To Encourage Biking, Cities Lose the Helmets
So, the idea is to make enough people upset about cyclists in the road that they pressure the city to fund separate infrastructure, so as to get cyclists out of their way?
Basically. But you start by organizing, and negotiating. You don’t start by annoying people, or do that randomly.
One more point — comparing this to civil rights, Indian independence, gay rights, etc., seems extreme and I do not want to take away anything from those stellar achievements. But this is important, too. Cyclists die regularly because of lack of cycling infrastructure. Our cities are unlivable because they are designed for cars. We waste enormous amounts of energy, pollute the globe, and cause world-wide environmental destruction because people drive to work and don’t have a safe alternative. These are real problems. Just because they don’t affect individuals in the direct, reprehensible way the Jim Crow laws or slavery did doesn’t mean they aren’t important. And we shouldn’t underestimate the work that will be required to fix them. Powerful forces keep things the way they are. We will need to stand up for ourselves to make change. It won’t happen automatically.
The Constitution, through various rulings and interpretations, guarantees me the right to travel and assemble. If I cannot travel or assemble because I am in fear of my life in traveling from one place to another in an otherwise legal fashion on my bicycle then it becomes a civil rights issue. A right not exercised is not a right. And that’s what things like Critical Mass does. They exert the rights we are already supposed to have.
Now, you might want to diminish that civil right with the “greater” civil rights hard won by other social movements but they are still rights.
“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. “
And how do you think they got so far as to be on television with open, normal gay characters? It didn’t just magically happen. Riots in Stonewall made that happen. Illegal and provocative gay pride marches made that happen. Decades of agitation to the point where being gay was a new normal made that happen.
@kordite: But my question stands…don’t we already have laws in place to provide safe travel? We may disagree on what “safe travel” entails, but imagine, for a moment, if the police actually enforced the motor vehicle code. Would the streets be significantly safer?
So, that’s why I’m wondering about why civil disobedience (at least as far as the traffic laws go) advances our cause, and why I think the civil rights comparison doesn’t make sense.
> So, the idea is to make enough people upset about cyclists in the road that they pressure the city to fund separate infrastructure, so as to get cyclists out of their way?
jonaweb and kordite can obviously speak quite well for themselves. but as for me, I don’t want separate infrastructure. i just want to be able to use the same infrastructure without getting killed.
@marko – good point. American White straight middle class males are probably least oppressed of any group of people.. Other than an american 18-34 year old middle class straight male.
Another good point is that studies have shown that there has been a decrease in number of teen smokers when there are PSAs running encouraging children not to do so, and more smokers when there are less/no PSAs
“But my question stands…don’t we already have laws in place to provide safe travel? We may disagree on what “safe travel” entails, but imagine, for a moment, if the police actually enforced the motor vehicle code. Would the streets be significantly safer? “
Yes. Enforcement would make it safer. And activism isn’t just about new laws, it’s about enforcing the existing laws. And building new infrastructure. And redesigning current infrastructure. And informing people there is an issue in the first place. Direct action is a catalyst that gets people attention. I repeat, no one paid attention to the gay rights movement until there were riots in Stonewall. That moment was a catalyst that got people involved. People willing to take a stand and demand the rights and safety that non-gays already had. These people went out and marched, many times risking imprisonment. And that got other peoples attention to wake them up to there actually being a problem. It encouraged people to come out of the closet and join the ranks of those agitation for change. And so on.
Critical Mass is the same thing. It’s not about changing the minds of the autodominionists who think it’s THEIR road alone. It’s not even about making them angry enough to build infrastructure to segregate cyclists out of their own space. It is about getting everyone’s attention, most particularly those people who are not involved and getting them involved. It is about showing that cyclists are a significant constituency. That’s why the words “critical mass” are used. When that critical mass is reached then the politicians need to pay attention.
Numbers are enough. If that were true, the fact that women make up half of the population would guarantee them the rights they deserve. No, action is required and, as history has shown again and again, disruptive, direct action is required.
Perhaps the bicycle movement has evolved beyond the need for Critical Mass, as evidenced by the recent lack of Critical Mass rides in Pittsburgh in much the same way that the race riots of the 50s and 60s gave way to much more civil parades in the 70s and practically no African American civil rights marches today. But even so, evidence has shown, again and again, that such things were necessary in their time and continue to be necessary from time to time.
