To Encourage Biking, Cities Lose the Helmets

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jonawebb
Participant
#

My last post seems to have been eaten, so this may be duplicate.

I’m not at all advocating cyclists “act out”. What I’m saying is, we are second class users of the roads. We are mistreated by motorists because of that, to keep us in our place. It’s got nothing to do with cyclists running stop signs, that’s just an excuse.


AtLeastMyKidsLoveMe
Participant
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I’m not sure I agree with the assertion “we are mistreated by motorists… to keep us in our place.” I think the “mistreatment” is a function of inattention, impatience and garden variety idiocy.


jonawebb
Participant
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Last week I was riding home, got passed by a guy with about a foot gap. When I caught up with him and, pretty politely actually, told him about the 4-foot rule, he yelled “get off the road” and drove off. Have you ever had a similar experience?


AtLeastMyKidsLoveMe
Participant
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So he’s a jagoff. I get it.

What’s your point?


helen s
Participant
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It sounded like Jon was advocating large group rides that “disrupt the normal way of doing business in order to ensure the minority rights are respected.” Sounds like the intent of critical mass.


stefb
Participant
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Yeah we all have been yelled at and had drivers (almost) hit us on a bike and in a vehicle. I get treated poorly by motorists in vehicles bigger than my Honda fit. People are assholes.


HiddenVariable
Participant
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while i don’t necessarily agree with the civil rights comparisons, it is important to remember that we are often merely “vulnerable road users” to the established bureaucracy, and, perhaps more often, even worse.

while i don’t think it is necessary to disrupt motorists on the roads to make our point, do not expect me to react kindly to the suggestion that it’s my job to “police [my] own”. and i find the idea that people will treat us better if we are simply better behaved laughable. i behave on the roads for my safety and the safety of others (and in order to not be a jerk), not because of some misguided notion that i’m helping the cause of bicycle advocacy. i’m doing that already by merely biking.


jonawebb
Participant
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Critical mass is a good example of non-violent direct action on a bicycle. But there’s more to a campaign than just non-violent direct action. You have to set a goal, say, a bike lane on Forbes. Then you communicate that goal to someone who can provide it, say the city. Then you start the action, say, Critical Mass during rush hour. You have to keep this up because you have to create social tension that can only be resolved by you getting what you want. Then you get the bike lane, and start planning the next campaign.

I’m not advocating this per se — I’m just following the civil rights analogy and seeing where it leads. The first step to getting your rights is to recognize that you don’t have them right now.


reddan
Keymaster
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The first step to getting your rights is to recognize that you don’t have them right now.

What rights are denied to us (specifically, cyclists) that you would like to see granted?


jonawebb
Participant
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Well, obviously, the right to ride the streets safely.


reddan
Keymaster
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Well, obviously, the right to ride the streets safely.

This is not an issue exclusive to cyclists.

I agree whole-heartedly that the streets need to be safer. But trying to paint ourselves as an oppressed minority, when we’re simply victims of the same carelessness as everyone else, is counter-productive.


jonawebb
Participant
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Not really. Drivers on say Penn Ave have pretty great safety on that street. They may have an accident but the likelihood of death is pretty remote. While James Price was just callously run down there recently. It’s a pretty big difference.


reddan
Keymaster
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Hmm…I’d argue that 4,000+ fatalities and 70,000+ injuries for pedestrians in traffic crashes, 30,000+ fatalities alone (I couldn’t find a hard estimate for injuries) for motorists, and 600+ deaths and 50,000+ injuries of cyclists in traffic crashes indicates that it’s a pretty big problem for everyone.

Sure, the percentages aren’t perfectly even, with the smallest victims suffering more harm…but the point is that we need to reduce overall crashes. Focusing on a complete solution for all road users is a better course of action, in my opinion.


jonawebb
Participant
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Well, if we look at areas where there is a lot of bike use — around the universities — I think you’ll agree there has been serious neglect of cycling infrastructure. So the question is is the gradual incrementalist approach sufficient to get the improvements cyclists need, or would more direct action based on a civil rights model help? I would argue that it would.


Anonymous #

No, it’s counter productive. I agree with Dan.


Kordite
Participant
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“No, it’s counter productive.”

Is it? The Civil Rights experience would provide evidence that it is not counter productive. That it is, in fact, necessary to the success of the movement. Is there any actual evidence that direct action is counter productive? Even in New York, where numerous Critical Mass and other progressive action rides have been met with violence from the police, the apparent “counter productiveness” of the riders has lead to great strides forward in bicycling infrastructure.


