Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Time is running out for everyone

While reading this article on "The Importance of Social Justice in Cycling Policy," I found much with which I agree. The authors, John Pucher and Ralph Buehler, stress that no single change will miraculously bring about a great cycling environment in the United States. While their names might invite mocking comparison to mewl and puke, I mention this merely to knock the legs out from under any detractor who might think it was an overlooked gem of wit.

In any situation that could affect the expenditure of a large amount of money, one might reasonably sniff carefully to detect disinformation and propaganda. If the study authors had highlighted the massive effort, expense and complexity of instituting changes to infrastructure and education to improve cycling, I might wonder if it was faint praise by cycling opponents working undercover to discourage any attempt. Indeed, the zealous insistence that vehicular cycling techniques on existing roadways are the one true faith does more to discourage major participation in cycling than does a frank and full evaluation of problems involved and their potential solutions.

If the bike industry can bury a disinterested population under hundreds of bike models, surely we can entertain many valuable options to improve the conditions in which we ride.

In particular I appreciated Pucher and Buehler's reference to aging or elderly riders. I plan to be an elderly rider, and I don't plan on retiring obediently to some separate path to nowhere to toddle along in my dotage. Cycling can improve the quality of life for older people from both a physiological and an economic standpoint. I have stretched a modest income a long way by keeping my transportation and health care expenses low. The bicycle has been a crucial part of this.

I was still in my 30s when I began to wonder how I might fare as a transportation cyclist in old age. Since the only way to avoid old age is to die young, I want options, should I happen to survive.

Failure to provide better transportation options amounts to class warfare against people who can't afford to play the car game or who try to avoid it. Right now, many people in many parts of the world aspire to own cars and whiz around the way we do. It was a good few decades, from the end of World War II through the 1980s. Unquestionably, we are the victim of our own success with motor vehicles. Traffic and parking issues afflict every urban center and Sprawlopolis.

The people who can remember how it was before car ownership became almost a universal requirement don't tend to remember it as a good time. An 81-year-old man I know in Wolfeboro drives his car a few hundred yards to the grocery store and post office rather than be seen demeaning himself on the sidewalk. In the summer I regularly beat him to the store and back, whether I'm cycling or walking. But still he drives. What's more, he's been doing it since he was a lot younger. And he's a very well-preserved 81. He could easily walk on his errands. He's just embarrassed to do so.

This same octogenarian cycles happily on the rail trail in town, once he drives the mile to it from his house. If he felt safer on the roads he might consider riding more. And he is not alone in his trepidation. We fit out dozens of riders for the path. They use it even after they take one of the nasty spills for which the path is famous because of its poor design. The path has definitely sent more people to the hospital than car-bike crashes have contributed in the years since the path was built. It is still viewed as a safer, more desirable cycling venue than the street.

The path highlights the desire for cycling facilities protected from the perception of motorist harm and the need for those facilities to be truly well made.

Car-free downtown areas would help a lot. To accommodate this, cyclists and walkers would have to accept pedicabs, rickshaws and low-powered motorized transport for people who really can't get themselves around and those who obstinately refuse to. Traffic is traffic. People make mistakes or do boneheaded things. Things can and should be better. They will never be perfect. I hope the voices of reason prevail soon, so we can actually get moving. It starts with people repeating reasonable ideas and refusing to be drawn into shoving matches.

3 comments:

Rantwick said...

Cafiend, you never cease to impress me with your wider, well-reasoned and balanced views on cycling stuff.

You close was best of all... "It starts with people repeating reasonable ideas and refusing to be drawn into shoving matches". I think you a practice what you preach pretty damn well. Great post.

cafiend said...

Thanks for the support. The helmet flame war sort of got me down. Flame wars in general get me down. I know the temptation. I've given into it may times. It usually blows back eventually. Scorched earth grows nothing.

Doohickie said...

Indeed, the zealous insistence that vehicular cycling techniques on existing roadways are the one true faith does more to discourage major participation in cycling than does a frank and full evaluation of problems involved and their potential solutions.

Yes, yes, YES! In the end, VC is organic and natural (if such a thing can be said about vehicular traffic). But to insist that every new rider instantly let go of what we were taught as "bicycle safety" when we were kids is just unrealistic.

Encourage people to get a bike and ride it. Once they rediscover the thrill of the wind in their face, and once they recognize their are problems with there habits, and once they start to realize there might be a better way, then they are ready to begin to hear phrases like "take the lane."

Vehicular cycling is something that requires a personal commitment to be done consistently. Badgering people into it doesn't create that commitment; people have to reach the conclusion that VC has benefits on their own, without others preaching it to them.