Monday, December 11, 2006

Marsha and her chainsaw...

Wouldn’t you know it? I haven’t been on the commuter bike for about 10 days, not since the winter weather rolled in on November 29th. The ride home that day was cold and wet, directly into a stiff north wind. The bike sat in the garage on the floor stand since then.

Naturally, when I went out to the garage to ride it to work today, it had a flat tire! Now, why didn’t I notice that last night as I cleaned and lubed the chain? It was a minor annoyance. I simply swapped the front wheel from the Bianchi and set off for work.

This morning I had a moderate headwind from the south. The temperature was an almost balmy 55F and I was working hard – and sweating hard – within a few miles. My anorak billowed like a parachute, adding even more drag going into the wind. To make matters worse, I had the theme from “The Brady Bunch” going round and round in my head. It was irritating and slightly maddening, but the tempo fit with my cadence as I ground along, and it distracted me from the effort a little bit. I toyed with alterations to the lyrics, some of them definitely obscene and others quite gruesome.

“Mrs. Brady – liked her brandy – and she downed it by the gallon every week.”

The roads were still wet in places, with treacherously slick railroad tracks and water-filled potholes. I had to pay strict attention to them too, and again, that helped get my mind off the wind.

When I finally arrived at the north gate, there was a brand new guard standing in the roadway glaring at me. He insisted I slow down almost to a stop so he could scrutinize my identification badge. Motorists, of course, just hold their badges up to the windshield and get waved through, but you never know when some pesky cyclist could be a terrorist.

“Just then Marsha – got out her chainsaw – and she hacked him into little tiny bits.”

Regardless, I made it in on time.

Not all my time was spent on the fun-filled lyrics, however. I thought about the dependency that’s fomented by some of our so-called advocacy groups. There were a few items I’d read over the weekend that kind of percolated for a while. One was written by a cyclist who bemoaned the fact that she couldn’t get from A to B on her bike because there were no bike lanes connecting the two. So she was ‘forced’ to drive somewhere to ride her bicycle. There were a couple of pieces with the usual ‘you can’t ride ABC Street because it’s too dangerous/too fast/too narrow/ too whatever’.

Many cyclists think this way and too many of our alleged advocacy groups encourage them to do so. They hype the danger of riding in traffic because their agenda calls for bike lanes on every street and roadway in the nation. Never mind if this is good for the community, good for cyclists, or good for the taxpayers. It’s VERY good for the organizations involved. Thunderhead Alliance, Bikes Belong, and sadly, even the League of American Bicyclists endorse such projects.

These bike lane proponents claim to have the needs of cyclists in mind when in fact their projects are mainly beneficial to motorists. Bike lanes do not serve the real needs of cyclists because they encourage a timid, subservient attitude in the cyclists who use them. Organizations who endorse such projects reinforce the attitude that cyclists are not meant to use our public roads and that cyclists have an inferior right to those roads. In the civil rights era, they would have been referred to as ‘Uncle Toms’. For those of you too young to remember, that’s an epithet – not a nice thing.

So the message here is to know your place, and don’t expect much more. That is, don’t expect much more unless you join the organization and send in your dues. It really does revolve around the politics of fear. In this case, the fear comes from riding in traffic, and rather than try to overcome the fear, these organizations prefer to pursue government-funded facilities. That’s fine, but the ever-increasing amount of TEA-21 money has not produced a corresponding increase in the number of cyclists. It’s money that could go to other projects that benefit today’s road cyclists.

Imagine for a moment that bicycling education programs received even a tenth of the TEA-21 money. We could reach into the schools with something like “Road User Education”, a curriculum to educate students regarding motor vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians, in effect providing them with the information regarding the proper way to share our public roads. This would involve multiple perspectives including all modes of travel. It’s very true that the world changes when you see it through someone else’s eyes.

OK. I’m done ranting for today. I’ll go back to contemplating Marsha and her chainsaw.

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Blogger Paul Tay said...

Have heard of these new fangled doodads called mp3's yet? Give it a shot for your next wet ride. MI3 theme, Danger Zone, and the narcocorridos never fail me.

10:56 PM  
Blogger Yokota Fritz said...

My ear-bug for this morning's commute was Tear for Fears "Mad World."

I think you'll like this article about cyclists and stop signs.

I find it kind of funny,
I find it kind of sad,
The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had,
I find it hard to tell you,
I find it hard to take,
When people run in circles,
It's a very very,
Mad world.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Yokota Fritz said...

Look what I found: the most dangerous location for cyclists in Seattle is along a bike path.

6:00 PM  
Blogger Paul Dorn said...

Sigh. This "paint-n-path" v. "effective cycling" argument is soooo very tiresome.

The sad reality is that bicyclists in much of auto-centric America face hostile street conditions. How to respond to a hostile streetscape? Alternative #1: Change the streetscape to a create "complete streets" more amenable to cycling, walking, transit. Alternative #2: Cope with bad streets; teach people how to cope with hostile streets, through education.

Clearly the organizations denigrated by Cycledog ("they only want your dues") favor Alternative #1. This means serious political organizing, agitating, advocating, coalition building, campaigning. And this is what has worked in San Francisco, which is the only city in the US to have seen a doubling of bicycling for transportation according to U.S. Census.

