Of Perception, Reality, and Desire

Here are two things you should go read right now:

If you want to stop having this debate…

Cyclists Aren’t ‘Special,’ And They Shouldn’t Play By their Own Rules

I’m not going to comment directly on these except to say that each is important in its own way. Instead, I want to use these as a starting point to begin dealing with perception, reality, and desire — especially my own.

trafficJust the other day I was riding through downtown in the early evening. The weather was pleasantly cool. Traffic was cooperative. I felt myself drawn into the energetic hum of life on the urban street — all the more so because I was heading “home” from having taken a load of stuff to my new loft, my new home. These streets will no longer be a place I visit, a bicycle destination. This will be home very soon — my neighborhood, my streets.

And the thought just smacked me like a helmet striking pavement: Why the hell do I bother being a so-called “bicycle advocate” seeing as how much grief and pain and frustration it has caused me (or I have caused myself)? Wow. Yes. Those have been the rewards of late. There. I admit it.

(If you’re wondering about grief and pain and frustration, then perhaps you did not read those two essays. Read them now.)

One thing is for sure: My having started Carbon Trace has led me to whole new worlds of understanding and new circles of friends. I would change none of that. But a part of me longs to just ride my bicycle and have it mean nothing more than I’m going from point A to point B in a way that’s… oooops. Did you catch it? “In a way that’s” indicates a value-statement is on the way — a cultural evaluation, a political assessment, a social pronouncement, an economic analysis, a persuasive assertion. Go on. Just keep listing all the academic disciplines that examine all the ways that we value the world and express those evaluations.

I’m not arguing that I can’t turn off the academic part of me. I’m saying that none of us do anything just to do it (as in my discipline of rhetoric I claim that none of us say anything just to say it). This is not a rational choice assertion (that school of thinking was DOA). We are certainly purpose-driven creatures, but our purposes are as varied as the snowflakes and not always rational.

My purpose (as I expressed it at the very first STAR Team meeting I attended): Ensure my ability to use a bicycle as basic transportation as an expected and respected part of traffic. You may recognize that last clause from I Am Traffic. While those words did not come out of my mouth, it is what I meant. Notice: I did not say I wanted to ensure anyone else’s ability to do so. That would rather naturally flow from protecting my own interests. And, as I have always made clear, it would flow from people driving their bicycles as I do — as a vehicle driver properly integrated into the system of traffic and following all the rules that create the system.

I am not special. I do not require special treatment or special facilities. I require only three things: 1) a culture of respect, 2) street engineering that allows me to follow the rules of safe movement, and 3) proper enforcement of the rules.

If you are also such a bicyclist, then I want to know you. I want to help you. I want to learn from you. I want to have a beer with you ;-)

If you want to be such a bicyclist, then I want to know you. I want to help you. I want to learn from you. I want to have a beer with you ;-)

If you are a bicyclist who needs special facilities of a kind that interrupt the rules of safe movement (thereby making my life more difficult), then I’d prefer you just keep driving a car. We can still have a beer, but we’ll speak of other matters.

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Comments 21

  1. Michael wrote:

    I chimed in on that second article.
    http://tinyurl.com/cbn3xex

    Posted 14 May 2013 at 11:00 am
  2. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Wow. Excellent manifesto, Andy. Thank you. Also, thanks for the links.

    I too am getting a little tired of deconstructing my bicycling and trying to come up with a constantly renewed rationale. I’m a little ornery right now because I’m hobbling around with a broken bone in my foot and am not “doing my part” to pile up miles for Bike Month. Well….whoop-de-do.

    I ride a lot year round simply because I like to ride my bike. I’ve never had to remind myself of carbon offsets, health benefits, or saving the planet. I don’t need anyone building me a bike box. Its just fun in the weird way that being a conehead scientist is just fun.

    Next to bicycling, I’d prefer a motorcycle to a car. Even in the rain. Like you, what I want are that big three in your fourth from last paragraph. Start there, and any necessary fine tuning would follow.

    Good links, too.

    Posted 14 May 2013 at 11:21 am
  3. Melissa@HerGreenLife wrote:

    Read Keri’s excellent post earlier this morning.

