Category Archives: civil rights

mobility freedom is a community matter

Blood Brothers by Tommy Emmanuel
Cycling and walking are primary human activities akin to our basic needs for clean air and water but we often disregard and suffocate the efforts to get enough biking and walking into our lives. People are increasingly seeking to connect daily habitats through simple and healthy transportation options without overly depending on cars.  The road is a critical part of life for everyone from the poet to the largest industries.  A key step is to keep the road habitat, a place we spend a lot of time in, healthy, clean, safe and enjoyable.  For some reason we seem to be avoiding and procrastinating taking on this most serious challenge of integrating the full array of our activities in a compatible fashion on the road.  We can easily remediate this by committing to rebalancing the transportation paradigm and creating a culture and infrastructure where different transit modes coalesce and synchronize to move people and goods with efficiency and grace.

Our first identity on the roads is our common humanity.  We are all one on the road.  We do not benefit from separating ourselves up into motoring, cycling, and walking categories.  When we recognize that we are “stuck” together and resolve to work together our plans converge.  This is not a conflict or competition dependent on domination and disparaging diverse ways.  We have to honor one another’s presence and negotiate through our common humanity and shared freedoms.  All the great teachers throughout history have shown we benefit the most by keeping our neighbor’s interests at heart.  Why would we be afraid or reluctant to treat each other right on the road?  Project a positive optimism and expect that we can get along together.  How well we take care of one another is a matter of community pride.

Tips for creating growth in our shared road culture and being welcoming of diversity:

Attenuate our sensitivities to the most vulnerable user.  On trails walkers and bikers yield to people on horses.  On multiuse paths cyclists pay attention to and respect walkers by keeping a safe distance and reducing speed according to the situation so walkers don’t feel like they are blown by.  On roads everyone yields to walkers and runners, and motorists reduce speeds and pay close attention around cyclists.  Commercial vehicles and their professional drivers are always working extra hard to be careful and keep their stopping distance at a safe range.  We all pay special attention to and keep on the lookout for children, elderly people, and folks who may be moving more slowly for any reason.  Our mobility environment is built on respect for the power of human beings, not the logic of speed and force or a mechanical and technological hierarchy.  We can take the initiative by extending ourselves through thoughtful positive actions.  We can be team players while enjoying our independence and freedoms.

Patience flows more easily when we expect cyclists and walkers as normal traffic.  Slow down when your visibility drops around blind corners, over hills, or when obstructions block your sight lines.  Always keep your stopping distance less than your sight distance.  You are responsible for navigating safely around other road users.  Scan the road, shoulders, adjacent paths and sidewalks for cyclists and pedestrians, especially at intersections and merging zones.  Cars can be an existential threat to cyclists and walkers.  Be respectful and foster human dignity through generous conduct in the public road environment.  One of the basic calls to safety is driving in a manner suitable for conditions, and modulating forward progress by not hesitating to slow down in response to changing conditions.  Be on the lookout for the safety of others at all times.

Recognize that cyclists are always part of the traffic flow.  Cars still have to share the road when bike facilities are present.  Bike lanes and multi-use paths compliment the on road network to expand biking and walking options and incentivize people to bike and walk more by making for a broader range of attractive choices.  Bike lanes and shared use paths are not mandatory use.  Bike facilities are not designed to restrict bicycling operating space.  Bike facilities are designed to encourage people to ride and give them a more comfortable space to do it.  Pay close attention to cyclists at intersections and merging zones.  Be ready to negotiate position and share lanes at any time.  Always yield to traffic ahead that is occupying a lane.