Alternative #1 is positive, empowering, and effective. It works to increase bicycling participation, and nothing improves safety for cyclists more than the abundant presence of bicyclists.

Alternative #2 (apparently favored by CycleDog) is demoralizing, defeatist, and ineffective. It leads to even further marginalization of bicyclists as unopposed auto interests create streetscapes even more hostile to bicyclists.

As an LCI (#1237) I support bicycle education. But it is no substitute for advocacy. Nor is it universally effective; note the "success" of motorist education--42K deaths a year and counting. And education is more than clinics: signage, bike lanes, "sharrows", public awareness campaigns all serve to educate motorists and bicyclists.

Oh, and this morning my earbud (singular) provided a podcast of Democracy Now!

2:22 PM  
Blogger Paul Tay said...

Mr. Dorn, CycleDog lives in Owasso, OK, and I live in Tulsa, not San Francisco. Between C-Dog, maybe a couple of others who "get" it, and I, Alternative #2 is ALL we've got, and Alternative #1 is wishful, pie-in-the-sky goodies that would be nice, but we've tried and have FAILED, due mostly to not enough others who "get" it and want to fight for it.

Groups like LAB, T-Head Alliance, and Bikes Belong are in a completely different universe. We do know what they are doing. But, we simply don't have enough bodies to do the work of traditional, mainstream organized advocacy. So, we do what we can between C-Dog, Santa, and, last, certainly, not least, BikerFox. Though he's probably more like BikerChicken, he does have some purpose in increasing awareness that bikes are in the traffic mix.

Santa can personally attest to the fact that Alternative #2 is NOT demoralizing, defeatist, or ineffective. Whenever Santa rolls on the expressways during rush, EVERYONE, the cops, the motorists, and the media, get a quickie crash course in Effective Cycling. You might light up your house during X-mas. Whenever he rolls, which might be in July or December, Santa lights up EVERY switchboard in town. THAT, sir, is quite EMPOWERING.

Santa doesn't see the current streetscape as hostile at all. In fact, America ALREADY has the world's most ADVANCED bike path system. The problem is the price of gas is still way too LOW.

Forget about pie-in-the-sky dedicated bike paths, bike lanes, and even wide outside lanes. Just Bike It.

12:08 AM  
Blogger Paul Dorn said...

Agreed. The price of gas is too low. A higher gas tax would be one way to discourage motoring while raising funds for improved transit, bicycling, and walking (in much of America, there are no sidewalks, go figger.)

Of course, politicians aren't going to raise gas taxes without a serious push by advocates for transit, bicycling and walking.

Hey, most of us practice a combination of cope/change. We cope with bad conditions while working to change streets to better support bicycling.

What frustrates me is the old paradigm bicyclists who criticize advocates. Yes, San Francisco is different from Oklahoma. But 15 years of bicycle advocacy has made an enormous difference for the better.

3:00 PM  
Blogger Paul Tay said...

Perhaps C-Dog might not have been so harsh on the advocacy/change crowd. The Oklahoma Bicycle Coalition is our change agent. Their major focus for the upcoming year is education of law enforcement of the existing bicycling laws. Most of Oklahoma law enforcement officers seem to think bicycles impede traffic just by their mere presence on the roadway.

It will be sometime before OBC will catch up to SFBIKE or TA. But, Oklahoma bicycling laws are some of the most progressive in the nation. Motor vehicles must pass bicyclists with three feet of space. I think the law should require motor vehicles to pass in the adjacent lane, like any other vehicle.

Of course, the law is moot if most motorists and law enforcement aren't even aware of it. The law is also made moot by vehicular cycling techniques which advise bicyclists to ride in the middle of the lane, as advised by Ohio Highway Patrol.

And, of course, my law practice is devoted to defending Santa in court for such heinous crimes as impeding traffic, waving the American flag while riding a bike, and, the worse one of all, dancing in the streets, City of Tulsa ordinance Chapter 27 Section 1205.

Hopefully, in 2007, the Attorney General will issue a legal opinion on the question: Can bicyclists be charged with impeding traffic while on controlled-access roadways?

Tulsa Transit and OKC Transit allows bicycles aboard buses, with Sportsworks racks.

As per ISTEA, there is a State Bicycle Coordinator within ODOT. Although as a former bike coordinator myself, the position is nothing more than window dressing for most state DOT making very small changes. Of course, there are exceptions.

Until the general public, including most of the cycling community, clad in spandex, lose John Forrester's cycling inferiority complex, Santa will continue to roll, at least in Tulsa.

Why don't you guys in San Fran do a Santacon Critical Mass mashup? Imagine a thousand Santas on wheels leaving Market Street and invading Fishermen's Wharf! Of course, Tulsa has already beat San Fran to it.

11:16 PM  
Blogger Paul Tay said...

Serious push by bike, transit, and ped special interest mafia groups to raise the gas tax? Mr. Dorn, that would be akin to TREASON, punishable by the death penalty.

The streets, as per ASHTO standards, ALREADY support bicycling. In fact, the typical American street probably has more capacity than neccessary. Again, the problem is the price of gas is way too low.

I suppose we could get into an intellectual discussion on the hidden costs/subsidies to support the auto-centric culture. But, the price of gas is probably better left to market forces.

Criminalization of gas "price gouging" should be challenged in court. It is simply market forces HARD at work. Government has NO interests in capping gas prices.

12:11 AM  

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