    It sure feels like a constant uphill climb sometimes doesn’t it? Lack of support from key bike organizations, city officials, and other cyclists certainly takes its toll.

    My hope is that, like with all hills I’ve encountered thus far, we’ll reach the top eventually and can all enjoy the downhill ride on the other side.

    Posted 14 May 2013 at 11:32 am
  4. Wake wrote:

    I am such a cyclist. I’d love to have a beer with you, but I don’t think we live in the same city. If you ever get to Louisville get in touch.

    Wake

    Posted 14 May 2013 at 1:26 pm
  5. Khal Spencer wrote:

    One of these days, on a predetermined signal, we are going to have to have a virtual sharing of actual beers.

    Posted 14 May 2013 at 2:13 pm
  6. Andy Cline wrote:

    Wake and Khal … Oh yes. Beer :-)

    Posted 14 May 2013 at 2:21 pm
  7. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Not that I won’t get political.

    http://labikes.blogspot.com/2013/05/yet-another-spin-on-bike-month-2013.html

    Posted 14 May 2013 at 2:38 pm
  8. Diana wrote:

    Next time you’re in Orlando, I’ll put you on a Yuba Mundo instead of a minivelo.

    Posted 14 May 2013 at 3:07 pm
  9. Michael wrote:

    Ooo… I want beer!

    Posted 14 May 2013 at 3:50 pm
  10. marc wrote:

    Bravo. If you are ever in PA look me up if your close enough We can meet for a beer.

    Posted 14 May 2013 at 4:26 pm
  11. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Streetsblog chimed in, predictably.

    http://streetsblog.net/2013/05/14/cyclists-are-special-and-they-should-have-their-own-rules/

    Posted 14 May 2013 at 4:35 pm
  12. Kevin Love wrote:

    Andy wrote:

    “But a part of me longs to just ride my bicycle and have it mean nothing more than I’m going from point A to point B in a way that’s… oooops. Did you catch it? “In a way that’s” indicates a value-statement is on the way”

    Kevin’s comment:

    Not necessarily. How about ending the sentence like this:

    “… in a way that’s the fastest, easiest and most convenient.”

    See, for example, how to set things up so that it’s quicker by bike:

    http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2011/02/its-quicker-by-bike.html

    Posted 14 May 2013 at 7:10 pm
  13. robert wrote:

    “I am not special. I do not require special treatment or special facilities. I require only three things: 1) a culture of respect, 2) street engineering that allows me to follow the rules of safe movement, and 3) proper enforcement of the rules.”

    I think you ARE special in the sense that your bicycling trips are very local and mostly confined to the urban core in a City that has a unique grid system. I suspect (but may be wrong) that if you lived in an area where heavily trafficked arterial streets with average traffic speeds of 45+ MPH were your only choice for some trips that you would start to desire something that helps separate you from the normal traffic flow, like a shoulder, well designed bicycle lane or multi-use path.

    Let’s say, for example, that you had to ride S. Campbell Avenue from Nixa to the University every day. I am confident that you would use the shoulder of that highway almost all the time. That is something other than the three things that you listed above.

    Of course you’re correct that you do not need any special infrastructure in your current situation; an educated bicyclist living in the urban core. Those are all decisions that you made and no one can fault you for that. However, most Americans are living in places where negotiating the very roads you purposely avoid is a necessity.

    You also have the good fortune of having a steady place of employment. Many Americans are fired, laid off and god knows what else every few months. If you buy a home, you can’t always just pick up and move after being fired from Wal-Mart and getting another job at a McDonalds across town. You and I live close to work, that’s a dream for many people because they don’t know where “work” will be one day to the next. Everyone has different circumstances, but hardly any of them are as “bicycle friendly” as yours or mine.

    Hell, I picked my TOWN and neighborhood based entirely on my wife and I’s ability to live without a car. Even after making those decisions, I sometimes have to make it to another suburb and ride on roads that seem very frightening to me. When I’m planning my route I search Google Maps for shoulders (even small ones) and bicycle lanes. The extra width makes a huge difference to me. Even if that extra width has come from narrowing traffic lanes. Personally, I feel more comfortable with the delineation, even if it comes from a simple stripe of paint.**

    I suspect that it would to you as well if you weren’t so insulated from reality (by your own smart planning and good fortune).