Anonymous #

“Is it? ” Yes, it is. Like Dan told, Civil rights is not applicable here. I would be first to organize car driver movement to ban bicyclist from the road in similar manner — just blocking bike lane with rotational constant parking, etc. Even I bike.

And I don’t endorse Critical Mass. I don’t like them.


stefb
Participant
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Was it critical mass in NYC that got them their bikes lanes or the people in charge trying to find solutions to their transportation problems from overcrowding?


Mick
Participant
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@reddan

Hmm…I’d argue that 4,000+ fatalities and 70,000+ injuries for pedestrians in traffic crashes, 30,000+ fatalities alone (I couldn’t find a hard estimate for injuries) for motorists, and 600+ deaths and 50,000+ injuries of cyclists in traffic crashes indicates that it’s a pretty big problem for everyone

In the meantime, all the main sources of media information – TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines – have massive funding from automobile advertising and are hardly likely to trumpet the issue.

I rarely watch TV, but when I do, my impression is the major purpose of TV is to sell SUVS.

They’ve been largely successful. People who watch TV tend have the mistaken impression that SUVs are safer than cars – and the utterly bizarre notion that large, clunky, ugly SUVs are somehow cool.


jonawebb
Participant
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It’s always hard to say what caused a change to government policy. But, generally speaking, government policy tends to be bounded by public opinion and action. If there are lots of people advocating for some change that tends to enlarge the range of options available to the government. E.g., the Occupy protests introduced the issue of income inequality to the public sphere.

I happen to know the former traffic engineer for the city — people have been advocating for a bike lane on Forbes for many years. And his reaction was always, not happening. This is not because he doesn’t like bikes; it was simply not realistic. I think the only way something like that would become a realistic option is through non-violent direct action.


Kordite
Participant
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“Is it? ” Yes, it is.

Stating it is so does not make it so. Show me instances where direct action for bicycling lead to a decline in bicycling infrastructure or anti-bicycling legislation that diminished bicycling participation and advocacy. The very definition of “counter productive.” Please cite your sources.


AtLeastMyKidsLoveMe
Participant
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So how far are you willing to go? Nothing is being “occupied” right now, because the people in that movement weren’t prepared to go all the way. Civil rights protests worked because the people involved were prepared to die for what was an intrinsic right – racial equality. While I agree the right to life (as in, NOT being run-over riding a bicycle) is relevant here, the application of “civil rights” methods will not work unless you are prepared to go all the way. Otherwise you’re likely to just antagonize an already hostile driving populace.


jonawebb
Participant
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Not really. If you asked most of the protesters in the Birmingham bus boycott I think very few of them would have been willing to die. But a lot were willing to be arrested. If we were to use non-violent direct action I doubt we’d be asking people to die. Probably even arrest would not be an issue. I would imagine, say, a regular Critical Mass-type protest, peacefully moving along Forbes or Fifth Avenue during rush hour. You’d be asking people to commit their time, and to deal with harassment from drivers.


Mick
Participant
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Just for historical accuracy – the “Won’t accomplish anything and will actually hurt you movement by antagonizing the populace” was an argument that I’ve seen about civil rights protests about vietnam war protests, and a variety of other protests over the years.

Perhaps there are times when that argument is clearly correct. I can’t think of any off-hand.

I can think of situations in which I would consider critical mass type confrontation to appropriate – say if there were specific laws being enforced in a discriminatory fashion against cyclists, or if, say, some amusement park,for example, continued to impeed the progress of an interstate bike trail.

Critical Mass doesn’t have some clear goal, though, like “End the war now.” or “End segregation.”


Anonymous #

@kordite And you show how critical mass is connected to bike infrastructure increase?

I can show sources were Critical Mass caused a massive car plow through crowd of bicyclists.

And famous NYC cops fining bicyclists. Or on last PMTCC ride cop in charger flips his lights and stop one of us for not stopping at stop sign and completely ignoring cars. Or someone on the board wrote that in the township were she spent her childhood bicycles are forbidden on the roads.

Dan is right that problems is much wider and deeper. And we need to solve it at more global level.


