Monday, July 04, 2011

Declaration of Independence

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for a people to dissolve the bands that have connected them to utter dependence on motorized transportation, and to assume among the users of the road the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all road users are created equal and are endowed with certain unalienable rights -- that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. -- that a human being propelling a vehicle by muscle power shall not be subject to the whim, coercion or threat of harm from the operator of a larger vehicle unwilling to share the public right of way. -- that citizens should not feel compelled to purchase and maintain motor vehicles because they do not feel safe outside them. -- that any citizen shall be encouraged to enjoy the advantages economical, physical and environmental, of transportation by bicycle.

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Okay, the grievances that led to the real Declaration of Independence lent themselves to the territorial solution the Declaration laid out, and the bloody war that followed. The Americans wanted their own turf because the British government wasn't meeting their needs. But I was thinking about how choosing the bicycle sets us so firmly apart from people who, for various reasons, wouldn't dream of it. We're not declaring war, but in a way we're fighting one every day, to be seen, respected and accommodated on the public travel ways all our taxes pay for.

The shop actually had a party of renters cancel their reservation while they were driving from the shop to their motel because they were scared by the narrow roads, the traffic volume and the crash they had just witnessed in which a motorcycle had run into the back end of a car.

At least once a week someone tells me they think I'm crazy or stupid or braver than average because I ride on the road. Far more frequently than that I deal with customers selecting their bike specifically to avoid the road. Some of those customers say they would ride the road "if they could." Others say they are perfectly happy to ride only on recreational paths "where they belong."

Meeting the needs of all road users is not easy, especially here in the land of narrow, hilly, winding roads. That doesn't mean it should not be done. When I'm on my bike I slow down for motor vehicle congestion and stop for pedestrians. I don't feel I have the right to rip along at my best speed at all times. Nor do I accept that I should always have to step aside or risk annihilation whenever someone else in a vehicle of any size wants to gain a few seconds by blasting past me in a tight spot. Nowhere is it written in traffic law that a motorist has the right (often expressed as if it was a compulsion) to pass a slower vehicle without changing course or reducing speed wherever the encounter should happen to take place. But that's common practice. Motorists do it around each other and often collide. As cyclists we notice careless or risky behavior because we are more vulnerable to it. We also get to hear from passing critics who might be completely muffled if we were in a car with the windows rolled up.

I've had the idea a few times to quit biking and just drive annoyingly. More effective than Critical Mass might be for all the cyclists one day to drive, adding that many cars to the traffic mix to show the resentful motorists what we have spared them all these years by pedaling.

Freedom isn't free. Most people just pay lip service to that, sending someone else's kids overseas to fight for our national interests and saying nice things about them when they get back. It does not occur to them that you can put yourself on the line for what you believe in just by biking to the grocery store or to work. It just looks foolishly risky compared to riding the roller coaster of oil prices, polluting the air, hating each other in traffic, circling in search of parking, paying off car loans, dealing with repairs and upkeep and spending all that time sitting in a confined space.


Steve A said...

It's really NOT dangerous compared to how it looks.

cafiend said...

I was thinking about that after I posted this. As with air travel, many cyclists complete their journeys without incident. However, because bicycling in traffic seems as if it should be terribly dangerous, whenever a cyclist gets hit it reinforces the impression, just as an air crash creates a ripple of aversion for a while.

I have fewer close calls than I did when I was younger and more foolhardy. Some of those close calls could have taken me out. In those cases I can tell you what mistakes I made. However, motorists do put me at risk with their own bad judgment. I can't tell a beginning rider that a set of techniques will always work. It's intimidating to deal with a street full of drivers, many of whom may not be too sympathetic. Ultimately our safe passage depends on their cooperation.

I know a number of riders who use a mountain bike so they can ride in the ditch rather than try to claim a piece of the pavement. Others have told me they ride against traffic so they can see what's coming at them. They think of themselves as wheeled pedestrians, not as vehicle operators.

As far as motorists are concerned, they just want bikes to stay out of the way, whether it's on the right side of the road or the left. Those of us who can ride fast enough to maneuver in traffic find it easier than riders who go just a couple of miles an hour slower. I get along fine and seldom worry about myself. But I won't always be this spry, and many potential riders aren't as athletic. They shouldn't have to be.

The funny thing is, when I'm in my car I find cyclists just as inconvenient as the other motorists do. I take a lot more time to find safe passing areas because of my experience as a cyclist, but there are certain places I hate to see a rider because I know my patience is going to steam any driver who gets caught behind me.

Mostly I just liked playing with the language of the Declaration of Independence.

RCMC467 said...

Well done, Cafiend, well done.

I hope you don't mind, but I took the liberty of posting this to both my blog and my website, with a link to yours, of course.

If we're lucky, it will go viral and the Cycling Declaration of Independence will become something we all hold dear.

cycler said...

Nicely said!

I think that there is both a difference between being safe and feeling safe, and a tangible difference between a winding 2 lane rural road and a suburban arterial, and the techniques to ride them safely are not necessarily the same.