Thursday, October 11, 2007

Same crap, different country

When a blogger from New Zealand linked to this blog the other day, I checked to see what it was all about. It turned out to be one of those articles about how dangerous cycling is, how cyclists make up their own rules and blow through traffic lights, etc, etc.

The piece started out in this fashion:

“Thanks to Al Gore, biking to work has attained a new cachet. You can exercise, get to work, and save the earth all at the same time.

But cycling is - particularly on New Zealand roads - dangerous. About a dozen cyclists die on our roads each year, and lots more suffer injuries as a result of accidents. And most commuters will be able to recount a near miss or two observed in rush hour traffic.”

Now wait a minute, let's back up here. A dozen cyclists killed a year in New Zealand. That's hardly a statistic to back up a claim that cycling is dangerous. I did some checking and discovered that New Zealand has a population of over four million people.

Twelve out of four million killed on a bicycle in a year must rank up there with people slipping in their bathtub listed as a cause of death. How many people died in cars in New Zealand in a similar period? A lot more than twelve, I guarantee.

In another part of the piece, there is this strange statement:

“Some cyclists seem to operate to an odd code which permits traveling through red lights and transferring occasionally to footpaths when it suits. Not to mention the odd sight of Lycra-clad cyclists in cafés sipping lattés.”

He said, “Not to mention Lycra-clad cyclists,” but he did anyway. This says a lot about the author of this article. The statement has nothing to do with safety or any other issue in the piece, but clearly shows he is anti-cyclist. I find a statement like this disturbing, coming from an educated man, who happens to be a lawyer no less.

I will go even further and say he is a bigot. If you were to substitute the words "Lycra-clad cyclist" with the name of a race of people or their color, this would be a bigoted statement. He is judging a whole group of people solely on their appearance.

I have explained before why I wear Lycra. For safety; bright colors can be seen; and for comfort; riding fifty miles or more in anything else is uncomfortable.

If I decide to stop for refreshment at the end of my ride with a few like-minded friends, am I to carry a change of clothes for fear I might be discriminated against? And what is the reason for this discrimination that seems to be world wide?

It goes beyond simple road rage. Is it because society as we know it can no longer discriminate against anyone on the grounds of race, sexual orientation, or religion? The "Lycra-clad cyclist" fills a void. Why this human need to make outcasts of anyone who appears a little different?

You can read the rest of the article here.


Anonymous said...

funny, because i wore my tight yellow jersey & yellow pants,while riding my bike everyday this week,,,oh yea,,i did blow thru a stop light this morning,but the reason was two cars hit head on right in front of me ,which resulted in two deaths,,,,.......WHAT A IDIOT.!!!!!.this guy is the type that never leaves the house.....

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is an interesting world we live in, that is for sure. One thing in the article that got me thinking was the point regarding riding through stop signs and bicyclists creating their own rules of the road. It struck a nerve with me because in this month's issue of Bicycling Magazine, there is a rather long article about Critical Mass. It is one of the few articles I have ever read in any magazine that will cause me write to the editor.

Critical Mass, in my mind, is the one, single cycling event, which takes place every month, that does nothing to promote cycling. Rather, it creates the image as noted by the blogger. Here in San Francisco, I've had my run in's with the crowd, as they block traffic, run stop signs and red lights and in general disobey all of the traffic rules, all in the name of creating cycling awareness. In my mind, its just an excuse to run wild for a few hours and screw "the man." It's now taken on a world wide presence. Just as I dislike drivers in cars trying to impose their will on me while I am on a bike, I despise bikers attempting to do the same on automobile drivers. It's a deadly recipe, either way.

Two months ago, in San Francisco, one rider threw his bike through the rear window of a minivan, because the middle aged driver, with her small children in the vehicle, got caught up in the Critical Mass mess and attempted to get out of it. Surrounded by bike riders who would not let her move, she attempted to get off the street, brushing one bike rider, which caused him to fall from his bike. The group went crazy and the result was a blown out rear window, all with the startled mother and small children inside the vehicle. As it turns out, the individual who fell of his bike, simply remounted and moved on. Almost a "no harm - no foul" situation. But the crowd would not hear of it.

I'd really like to see an article on Critical Mass. I'm sure the comments would be very diverse. Critical Mass, when started, may have been a good idea, but it is far overshadowed by hooligans who view this as an opportunity to ride without any restrictions. It is a black eye on the cycling community.

Anonymous said...

I'm probably more anti-automobile than the average cyclist, but I think we need to acknowledge that a great many cyclists are a danger not only to themselves, but to pedestrians, and most notably for our purposes, to other cyclists.

These people totally ignore not only the actual rules of the road, but even just the basic civilities of life. Sure, I go through red lights and stop signs too, sometimes, when it seems appropriate to do so, but unlike the many cyclists I encounter on my rides, I don't just blow by them without even slowing as I see many do.

Just this past summer alone, I can't begin to count the number of close encounters I have had on my bike riding in the close quarters of downtown streets, with so-called cyclists who act as if the road exists for their own personal gratification, and to hell with anyone else who happens to also use it.

Every summer, on the one downtown corner where I live, at least a few pedestrians are hit and are seriously injured by cyclists who turn the wrong way on the one way street without slowing down and against the red light. There's just no excuse for that kind of behaviour on a bike, no matter what kind of clothing the cyclist is wearing.

As a cyclist and a car-free person, I think I'm enough of a realist to say that cyclists can be their own worse enemies in terms of reputation with the rest of the road and sidewalk using public (which by the way, includes cyclists who also sometimes drive or walk).

