Monday, January 7, 2013

The Other 99%

The case for separated cycling infrastructure is fraught with opposing arguments from motorists and this new term "existing cyclists." A lot of bike policies are based on taking into account "existing cyclists". What are existing cyclists? Mostly, what they refer to are the "road warriors"— cyclists who drive their bikes like cars in with normal motorized traffic. This isn't for the faint of heart. Sometimes you have to learn to be a road warrior in order to get around your neighborhood because of a lack of infrastructure if you insist on riding your bike. There are legions and whole squadrons dedicated to teaching people to be "Cycle Savvy" and how to ride with confidence with traffic so you don't get yourself killed with a mistake on your part. A mistake on your part is as simple as swerving to avoid something or falling off your bike. These mistakes can be death sentences. I personally feel that they provide a great education for how to cycle in an urban environment, but one can argue this topic to death whether or not bicycles are, or should be, part of traffic (in the US it means motorized traffic) and I don't feel that they are. Cars always travel, at a minimum, twice the speed and thus injury potential become that much greater. Pedestrians have protection from cars but cyclists, who are just as exposed and fragile, are given no provisions other than a cheap line on the road. There's group rides like "Critical Mass" who try to educate drivers to share the roads, using large groups of cyclists to promote awareness for a population, but what it accomplishes remains to be seen. Miami hasn't accomplished hardly anything truly meaningful as a result of all of this exposure and all of these advocacy groups. The City and FDOT just nod and do the opposite.

Being a "Road Warrior" does not mean you have to wear lycra and ride a road bike or or be a fearless bike messenger.  A road warrior is also a transportation cyclist. You do what you can to get from Point A to B in one piece and you get a sense of satisfaction every day of conquering the road and setting a good example to motorists of properly behaved cyclists so they stop stereotyping all of us as instantly irritating. Road Warriors are all about safety, so they don any number of accessories to decrease the motorists' capabilities of being able to claim that "they didn't see them. This includes, but is not limited to, helmets, reflective vests, flags, enormous amount of blinkie lights, bright clothing, mirrors everywhere including on helmet, and video cameras attached to helmets to record any altercations. They can be long-distance commuters or travelers so you will see tons of luggage and panniers strapped to the bikes with reflective bits. Sometimes they look like a circus on wheels but it gives them a sense of security. If they could, they would erect a steel cage around the bicycle. That's great and all when it comes to things you can control, which is very little compared to what responsibilities drivers of large vehicles have and it's evident that they don't respect these responsibilities half the time, as plagued by news stories. These existing cyclists attempt to argue that what's good enough for them is good enough for everyone else. They don't need the money spent on special lanes for them. They like riding with cars. Or another argument that irritates me is that "we have it better than a lot of places." With this mindset, you will never see increased cycling numbers because this is not the main group of people who ride bicycles. They are a fringe group that has just been adapting to their environment and collectively mourning whoever succumbs to it. Their friends and family constantly bug them to be very careful or worse, stop cycling because it's unsafe. This group who thinks it's unsafe is the group that the special infrastructure would accommodate and they raise the cycling numbers. They are the other 99%. These are the "potential" cyclists whom leaders and planners need to target in their policies when it comes to bike lanes.

Occasionally you will see them on bikes but only where they feel safe. City planners should look to these potential cyclists to see where improvements can be made because they know they will be used. These are the infamous sidewalk cyclists. You can't pay them to ride in the street, much less use a cheaply painted bike lane the right way. Be glad they are out at all, at least getting exercise. Mostly, cycling is a recreational hobby to them that has the potential to turn into active transport cycling if safer accommodations would be made for them. This is why I say they are "potential" because if they see cycling becoming more efficient and safe for them than taking a car to get around, they will bike. They will bike because they already love biking. With the relative flatness here and pleasant weather, it's a potential cycling paradise. This group includes the elderly, families, and people with very short distances on relatively safe streets that can somewhat use the bicycle to commute. They wear helmets or they don't, but that's about as far as they go for accessories. They "should" have lights. Riding on sidewalks is vastly inefficient and slow compared with street cycling, but they are hardly risking their lives, except maybe at crosswalks and driveways. Some of these sidewalk cyclists will ride in the street in the bike lane on the opposite side of traffic, known as salmoning, because they can see the traffic. It's a misappropriated sense of security and is a symptom of the lack of infrastructure conflicting with their desire to cycle efficiently (not on a sidewalk).

So tell me, how many road warriors do you see out compared with potential cyclists? Who should planners base the cities' future policies on? Better infrastructure to accommodate everyone and encourage exercise and a healthy connectivity to the neighborhood without risking your life or no infrastructure changes because existing cyclists learned to cope?

The former Mayor of Bogotá in Colombia, Enrique Peñalosa once said,  
"Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people." 
“We cannot continue to deceive ourselves thinking that to paint a little line on a road is a bikeway. A bicycle way that is not safe for an 8-year old is not a bikeway.“

New Palm Beach Cycle Chic Family

Are our little painted bike lanes on a street safe enough infrastructure improvements for this family? Or sharrows?

Ladies Bike Ride

These ladies are road warriors. They can ride fearlessly with cars. In reality, they'd prefer not to if they had the option.

Palm Beach Cycle Chic

This ingenious extension of the Trail going underneath the bridge is brilliant. Do you think she would rather try to cross that intersection in the street?

Untitled

More families can enjoy the outdoors and come to the downtown via bike. Makes for a more vibrant community as a whole.

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