I think the civil rights angle has been pushed plenty far enough. Although I must add to Kordite’s post above, that some civil disobedience or direct action may still be necessary to get law enforcement to act on the laws that are already in place to adequately protect cyclists.
And I don’t consider running red lights or weaving through traffic “civil disobedience”. Those send no useful message and is just counterproductive stupidity.
Just don’t expect laws or enforcement to make things entirely asshole-free. The civil rights movement was fifty years ago and racism is still alive, just whispered and “dog-whistled”. Stonewall was 40 years ago and how easy would it be for two guys to walk down the street holding hands, in Pittsburgh, let alone in some redneck podunk shithole, without major harrassment? There will still be assholes shouting at you when you ride, just harden the F up and assert your rights. Every ride is an act of advocacy.
I think cycling is somewhat more comparable to what has happened with drunk driving. The reason that the only way traffic accidents are seriously prosecuted only when alcohol is involved is due to the efforts of one dogged organization, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. 40 years ago drunk driving wasn’t even considered a problem, in fact, driving with a can of beer right in your hand wasn’t given a second look. MADD made themselves a force to be reckoned with, and now drunk driving is a societal anathema. I would say, if you’re interested, research them and see how they got to this point.
What I can’t figure out is, why has MADD stopped at drunk driving? Every night there is a death report on the news from speeding, distracted driving, etc. MADD needs to now extend their activities to all stupid traffic deaths, but they seem to have packed up and gone home.
A lot of people need more than better enforcement of traffic laws to get them cycling. They need cycling infrastructure — separated bike lanes and the like. In order to get those lanes, some space will have to be taken away from cars. There’s no way that is going to happen without conflict. So we are either not going to have necessary bike lanes, or we are going to have to push for them. I believe in trying all other methods before non-violent direct action. And nothing will happen in any case without a group of people who are committed to seeing change happen. But I believe that non-violent direct action will eventually prove necessary.
Every ride is an act of advocacy.
This is why I ride Perry Highway, and occasionally even McKnight Road. “I’m here, dammit. Deal with it!”
Anonymous 10/11/2012 at 8:39pm #
@jonaweb And if we got all this infrastructure would be bicyclist allowed to use car road? Would be pedestrians allowed to use bike infrastructure? Would people of capable going 25-30 mph on bikes allowed to go that fast on infrastructure?
@mikhail I’m pretty sure that with increased bicycle use we’ll have to follow rules just like other road users. Right now we’re left alone pretty much and also get killed every now and then.
I don’t know about European cities — I hope someone here does — but I do know that in NYC cyclists are required to use bike lanes where available, and BSNYC has been complaining about cyclists getting tickets for running red lights.
So, unfortunately, getting bike infrastructure does imply giving up our outlaw ways.
Oh, man, if somebody passes a law that cyclists must use a bike path where available, I will be civilly disobeying that one intensely.
I think PA had such a law for a while. Title 75, section 3505 (f) Mandatory use of available pedalcycle path, deleted by Act 151 in 1998. Good riddance.
I will stay on bike paths when cars have to stay on interstate highways. Same argument.
Anonymous 10/12/2012 at 4:05am #
Headbands count as helmets, right?
It’s not really the same argument as interstates, and a lot of European countries (including Denmark and The Netherlands) have mandatory bike path laws.
Not to say laws like that make any sense here where there are often valid reasons not to ride in the bike lane. But if we had great, safely designed infrastructure I wouldn’t have a big problem with its use being mandated.
From what I know of Europe, there are no (or few) “you must use the bike lane” laws. But, with the infrastructure dedicated to bicycles, it is natural that people use that. Especially when it is well designed to accommodate bicyclist needs (rather than just a stripe on the road). I also recall an article saying that more people obey the common laws (lights, stop signs, etc), again, because the infrastructure is there to make it easier and safer for them to do so.
@salty, I know the analogy might not be perfect, but it gets to the heart of the issue which is choice. Interstate highways don’t go everywhere and neither do dedicated bike trails – or even painted bike lanes. Even if the infrastructure was more extensive why should we be the ones restricted? What if they wanted to restrict cars to only a few roads?
My mother hates driving on limited access highways. She’ll take route 19 over I79 every time. If I prefer the street over some gravel trail how is that different? Also, I love the HMB and use the bike side 99% of the time, but in the winter after a storm I’m using the roadway.