Respect cyclists’ positioning on the road at all times.  Do not try to forcefully impose your will on any other road users and operate a vehicle in a way to communicate displeasure or disrespect.  There are times cyclists need to leave bike lanes and shoulders:  To pass slower users, avoid obstacles and hazards such as debris and bad pavement, increase visibility through intersections and next to driveways, to make a left hand turn, position themselves correctly at intersections, and to provide for adequate space to maneuver under certain conditions such as high speeds.  Larger groups of cyclists require more space than a narrower bike lane provides.  Cyclists are responsible for making the decision of where to position themselves safely in the road.  Cyclists, like motorists, operate in a challenging environment and must navigate and assess many hazards to keep safe.  Everyone’s awareness is awakening and becoming more attentive to what it takes to keep cyclists and walkers safe.  Respecting access to space is key.  Cyclists have the same interests as motorists and appreciate bike facilities and use them to full advantage.   Cyclists want everything in a road environment that motorists seek.  We are all the same.  The qualities that make for a good walking and bike route make for better conditions for motor vehicle driving.  Creating good roads is a win win win. Our attitudes and participation are a large part of what makes up a good road environment.

Walkers and runners are not automatically prohibited from using bike lanes.  Only cars.

Speed does not impact the rights of road users.  Going faster doesn’t give you more rights.

Everybody is equally important on the road.  There is no place for narcissism or selfishness.  We always have to negotiate with one another and participate in the road community.

Pay attention to one another.   If you want your time to yourself taking public transportation is a great option.  You can use your handheld device all you want on the bus and train.  Transit is great if you have better things to do than drive.

Paying more taxes doesn’t impact the rights of road users.  If that were the rule commercial vehicles, who pay the most taxes, would get to drive in a dominant fashion.  But this is not the case.  The larger and more powerful a vehicle is, the greater threat to the safety of others it becomes.  Thus the drivers of large vehicles have even more responsibility for the safety of others.  Power correlates directly to responsibility.

Enjoy the road and the beautiful shared community it creates, this wonderful mosaic of American life.  The transportation paradigm is constantly being shaped by our daily choices and behaviors.  We might as well be reshaping it to our best image.  We show our pride by demonstrating we can respect and maintain our shared freedom on the road by protecting the experiences of our co-citizens.  I’m glad we are all a part of it together.  See you out there!

References and Context:

There’s a lot of evidence we need to plan for ways of moving people besides cars.

Save $8,000 per year and derive a whole host of myriad benefits by changing your commute:

How’s My Driving?

I’ve heard a similar story from different people on separate occasions regarding motorist concerns for the well being of bicyclists who are riding on narrow country roads with tight corners in places with limited sight lines.  The story goes something like this.  My friends who live out in the country worry that they’ll be driving their truck one day and come around a corner and there will be a bicyclist in the road and oncoming traffic coming the other way and no time to slow or stop.  How worried they are for the cyclist.

The first time I heard this story I thought it was a commentary on ignoring responsibility for dangerous driving habits and placing the blame on someone for just being there in the way of our rushing.   I cycle the stretch of road in their story.  It is a fine country road and I have seen horses and horseriders two abreast in the lane, slow moving construction vehicles, off highway vehicles, snowmobiles crossing the road in winter, walkers, cars pulled over not quite off the road, utility workers, logging equipment, cable guys laying cable, and though I have not seen a tractor out there it seems like there could be one.  It is a quiet road and people feel at ease taking life slowly and watching wildlife.  All good reasons to drive at a controllable rate of speed especially around blind corners.  We always need to be prepared to slow and stop and adjust our speed for conditions.  That is the responsibility that comes with driving.

The second time I heard this same basic story told by a different person about a different friend on another country road it troubled me more because there was a pattern of dangerous thought here coming from intelligent people who are also bike advocates.  I shared my concern today with a friend over coffee.  He made a tremendous insight.  He said it was exceptional the motorist in each story is acknowledging they know cyclists use the road and anytime they are driving around a corner too fast they are fully aware they could possibly be endangering a cyclist.  Chilling insight into the consequences of failing to think worlds exist outside of car culture. The motorist is making a statement that they refuse to change their driving habits even though they know they are endangering their neighbors.  A strange insistence on driving like bicyclists or other road users are not there.  It is our responsibility to hold one another to the common standard of behaving in a way that coexists with all human life.  There is nothing wrong with seeing from our self interests as motorists and wanting to get to our destination easily.  All it takes to be a considerate and safer driver is to think one step ahead and incorporate the interests of others into our driving outlook, and then we’ll get to our destination quickly enough without doing damage to other people in our communities.  Live and let live.  Include the well being of others in our world view.

