An Open Love

“We want to create a community where we redefine what it means to be a cyclist, an inclusive and diverse community where people feel like they belong.” –Hilena Tibebe, New Yorkers are biking for black lives–and to end disparities in cyclingThe Washington Post, August 26, 2020

“Love flowers best in openness and freedom.”  –Edward Abbey

I believe the activity of cycling itself is the best communication tool for advocating for cycling and all its benefits, the connections cycling builds to health, nature, and our communities.  Along the way I’ve realized we also need to do more than just ride.  We need to create structural support for cycling and related self-powered mobility activities such as walking and rolling devices such as wheelchairs.  We need to build safe, inclusive environments.  So in 2013 I dove into the holistic side of cycling advocacy, and was really surprised to learn that some people who were advocating for cycling were divided.  Some people say that cycling needs to be separated from other vehicular traffic, such as automobiles.  Other people, usually experienced cyclists who know to go anywhere you need to use the system that’s been designed to connect places–our streets and roads–you need to deal with other traffic.  I think this is a false divide, and I advocate for a dual pathways approach, meaning we can cycle on both separated paths and regular, inclusive streets and roads.  Cycling is diverse and versatile.

“Someone else doesn’t have to be wrong for you to be right.” –Aileen, a New Mexican cyclist

An important aspect of designing for human movement is focusing on where our travel paths come together.  The term we most often use for this is “intersections” but there are no intersections in nature.  Things flow together and there are relationships.  When we think about travel relationships we have to think about power disparities and relational equalities, and creating an encouraging environment for those that may feel disadvantaged.  The easiest or common way to think about this is manners–such as when someone is at a disadvantage for opening a door, whether it be they are pushing a baby stroller, carrying bags, or are older and more frail–we offer to open it for them.  For a lot of reasons we need to understand better, in our normalized travel environment of the public road, we sometimes forget our manners, and the more powerful users take their advantage.  This goes against our values.

We need to ‘reconfigure our social relations on a plane of equality so everyone can flourish.’ –Elizabeth Anderson, MacArthur Foundation fellow 2019

The secret is to respect each other.  This begins with uniting the cycling advocates, and probably is dependent on people who are cycling valuing themselves and their own activities. Self-trust.  Most of all we need a culture of encouragement where people feel safe and supported. Every person is a cycling advocate, since cycling is a public experience.  It is part of our shared world.

It helps me to empathize with what people are feeling and experiencing.  We need to improve safety on the road for cyclists and all travelers, so I empathize with people who prefer to cycle on multi-use trails and paths for safety reasons.  And for people who cycle on the road, we need safety improvements made for our sake too!  We have feelings and sensitivities!  We love life!

In reality most of us cycle on all kinds of facilities, from roads to trails.  They are not mutually exclusive. I like it all.  The key is to have a choice to be able to cycle where you want to, to feel free to do so, and to be inclusive.  Every single person can feel welcome to bicycle.

“That can be me.” –Hilena Tibebe in The Washington Post (link at top of this blog post)

Further reading:

This post discusses the safety problems that arise when we deal with bias (for certain transportation types, or “modes”) in street design, operations and public relations.

“All of us” highlights unexpected unity we see in cycling

“Home trails” touches on the empathy we experience when we tune in to others we meet on the trail.

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