It won't suffice to complain about drivers unless we make an effort to clean up our own act.

Of course, I suspect that cyclists of my generation and Dave Moulton's generation probably aren't often among the more serious offenders. I think there's also probably a disconnect between those who live and work mostly in gated suburban areas and those who live in downtown core type of areas.

Anonymous said...

Having started cycling in the UK in the fifties, I was subject to extreme scrutiny by the police. Blowing a stop sign or even having an improperly attached taillight was a big deal. Unlike North America, traffic laws were applied to cyclists as strictly as to motorists, if not more so. People were very law-abiding over there. Lane discipline was even observed on escalators. If you were in a hurry and wanted to walk of run up an escalator, you had a clear path. In North America, people just park themselves anywhere they please and don't move (and they're also wider and the escalators are narrower).

Cycling in Canada, I also tried to observe the law and was always appalled by the number of people, even adults, riding bikes on the wrong side, on sidewalks and pedestrian crosswalks and seldom heeding stop signs.

These days I take stop signs with a grain of salt (at least on a bike). You're sitting as high as an SUV, you have perfect visibility and have a lot less mass than a car if you need to stop or accelerate quickly. Approaching a stop sign you can adjust your speed and time when you cross the other road, so you don't actually have to physically stop and dismount, or you can do a track stand if you're able. If you stop and restart, you're actually exposed to cross-traffic much longer while trying to get your foot back in the pedal. For this reason, I don't believe "rolling" a stop sign on a bike is nearly as sinful and dangerous as in a car.

Dingbat said...

Point of fact: 404 road deaths in New Zealand, in the 12 months up to Sept. 2007. That includes the 12 late cyclists.

Point of opinion: Defensiveness (shading into offensiveness!) on both sides doesn't get us very far. My own fantasy is one of peaceful coexistence on the roads, with bicycles slowly taking over more and more "habitat" from cars until they're the protected minority! The key, IMHO, and here I'm following some quietly wise folks like Kent Peterson, is sidestepping the indentity thing--I'm a biker, you're a driver--so that we approach each other with just a little bit more respect as fellow commuters or Chicagoans. Yes, this is easier when you both are dressed the same.

And a further thought: Perhaps we don't think of road users by their vehicles but by what they're using the road for. Transportation/commuting: the shlub in the car is in the same situation as the shlub on the hybrid with his backpack.
Recreation: the zippy biker in lycra etc. is analogous to the teenager cruising with his music thumping the muffler off his car.
Work: The messenger who just bombed a red light drives just like that $#@$ taxi driver who just cut me off would if he could get away with it.

The observer's reaction is similar. Just a few pre-caffeinated thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Sillines abounds on both sides but has become extreme as our society's dependence on autos grows out of control.
Take for instance the following characterization of a CM bike ride in the MN StarTribune by a confused journalist named Kersten: "Get ready, Minnesotans. The protest (ie. bike ride) was a kick-off for a weekend of organizing against the Republican National Convention to be held here in September 2008".
Yes indeed, bike riders are naturally anarchists and have secret plans to destroy a political convention a year away.
Everyday I witness auto and truck drivers speeding and breaking numerous laws. It has become so common and accepted that the police rarely do anything about these violations. However, a few auto drivers, upset about cyclists using their roads, often get headline media coverage.

Anonymous said...

Bravo, Dave. A great rebuttal and blog entry.

KP said...

Here is one a few months back, check out the March 28, 2007 entry on this blog, it will take a second to get to but certainly worth it.

Anonymous said...

Auckland is about 30 years behind most middle-sized american cities in terms of bike commuting. I often find myself taking detours onto sidewalks, against traffic, etc. since there are few parts of the roadway where it is an accepted practice to ride. On some streets we do get to share a lane with the buses that must be a world first.

db said...

I find a statement like this disturbing, coming from an educated man, who happens to be a lawyer no less.

Being a lawyer doesn't make one educated. It means that he/she put in the required work to get a degree and then pass the bar. Lots of people go to college and never get smarter. (Start your own list of Ivy-League-educated public officials here...)

Anonymous said...

I often find myself taking detours onto sidewalks, against traffic, etc. since there are few parts of the roadway where it is an accepted practice to ride.

The problem with that attitude is that it makes pedestrians depend on you paying very close attention to their safety (and to some extent, other cyclists too who may not expect to encounter a bike going the wrong way or suddenly darting off a sidewalk). It's just not a proper way to act in a civilized society.

Ed W said...

This is similar to those "I ride a bicycle too, but..." posts that go on to rail against the supposed lawlessness and danger associated with riding a bicycle on the street. They're like flies. You can swat 'em, but there's always another one buzzing around. Still, it's a duty to swat them.

And as for Al Gore, I think I was commuting to work on a bicycle well before he invented the internet.

Anonymous said...

I once stopped at an inner city traffic light and waited patiently for the light to change. There was no traffic from either direction and i could have crossed if i wanted. A bus pulled up beside me and the driver opened the big passenger entry door and jokingly yelled out " I've never seen that before", meaning a cyclist waiting for the lights to change. I laughed as it is true that some cyclists will just blow off the lights. I get annoyed with motorists who don't follow the road rules, and I don't want to be a hypocrite so if i'm on the bike, the same rules and courtesies apply. Oh yeah and i live in New Zealand too.

Anonymous said...

Truth is, I believe the cycling accidents in New Zealand could be reduced if everyone rode on the proper side of the in the U.S. Are the handlebars on the right side of the bike? :^)

Johnny Mercer said...

he's probably on the take of some employer. what a poor hack!

Uncle Bob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.