    My point: you ARE special. If you weren’t special, you *may start to soften your stance on bicycle lanes. That said – I totally get your point that in the places that you ride, most lanes are an unnecessary hindrance. I also understand your frustration at the inconsistency of the design of the lanes in Springfield.

    **VC advocates often make two statements that are very contradictory although I don’t think they realize that they are.

    Statement #1: Painted lines do not do anything. After all, someone can just drive right over them.
    Statement #2: Bicycle lanes are full of debris because autos are not driving in them and clearing them of debris.

    Posted 14 May 2013 at 11:13 pm
  14. Andy Cline wrote:

    Robert… Yo! Context! I have NEVER claimed there are no contexts where lanes could be appropriate; I claim that I generally do not favor them. In fact, the new organization I am a part of — I Am Traffic — promotes the idea of context-specific infrastructure. The kind of street you describe could certainly be a good context for a lane in areas with limited driveways.

    I agree completely re: your interpretation of my specialness. Yes, I am middle class with enough financial resources and job stability to choose my housing/transportation arrangement. Others are not so lucky. That’s part of what the 1-Mile Solution is about. Just because I am lucky and others are not is not reason enough for me to want to ruin the streets with lanes that — NOTE MY QUALIFICATION — violate the rules of safe movement.

    Posted 15 May 2013 at 6:30 am
  15. Robert wrote:

    I hear you regarding context sensitive infrastructure. Maybe you should add another thing that you need?

    (4) a special facility when the traffic when (and then add in whatever qualifications work for you)

    Posted 15 May 2013 at 6:42 am
  16. Robert wrote:

    Screw up. Let me try again.

    (4) a special facility when …. (and then you add in whatever qualifications work for you)

    I would really be interested to see what you come up with.

    Posted 15 May 2013 at 6:46 am
  17. Khal Spencer wrote:

    I’m also in that situation like Andy. Held two real jobs my whole life, and that was by my choice, not theirs. We have chosen our homes in part by affordability and part by studying how we would transport ourselves around to work and to a lesser degree, because it is less often, shopping.

    Andy has made the point, as I have, that transportation and urban planning are two sides of the same coin. We are fortunate that we are aware of that and don’t have to pick up and move everytime that RapeandBurn, LLC lays off its work force. I do worry about those who are forced to be more mobile.

    Back when I studied Calgary for a week, I noted how nice it was to get around in the old linear grid city. The recent arterial and culdesac developments, with heavily used high speed arterials, were hell. These sorts of developments beg for better solutions for non-motorists, including kids.

    But seems that a lot of the clamor for these special facilities are not in the stupidly build culdesac communities, but in older cities with a grid layout. Comments?

    Posted 15 May 2013 at 6:53 am
  18. Andy Cline wrote:

    Robert… I’m happy to take on that challenge. Please give me a couple of days. And remind me if I take too long. Seriously.

    Posted 15 May 2013 at 7:02 am
  19. Khal Spencer wrote:

    RE: Statement #1: Painted lines do not do anything. After all, someone can just drive right over them.
    Statement #2: Bicycle lanes are full of debris because autos are not driving in them and clearing them of debris.

    Sideswipe or overtaking crashes are very rare events. It only takes the intersection of one errant car with a bicyclist present to have a serious crash. The rest of those motorists are not sweeping the bike lane. So that set of statements is a bit of a red herring.

    One can do a simple enough experiment. Choose a crash location where two cyclist were hit in the bike lane. Count the number of cars that pass this location between crashes. I suspect it is a pretty large number.

    That is the problem with infrequent events. We recently ran into such a situation in Los Alamos. A new nuclear facility was pretty much scrapped because opponents wanted it built to withstand a seismic event that geophysicists say is improbable in the outer extreme. As was recently shown in Russia, we might have more to fear from an asteroid impact. I’m not much of a cheerleader for building overpriced nuclear facilities, but if we are to build a facility, we should have a rational discussion of risk, causation, and mitigation and cost/benefit analysis. Same with bike facilities.

    We might be better off doing something else with all that money, which otherwise goes to create structures that don’t really accomplish what they are designed to accomplish while other stuff goes begging.

    Posted 15 May 2013 at 7:42 am
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