time passes, we experience political, economic, and social change. If organizations cannot or will not change with the times, those organizations will likely cease to exist. Anyone with experience in science and technology knows the hazard of basing actions on false assumptions.

Second, never hesitate to speak truth to power. Some of those in authority will resent this and even retaliate. Do any of us really want to work with such people? Their actions speak loudly as to their character. When the upper echelon of an organization exists in a bubble, insulated from everyday reality and truth, their actions are less and less attuned to the genuine needs of the population they're supposed to serve. We need look no further than the Bush administration for a practical example.

Sue wrote about bikeways. The MUTCD definition of a bikeway is "a generic term for any road, street, path, or way that in some manner is specifically designated for bicycle travel, regardless of whether such facilities are designated for the exclusive use of bicycles or are to be shared with other transportation modes." That's a broad definition, and I think that since it's so general most advocates can support it, but as always, the devil is in the details.

I can support facilities that benefit road cyclists, particularly signals that recognize the presence of a bicyclist, cycling-appropriate signage, and wide outside lanes that benefit all road users, not cyclists alone. And I recognize the popularity of linear parks with multi-use trails. When they serve some transportation purpose, it's reasonable to build them with transportation funds. To my mind, this is a good government issue, and as road using cyclists, we should demand the responsible use of tax monies. When a trail is built as a recreational facility, it should be built with park money, not transportation funds. The cliché is a trail that leaves the parking lot, winds around a pretty lake, and returns to the parking lot. It doesn't serve a transportation need. The thorny problem is that some linear parks serve both purposes, so how should the costs be divided?

Finally, here's a worst-case scenario - what happens if the TE money is removed from the federal budget? If Plan A is to get more money for facilities and the money goes away, what's Plan B? Does Plan B even exist? It would serve all of us to have a contingency plan, perhaps not on a national scale but on a local one. If the TE money gets cut, we’re all going to be on our own anyway.


Blogger Fritz said...

Is this letter in reference to some specific incident?

I agree that Oklahoma has some nice people.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Ed W said...

Fritz - I'll have to re-work some of the previous e-mail into another post about this in order to provide the background. I'll only use mine, not those from other list members. But the short version is that I was kicked off the TA list for questioning the idea of using public funds to provide some bicycling facilities. According to Ms. Knaup, this undermines the whole purpose of TA. Apparently, my nuanced approach outlined at the bottom of that post was ignored. ANY criticism is unwelcome over there.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Hey there, Cycledog. I am coming to Tulsa this weekend and would like to take you up on that offer of going for a ride. Does that still stand? I hadn't heard from you and thought I would check again.


2:05 PM  

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