Legitimate Citizens on the Road

Bicyclists are constantly clawed at with accusations of illegitimacy even amongst people who ride bikes.  How can we stand up and be proud and view bicycling as an equal way to move people so long as there are bicyclists that break the rules?  Bicyclists will never be perfect citizens.  Nobody ever is.  Imperfection does not negate basic rights and the right to be included.  There is no threshold of near perfection to exceed in order to be accepted.  That bar does not exist.  It is a fantasy construct to rationalize bias and apprehension.  Acceptance is unconditional.  Would anyone question the general legitimacy of cars on the road because a motorist behaves irresponsibly?  Cars are completely accepted and viewed as normal and inevitable so we tolerate and absorb the risk and inconveniences.  We don’t profile all motorists or question the basic legitimacy of cars on the road when mistakes are made.  That bicyclists are treated differently is a sign that our perceptions are askew.  The fact that imperfection is categorically held against one group is an old trick to delay acceptance and maintain a comforting uniformity in the mainstream.  This ancient fallacy has been brought out as artillery firing at every marginalized group seeking equal and accepted status.  The real question is why do we put up with the injustice and ongoing damage that putting down bicycling is doing to our fellow human beings and our society?  The delay in viewing bicyclists as completely normal first class citizens is hindering the development of a diversified transportation system with more good choices for all.  The only thing that can free us from perceptual barriers is the critical thinking power of our minds.  If we follow the guide post of freedom and see bicycles as equal and treat bicyclists as legitimate citizens on the road in this moment we will change the world by simply changing our mind.

when cars turn against people

Yesterday on the Saturday community bicycle ride down Lake Mary Road south of Flagstaff, a chevy pickup driver steered his vehicle into two bicyclists, hitting them with his truck, while screaming “get out of the road!”.  Unfortunately during the summer tourist season bicyclists receive low level harassment and are endangered by motorists regularly.  This is not the first incident I’ve been present at when a motorist forcefully used her/his vehicle to “teach us a lesson”.  The kind Sheriff responding to our 911 call yesterday must have been wondering, why would we keep coming out to do this ride when our safety continually is threatened?  First, it is an appropriate road to do a group bicycle ride on (more on that in an upcoming post!).  Second, well, we are Americans, and Americans don’t compromise their passions for living just because hate criminals and people willing to take advantage of power differentials are out there on the prowl.  We are a courageous not cowardly people.  Third, intolerance is antithetical to American values, and we stand up for those values, not run away from attacks on our common bond of civility.  Hostile traffic and road rage is not unique to bicycling, it is a problem for everybody.  We believe in equality and justice, the sanctity of human dignity in every individual, the right to pursue happiness, and recognizing our common humanity beyond the labels that describe our differences.  There is no better place than the United States for these ideals to thrive.  We need to support victims, not reprimand them, and teach vehicle operators that escalating a misunderstanding or trying to punish someone, or even being rude to a fellow road user, is a non-starter.

Law abiding bicyclists riding with consideration for others have no need to apologize.  After repeatedly being treated like they are doing something wrong, most cyclists I know end up thinking from someplace deep inside themselves that can’t quite be pinpointed that there is something wrong with riding a bicycle on the road, that there is something wrong with them.  These are symptoms of being a recipient of continual abuse.  This is a rather traumatic “normalized” state for people to be functioning in.  It is a drain on society, the families and children of bicyclists, for our employers, for reaping the full service potential from our citizenship.  The most common reaction is for people to turn away from road biking and retreat to mountain biking, or some other calming activity.  The closing of opportunities is a huge problem we can reverse with a concerted, unified, sustained effort.  Often times law abiding bicyclists’ safe and predicable road manners are misinterpreted by motorists who don’t understand other points of view exist on the road besides the one from their own windshield.  I sent a letter to the editor to the Arizona Daily Sun knowing this educational component was not universally understood.  The Pima County Sheriff’s Office put out a nice memo clarifying the commonly misunderstood rights of bicyclists.  It would be beneficial for Flagstaff Police and the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office to jointly develop a uniform enforcement policy confirming the same rights, and for the motor vehicle department to initialize educational campaigns and training modules informing the public of the shared road guidelines.  Check out the “Bicycle Law Enforcement: Enforce Laws with Mutual Respect” article on Flagstaff Cycling.  There are more good resources for bicyclists on where to ride in the “Street Smarts” publication, and it is ok for motorists to cross train in this realm too, even if you don’t ride, perhaps especially if you don’t ride.  The law is on the side of bicyclists, but the public perception needs to come around so differences are better understood from our shared common ground as legitimate citizens on the shared road:

We have a big mountain to climb in front of us to put these principles into motion as normalized best practices on the road, and to stop the discrimination against bicyclists.  The best thing we can do is to understand why these crimes are happening and make sure drivers have the tools, knowledge and support they need to make peaceful decisions going forward.  We can forgive, warm up our hearts with compassion and move forward, recommitting to relating to each other on equal, mutually respectful terms.  I hope the riders that were hit yesterday are healing up OK, in their bodies (they appeared OK, they were very lucky, and highly skilled to stay upright), but equally so in their psyches, where post traumatic stress syndrome can sneak in and start strangulating the state of feeling well.  Keep riding, be rolling ambassadors, take care of each other, come forward and voice your concerns so everyone hears from you, and never stop working to make the shared road a microcosm for the democratic values we formed this wonderful nation to preserve.  We can do better than bashing each other around.  Let’s give hope some legs.  Time to go for a ride!

When People are Around, Slow Down

I sent this letter to the editor to our local newspaper the Arizona Daily Sun a few weeks ago but never heard back from them.  I resent it this morning.  The main thing I was trying to accomplish was to build understanding and basic respect for the rights of bicyclists on the road.  It is funny to think you have to remind people not to use their motor vehicles as instruments of intimidation or as weapons against co-citizens, but unfortunately our experience tells us much progress is yet to be made in this realm of society where violent tendencies still reign.



Letter to the Editor, Arizona Daily Sun Newspaper, Flagstaff, Arizona

When People are Around, Slow Down:  Bicyclists in Consideration

Bicycling season is in full swing in Arizona’s high country, and the Arizona Governor’s Office for Highway Safety reminds us that “bicyclists may occupy any part of a lane when their safety warrants it”.  Bicyclists have full legal access to the travel lane including when a bicycle lane is present.  Bicyclists are trained to ride as far to the right as practical, not possible.  When bicyclists are in the travel lane as part of traffic, they may be passing other cyclists or road users, avoiding deteriorated road surfaces, or navigating obstacles such as broken glass and dangerous debris.  Slow down, wait to pass until it is safe to do so, and provide the recommended passing distance of at least five feet (three feet is the absolute minimum) from the furthest point of your vehicle, including mirrors and trailers, and the bicyclists’ left elbow and leg.

The Federal DOT considers “bicycling equal with other transportation modes” and bicyclists have equal access to our roads.  When passing groups of bicyclists be especially prepared to wait until it is safe to pass.  “By law, cyclists always have the right of first come, first served in the lane that they are occupying.  Vehicles can’t legally intrude into their path, or pass them, unless it is safe to do so” according to Peace Officer Kirby Beck in Law and Order magazine.  This means drivers may have to be patient and wait to pass bicyclists until the oncoming lane is completely clear of traffic, especially when passing groups of bicyclists.  Never use your vehicle as a weapon to threaten, harass, intimidate or endanger the safety of your neighbors on Arizona’s beautiful roads.  We need everyone on board to help Arizona actualize our full potential in welcoming and encouraging active and renewable transportation so that we may keep reaching towards our full potential as healthy citizens with a diverse array of good transportation choices.  Thank you!

Mark Aasmundstad, Flagstaff Cycling member.  Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists, Flagstaff Representative. Former over-the-road 18-wheeler commercial driver.  Current Arizona State Time Trial, Team Time Trial, and Hill Climb Champion.  USA Cycling license # 210273