Anonymous #

@mick Depends on how safety is measured. Mercedes (or BMW? I don’t remember exactly — someone who I know lives in Germany and gave me results of this crash-test) conducted about 4 years ago a crash test on highly rated small car. but they put a big SUV instead of wall in head-to-head-with-displacement collision. Results were very predictable — small car lost badly. But SUV has much higher center of gravity and as a result probability of rollover is much higher.


Anonymous #

I was looking for a good place to post this pic from an email I got today. Maybe this is a good spot:


Mick
Participant
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@Mikahil Results were very predictable — small car lost badly.

Yeah, in a formal joust, the SUV wins! Every time!

And given how I’ve ssn some SUVs being driven, that might be the goal of teh consumers.

Still, mile by mile, an SUV is more hazardous than even a much smaller car.

As well as being more hazardous to it’s occupants, the SUVS are far more likely to kill others.


Anonymous #

@mick I agree with “the SUVS are far more likely to kill others” but “As well as being more hazardous to it’s occupants” would go along if we add “SUVs cause bad driving style”. If style of driving SUV is the same as a car (not racing but normal style) I would say SUV are at least no less safe than cars.


Mick
Participant
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@Mikahail If style of driving SUV is the same as a car (not racing but normal style) I would say SUV are at least no less safe than cars.

That would be incorrect. SUVs don’t have the same safety standards that cars do. (Unless things have changed in the last 3 or 4 years)


Anonymous #

@mick They don’t have to. For example, car have multi stress points where body would collaps to desipate energy since there is no lot of space between bumper-engine and passenger. Big SUV has a lot of space.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t advocate that SUV are the best cars. I don’t. They are bulky gas goglers. There is no need in them in most cases (but there are stilllegit cases to use them). But going in crash against SUV on a regular you are going to lose more often than win.


Mick
Participant
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I believe their lack of safety is also reflected in crash injury stats.


Anonymous #

But performance in a crash isn’t the only measure of safety–you also have to take into account how well your car can avoid a crash in a close-call situation. I’d guess SUVs are considerably less able to maneuver and avoid a crash than, say, a zippy little hatchback. I don’t know if the science backs up that assumption–just a guess…


cburch
Participant
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I’m reading this thread while sitting in my SUV enjoying a post ride snack.


Kordite
Participant
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“I can show sources were Critical Mass caused a massive car plow through crowd of bicyclists.”

Was that counter productive to the movement? Did that incident mean that the bike infrastructure they were agitating for didn’t happen?

I contend exactly the opposite. It is those incidents of pushback that help to codify movements and bring attention to something that, up until that point, were largely ignored by the public at large.

The gay rights movement had been going on for a long time but it wasn’t until the Stonewall riots that it actually gained some traction. John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry was a turning point in the American abolition movement. African Americans had been pushing for civil rights since the failure of Reconstruction after the Civil War but it wasn’t until Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus (and subsequent actions) started getting some attention. The independence movement in India, even with a military rebellion here or there, didn’t start going anywhere until Gandhi and thousands of followers refused to move and got heads cracked for it. I cannot think of any successful social movement that did not come with defiant action.

We can sit here and talk about what we see as our rights to share roads in safety. We can try to schedule meetings with legislators and other civil officials But no one will listen to us until we literally reach a Critical Mass. There have to be either enough of us to gain their attention or we have to amass enough allies to our side to reach that level. It’s not going to happen without something to expand that from the measly 1% of ride share that we currently have. It’s going to take something to get people’s attention. On Penn Avenue we had years of complains about the lack of infrastructure but it took the death of two people for something as simple and inexpensive as signs to be put up.

History has shown again and again and again that civially disobedient actions work and that pushback, such as some asshat driving through a crowd of cyclists, is evidence of it actually working. Evidence that people are paying attention. Some, paying enough attention to hate and attempt to murder us, many more to rally to our cause.

“And, my friends, in this story you have a history of this entire movement. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.”

— Quote apparently paraphrased by Mahatma Gandhi but actually from the General Executive Board Report and Proceedings [of The] Biennial Convention, Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, 1914.


brian j
Participant
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I’m having some trouble following this civil disobedience thread. Let’s look at a specific example: Rosa Parks, and civil rights for African-Americans.

The way I understand history is that African-Americans were denied basic rights and treated as a separate class of citizens by the law. So, Martin Luther King, among others, advocated civil disobedience as a means of changing the laws (which succeeded).

