“The only problem with the law is that nobody but cyclists know it.” –Steve Tilford
One of the more discouraging aspects of bicycling is the too-close pass. Unsafe passing is always physically scary but it can be especially tough mentally when it’s intentional. I saw this comment on Steve Tilford’s blog: “I don’t know how many times in my lifetime I’ve had people yell single file to me. Probably 1000’s.” For people to flourish on public roads, to make them healthier roads, we have to target threatening, intimidating and irresponsible behaviors. We are advancing civil rights in many social areas, why not transport? We all know that mobility is fundamental to American identity, we are a people on the move. This song reminds me of these bicycling times, “not the best of times but they’re the only times I’ve ever known”.
The hardest part of the violence I’ve witnessed (first hand and through story) is the damage it does to people and communities. Perfectly healthy well adjusted people saying I’m not sure if it is worth it if I can’t stay safe out here cycling. Tilford has another post about the upsurge in gravel road riding, in part driven by the desire to avoid motorized traffic. I would say the majority of bicyclists prefer mountain biking simply because it feels safer. There are positive drivers for off road cycling–the beauty and solitude backcountry affords, the intimate contact with the textures of raw earth felt through your tires, the technical challenges–but much of it is driven by avoidance, people who just don’t want to deal with the chaotic behavior on roads. People want to support bicycling for all good reasons, begin by enforcing safety on the road.
The best address I’ve read for this was produced by the American Psychological Association’s “Task Force on Reducing and Preventing Discrimination Against and Enhancing Benefits of Inclusion of People Whose Social Identities Are Marginalized in U.S. Society”. They did this report called Dual Pathways to a Better America that is really succinct and universal. The premise basically is that promoting diversity is the proper anecdote. The bicycling community is well aware that acculturation to bicycling–when it is naturalized and people become accustomed to it, and most people do it at one time or another–disarms that “otherness” and creates a normalcy, helping us connect as humans. “Discrimination, stereotyping and bias generate exclusion and marginalization for certain groups and wrap a blanket of inclusion, security and opportunity around others…Irrefutable psychological evidence supports the understanding that everyone is affected by systems of discrimination, and when these systems are challenged, the eventual acceptance of and support for social diversity is exponentially healthier for everyone” (APA report, introduction). The intolerable part about biases in transportation (including the conception of privilege) is that human life is in the balance.
I’ll be writing a lot about this, but for now, there’s an important quote here from the FHWA approach for accommodating active transport:
“There is no question that conditions for bicycling and walking need to be improved in every community in the United States; it is no longer acceptable that 6,000 bicyclists and pedestrians are killed in traffic every year, that people with disabilities cannot travel without encountering barriers, and that two desirable and efficient modes of travel have been made difficult and uncomfortable.”
This FHWA document is insightful and thorough in its evaluation and disruption of the status quo, and recommends good changes. This is a call to action that takes responsibility and changes attitudes. The Vision Zero framework, one that approaches every traffic injury as preventable, is helpful moving forward. “Ethics: Human life and health are paramount and take priority” is principle number one. If we change our attitudes and make people the priority we win, and the world and the roads connecting it will be a better place, good times to come. Then the stories we write about the road, our hopes and dreams, will help to move us forward.