Friday, November 3, 2017

Can We Be Enraged When Cyclists Are Killed...All The Time? and other post-NYC questions

Picture I took biking just after the Five Boro Bike Tour, 2014.

A pretty nerdy thing I am proud of is some work I did on the Connecticut Bike & Pedestrian Advisory Board a few years ago. I worked with a small number of people in the state DOT to reword a few things in the driver's ed manual - a document that probably hadn't been updated since before I got my license in the Nutmeg State a long time ago.

Going through the manual with a red pen was kinda gratifying in that I could make edits that would be seen by thousands of Connecticut teens who would, the hope went, learn about driving in more of a share-the-road style. One thing I distinctly remember was a passage in a section about aggressive driving behavior. It started like this: "When a driver, bicyclist or other road user does something to anger you, do not retaliate..." 

My suggestion was to replace the word "to" with "that." My reasoning was that actions that annoy or anger road aren't always done to get that result. For example, the guy who passed me too closely on Market St. in San Jose (he broke the three-foot law as he sped by...only for me to easily pass him at the next traffic light) didn't say when he left work that day: "You know what? I'm gonna piss off a cyclist on the way home."

I thought changing the word "to" to "that" might be a good step in creating a road culture that recognizes that things that anger you are things that are often done unintentionally, and should just be let go. I have no idea if this change works or not, but it is still in the Connecticut Driver's Manual to this day (you can find it on page 25).

Another part of my reasoning was that not matter what I am riding, any kind of a fight between me and a motor vehicle that outweighs me by twenty or thirty times I am going to lose. 

So when I hear people talk about how awful it is that cyclists were mowed down by a truck on a bike path in New York - one that I rode on frequently when I lived out there - I have to ask a few questions.

Have you been standing with us as we've been trying to build safer streets? If not, can you stand with us now?

I've been to many a town hall meeting where motorists gripe when cycling infrastructure of any kind is on the table. The disproportional anger I see is bang-your-head-against-the-wall irritating. In fact, the Mercury News' Mr. Roadshow column just ran a letter from a motorist (one who, no doubt, complains incessantly about car traffic without realizing he is part of the problem by driving) whining about a new $35 million bike and pedestrian bridge being built. Yet this area seems to routinely spend $1 billion or more on one highway interchange and nobody bats an eyelash.

                    View of the Freedom Tower from the bike path in 2013

And that's not even the worst part - the worst part is these massive car-oriented projects do not work. In 2014, NBC ran a story showing that after spending a billion dollars, commute times went up one minute after widening a ten-mile stretch of the 405. Of course, once the public and elected officials realized this, they decided not to build any more highways.

I am, of course, kidding. Just last month I saw the headline: i-405 Improvement Project Aims to Shorten Commute Times. The project, funded by Measure M, is expected to cost about $1 billion. 

The only way to improve highways is to have fewer people driving on them. That happens when big, effective bike/ped/train infrastructure is built and people leave the car and take the bicycle. Even if it doesn't happen overnight, cities and states can change their metrics over to Vehicle Miles Traveled from the outdated, car-friendly Level of Service and build roads as Complete Streets. 

Would your response to the NYC attack be the exact same if the angry person behind the wheel was white and wasn't motivated by ISIS?

Like I wrote in the Connecticut Driver's Manual, people on the road don't always do something intentionally to anger someone. But let's talk about those who do. Not just the terrorist in New York, but the one in the pickup truck in Marin, who, the very same month of the NYC attack,  intentionally rammed cyclists on a charity ride before taking off. He was eventually found and a lot of cycling advocates were at the arraignment

There has been very little coverage of this since then. 

If the driver in Marin wasn't white screamed something in a foreign language while attempting murder, what would the coverage be then? 

You know the answer to that already. 

You also know how angry I can get when journalists do the color-by-numbers coverage of a crash that involves a bike or pedestrian. It's not a sexy, click-baity topic like terrorism. 

The reporters often use words that assign blame (such as asking "was he in the crosswalk?" in an accusatory tone) and almost never follow up with the people affected by tragedy. It's long past time to talk about the design of roads and the use of motor vehicles to begin with. 

Cause, you know, we take off our shoes at the airport because of some dolt fifteen years ago and you don't see news stories of someone going on a rampage and running people down on a cargo bike, do you? 

                    View of the Freedom Tower from the bike path, 2013

Are you ready to speak up and ban cars from cities altogether for national security reasons?

This kind of question and conversation that will follow is going to make a lot of people really uncomfortable and possibly angry.

I don't care. It still needs to happen.

We're wading toward it now - and someone more famous and more articulate than me (that is a really big pool) needs to take this up. One kid gets killed by an alligator in Florida and nets go up all around the ponds. A tiny number of lithium batteries burn and talks of banning them from flights engulf us all. Four planes are used as weapons and cockpit doors of thousands and thousands are fortified. 

Can we harness that kind of reaction when cyclists and pedestrians are killed instead of shrugging? And can we do something other than making it illegal to look at a phone in a crosswalk? 

    Avert your eyes, Honolulu (also your ordinance won't make pedestrians safer) 
Cyclists and pedestrians have to share space everyday with machines that weigh thousands of pounds and can do an incredible amount of damage in the wrong hands. This is already in addition to the fact that cars cost a lot, pollute, are bad for our waistlines and take up space in cities that can be better used to build affordable housing. 

The time is now for city engineers to take several steps to not just do more to separate cars from bikes and pedestrians, but separate cars from cities altogether. 

I know these questions may not go anywhere and in a week ADHDmerica may have moved on to something else. I can tell you one thing though. Bicycles were in cities before cars and before terrorists. And we will be in cities after both of those are gone. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Cranksgiving San Jose update -  It is happening on Nov. 18th. Like Cranksgiving San Jose on Facebook and learn how you can help feed hungry Bay Area families this season!


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