Now, when I compare this to cycling, things start to break down. I’m not a lawyer, but my understanding of city and state law is that as cyclists, we are (well) protected under the law (in fact, you could argue we have some additional benefits such as being able to filter forward and use the sidewalk in certain circumstances), but the issue is enforcement–the laws in place (including general laws about speed limits, etc) are not actively enforced, and thus the roads are not as safe as they could be for all users (drivers, cyclists, pedestrians).

Rosa Parks broke the law because the law was unjust. Are you suggesting cyclists break the law (run red lights, for example, or ride four abreast) because red lights are unjust for cyclists? Or are you suggesting that cyclists break the law to bring attention to the lack of enforcement? I’m confused, and bringing civil rights into the discussion muddles things even more (and likely does a great disservice to both the fight for civil rights and the fight for safer roads).

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that civil disobedience isn’t a solution to our problem, but I am suggesting the reasons for civil disobedience don’t make sense based on the historical examples provided. In most cases in history, civil disobedience is a response to negative rights. In our case, we’re talking about the enforcement of current laws, and perhaps better infrastructure to support all road users. I’m trying to understand how breaking the very laws we want to be enforced advances our cause.


jonawebb
Participant
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Groups can be denied their rights by various means, some legal, some social. Indeed, African-Americans agitated for a change in some laws. But there was no law keeping them from eating at lunch counters. That was custom. The law got involved when they were ordered to leave, refused, and then were accused of trespass. So they were really fighting for a lot of things, not just changes in the law.

Cyclists are denied their rights (safe transport) mainly, as I see it, by poor infrastructure design. This is largely but not exclusively not a legal issue. It is more a question of priorities in funding. But people are being killed because of it. And while we’ve made advances here in Pittsburgh — important advances — the trails and paths that have been added have been “low hanging fruit” — roads that were wide enough for existing traffic, so adding a bike path didn’t inconvenience anyone, or bike trails in areas which were largely unused. I believe it will take a change in priorities that will only happen by us standing up for our rights to make that change happen.

Imagine, for example, a direct bike route from Oakland to Downtown, or bike routes connecting CMU and Pitt with the places where students live. Of course those routes would infringe on motorists use of the road, by taking lanes used for driving and parking. So there will be pushback. But those routes would be used by many more people cycling than driving, and would have many other benefits. So they are worth fighting for.


Marko82
Participant
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I find the direction of this thread totally unbelievable. Comparing the “oppression” of cyclist to the oppression of slavery, Jim Crow blacks and post war India?

Take your helmet off and take three steps away from your bike and you are no longer oppressed. None of these other groups could do that. I find these analogies insulting and I’m a middle aged white guy.

As for the gay movement, I’m not an historian, but I bet having TV shows with openly normal gay characters has had more to do with the repeal of don’t-ask-don’t-tell then any acts of civil disobedience.

What the cycling crowd needs is some good old fashioned and frequent PSA’s directed at both car drivers and cyclist themselves. Some drivers/cyclists are just ignorant to what the laws are and how they should be operating their vehicle around the other. I still see cyclist riding up and down off the sidewalk and against the flow of traffic. Is this civil disobedience or just stupidity? How is that more or less infuriating than a car giving less than four feet of clearance? Sure we cyclist are the more vulnerable road user, but that will always be the case unless you are advocating the total elimination of cars, because even in utopian countries the bicycle infrastructure doesn’t go everywhere.

Like the Will & Grace Show – we need the act of cycling to be shown as normal transportation. This will happen as more and more cyclists are on the road; more sports celebrities and politicians are seen on bikes; more PSA/education takes place; and law enforcement of bad drivers is a priority.

Comparing what we put up (even on the worst of days) to the civil rights movement is just stupid.


brian j
Participant
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@jonawebb: I don’t disagree, but, again, how does breaking the laws we actually want enforced advance our cause? I’m trying to understand why civil disobedience (at in terms of Critical Mass-like behavior on the road) helps (perhaps besides getting motorists to desire the bike infrastructure exists so there aren’t cyclists on the road).


jonawebb
Participant
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@brian j, that’s basically right. Of course, it’s not just the drivers who want the problem solved, it’s also the city, and the city can solve the problem only by negotiating with the group.

You start by organizing a group that it committed to making the change. The group agrees on a specific, achievable goal. They communicate the goal and try to negotiate to achieve it. Non-violent direct action is used to pressure the other side into realistic negotiations.

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