@marko, as far as I know, there is no law requiring cyclists to only use bike lanes or paths. E.g., the NYC law requires cyclists to use the bike lane where it is available (except under certain circumstances, like making a left turn). So you would be allowed to ride on a street without a bike lane just as you are now.
Sometimes I want to get to work on my Behemoth and speed is not an issue. And sometimes I want to toodle along with the family on a bike trail.
But sometimes I want to get on a kick-ass road bike and hammer along with traffic at 25-30 mph. Commuting is great, but I have no desire to restrict roadies either (as much fun as I have at their funny little “kits”).
Uh, I think I’ve heard that they do a lot of fast riding in Europe in spite of also having good bike infrastructure. Not sure it’s true, but might be worth checking out.
@kordite I’ve seen multiple sources refer to mandatory bike path laws in Europe, do you have any evidence that’s not true?
I understand the arguments against these laws (well, I don’t really understand marko’s argument because the law doesn’t say you can *only* ride on bike paths)… but I’d happily accept them if we had infrastructure like Holland. You’re not going to find any mandatory lanes there that force you into a door zone or other stupid things like that.
I believe Marko’s argument is that he does not wish to be required to use a bike path over a road, *if* both are available.
I tend to agree with him. “Default” rules should be that all vehicles are entitled to use any given road, regardless of what other options are available; special-purpose infrastructure (e.g. bike lanes, bus lanes, and limited-access freeways) should certainly have rules limiting use to its intended purpose.
The argument “cyclists should have to use a bike path if it’s there” has historically been the one thing that gives me pause about endorsing dedicated infrastructure. I still think bike lanes and paths are a good thing…I just worry about spoiling a good thing by making its use mandatory.
I know the argument of “if the infrastructure is good enough they shouldn’t have to force me to use it”, and I think it has some merit – certainly in the US where we mostly get crappy infrastructure that I don’t want to be forced to use. But, I think it’s pretty reasonable somewhere like the Netherlands where it’s designed for bikes and cars to be separate.
Thanks reddan that is my point. On the North Side upriver from 9th street I almost always take the road. There is a sorry excuse of a trail right next to it but I don’t enjoy riding rutted gravel while trying to avoid walkers/joggers. Don’t get me wrong I’m glad the trail is there, I just don’t want to be forced to use it.
Anonymous 10/13/2012 at 3:32pm #
Sharing my personal experience and choices on the topic:
When I commute, I never wear a helmet. I commute just about a mile, and wear makeup to work. I don’t shower at work (just get a little warm, not sweaty). Makeup (base+powder) gets all messed up by a helmet.
Outside of work commuting, sometimes I wear a helmet and other times not. I like the feeling of extra safety (not complete safety by any means, but extra safety) wearing one. However, I also really enjoy the sensual and simple pleasure of wind in my hair when I don’t wear one.
I had someone pass me with about two feet clearance on Millvale Avenue bridge the other day. When I told him he needed to give four feet, his rebuttal was that I wasn’t in the bike lane….
Anonymous 10/14/2012 at 7:33pm #
^Oh of course. So even if he knew his ass from a hole in the ground re: the law, that would clearly give him the right to run you over. /furious sarcasm
@salty “I’ve seen multiple sources refer to mandatory bike path laws in Europe”
Then I stand corrected. However, my point stands that with good bicycle infrastructure, people will naturally use it. In the US, we, for the most part, are only at the early stages of that integration of infrastructure and requiring US cyclists to stay in the bikelanes does not afford them the access to the entirety of the infrastructure that is required.
Anonymous 10/15/2012 at 2:38pm #
It’s interesting that if one is in a bike lane then car are no required to give 4 feet.
Yesterday we went for 73 mile ride from 16th street bridge to Monongahela and back. On the way back on 837 (between Monongahela and Dequesne) one of the track was following us for about a half mile not willing to pass since there was on coming traffic. Someone behind him start to honk impatiently. Guy stopped and snapped at the driver acreaming: “You want to try pass safely? Go ahead” and as soon as the other driver decided to pull around four oncoming vehicle put him back and (s)he just quietly followed another 200 yard and passed us.
Anonymous 10/15/2012 at 2:50pm #
@kordite yes, people use it but it does not keep all bikers happy. And big infrastructure causes its own problems.
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