Sunday, January 07, 2007

Threat or Menace...

Harassment? Or stupidity?

By Fritz

Here's a quick and dirty poll for you all. You're riding your bike a couple of feet from the curb on a standard 14-foot lane with moderate traffic. A motorist driving a tan Volvo with John Kerry bumper sticker breeezes by you with inches to spare. You have a thought about the driver of this vehicle. Which is it?

* A. He tried to kill me! That cager tried to kill me! It's a good thing I have my mirror so I had time to ditch into the gutter at the last minute.
* B. The cager intentionally harassed me by manuevering as close to me as possible. He did it on purpose to scare me. I'm calling the cops. I demand justice!
* C. Obliviot needs to watch where he's going.
* D. No harm, no foul. A car passed me. The rest of you all are a bunch of wimps. Except Bob (response A): You're just paranoid.
* E. Other (specify in your comment).

I read the above question on Cycle-licious, and I have to say that my response would depend on the circumstances. If someone buzzed by my handlebars when I was passing the Baptist Retirement Village, I'd probably just blow it off. Some of the elderly drive as if their car were on rails. Dunno why.

If the pass were accompanied by a long horn blast, I may give the one-fingered salute or just wave, depending on my mood.

But I'm not going to think that the driver is 'out to get me'. I'm not paranoid, and besides, I've actually worked with sociopaths and psychopaths in a hospital setting. Murderous, malevolent people intent on taking human life are very rare, fortunately for all of us. Cyclists are more at risk from inattentive drivers. I don't think the presence or absence of a magic paint stripe denoting a bike lane will have much effect. We keep harping on the simple fact that most crashes occur at intersections and involve crossing or turning movements. The facilities types simply ignore this because it doesn't fit into their belief system. They tailor the data to fit their conclusions.

Those who push for separate bicycle facilities fear motor traffic, and like many of us, generalize that everyone else thinks the same way. They simply cannot understand vehicular cycling. It's easier to comprehend a foreign language. And in some ways, vehicular cycling is a kind of belief system not unlike a religion. That's an inapt comparison, so let me esplain a bit further.

When we've had semi-experienced cyclists in a Road1 class, and they discover the possibility of safe, comfortable road riding in traffic, that first experience is a genuine eye-opener. If they learn the principles of lane positioning and they're willing to apply them, they discover that traffic flows around them in predictable ways. Every subsequent ride reinforces that initial discovery, building their confidence and skill. But it can't happen if they don't make that initial step, a leap of faith, if you will. Fearful, paranoid riders will never take that first step.

I was a water-safety instructor when I worked in the hospital. I taught kids to swim. We'd begin in the shallow end, learning to float, hold our breath, inhale and exhale, and all the other steps that led to that fearful plunge into the deep end and a hurried lap of the pool. In learning to swim, kids learned to confront their fears and overcome them. That dive into the deep end was the end of their formal instruction and the beginning of their confidence building. It was a big, big step for most.

This video shows the chaotic nature of NYC traffic, and highlights the dismal failure of bike lanes as a means of encouraging bicycle traffic. But it goes one step further by endorsing the absurd idea that if only we build 'separated' bike lanes, all the problems will be solved. If you haven't seen it, the idea is to construct bicycle lanes BETWEEN parked cars and the sidewalks. Some of them are contra-flow or two-way lanes. Others are physically separated with concrete retaining walls or bollards.

At first blush, this seems plausible, but as the video shows, pedestrians use the existing bike lanes already. Nothing would prevent them from using the 'new, improved, separated' lanes, unless you expect law enforcement to do so. Given the present climate between NYPD and the city's cyclists, exacerbated by Critical Mass riders, how much sympathy should NYC cyclists expect? Among other goals, CM is blocking motor traffic as a means to get more bike lanes so that cyclists won’t be blocking traffic. That may be a sensible approach in Wonderland, but I don’t expect it will change hearts and minds.

Another point that comes out in the video is that motor vehicles would still require access to the 'separated' lane in order to do pickups and deliveries, and emergency vehicles would require access as well. Since so many bike lanes are routinely blocked by motor vehicles now, are we to expect that the new ones would be any different?

Finally, there's the inevitable shot of a car door opening directly in the path of a cyclist. Said cyclist is riding legally in the bike lane, yet it's so narrow it forces him to ride in the door zone. In a 'separated' lane, he'd just be facing a door opening from the OTHER side of the car. This is an improvement?

NYC spent a lot of money on facilities that obviously do not work. They do not perform the function they were intended to do, and we’re supposed to believe that if only more money went down the rat hole, all the problems will be resolved.

Let’s call the separated bike lane what it truly is - a glorified sidewalk. Do cyclists actually want to be second-class road users with inferior rights to our public streets and roads? Make no mistake - "separate but equal" is bunk, a pack of lies foisted on gullible cyclists and public officials. Paul Tay once wrote that cyclists are the "niggers of the roadway" and while that's patently offensive, it's also stunningly accurate. We either have equal rights to use the public roads or we don't, and if we refuse to assert our rights, we do not have them.

So here's my advice - if you deem a facility is unsafe, whether it's a road, street, multi-use path, or a bicycle lane - DON'T USE IT! If a narrow bike lane is blocked by cars, debris, or pedestrians - DON'T USE IT! Ride in the traffic lane and if motorists don't like it - tough shit. It's YOUR road. Use it. Assert your right to use the public roadway. Don’t think that you’re being inconsiderate. No one is required to do something unsafe. If riding in a substandard facility puts you at risk, don’t use it. Safety ALWAYS trumps convenience.

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Blogger Paul Tay said...

Tulsa Police Santa Task Force is now trying to bump Santa OFF Memorial during rush. They charged Santa with RECKLESS DRIVING last afternoon. The other charges include the old 'ride right' and no back reflector during the DAY.

The thinking goes like this:

1) Santa is rolling during heavy traffic, so he must be reckless to begin with.

2) Santa raises his arms up in the air at every opportunity, to cool down. So he must be reckless for riding with NO hands.

3) The ticket also alleges Santa is reckless by sharing the same lanes as the cars, passing them while they are stopped at the red.


3:45 PM  
Blogger Paul Tay said...

How come NYPD ain't bustin' cagers for blocking traffic?

How come the cops don't clamp down on cagers and bump them off the BA when their speeds drop below the minimum because of the traffic jam they cause?

Because cyclists are NIGGERS of the roadway.

3:51 PM  

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