By Brett Ratner
The late former mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, was famous for (among other things) being staunchly anti-bicycle.
I'd hate to make generalizations, but Mayor Ford was the embodiment of what in my mind's eye I'd picture an anti-bicycle politician to be.
I can even imagine prototypical anti-bike politicians in their cars, red in the face, sweating profusely and gasping for each labored breath as they furiously honk their horns, then gun their engines to pass mere inches away from hapless, terrified bicyclists. Oh, wait...I don't have to imagine, because not only has that allegedly happened, but a local politician allegedly took it a step further by shouting profanities and then hitting a cyclist with his Mercedes.
And what about those state representatives in Missouri...the ones who keep proposing anti-bike bills?
When one of them is not modeling his sweet bolo tie, he's proposing an all-out bike ban on state highways. His ideas are so forward-thinking and beneficial to the public - in his mind anyway - he's allegedly pondered a run for governor, too.
What a 15-foot bike flag looks like.
And not to be out-crazied, some politicians in South Dakota tried to make it law that cyclists have to physically dismount their bikes whenever a car tries to pass.
Meanwhile, cyclists are at risk of losing rights in Tennessee and North Carolina.
And on the West Coast, California mountain bikers are losing access to shared bike and horse trails, and police are using radar guns to ticket riders for speeding in the very place where mountain biking was invented (and thousands of bike tourists visit each year to pay homage).
You could get ticketed if you want to recreate the legendary Marin County rides of mountain bike pioneers like Joe Breeze and Gary Fisher.
Up in Seattle, they're putting speed humps in bike lanes, and in San Francisco, a progressive proposed "bike yield law" was approved by the city's Board of Supervisors but was then opposed by the mayor and the police captain.
Reading about a lot of this stuff makes me angry to the point where I want to lose my temper and hurl insults at politicians who in all respects appear to be easy targets of derision.
Are these the kind of guys you want driving bike-related policies?
But, I think it best to take whatever "high road" is left at this point, and state my case on behalf of what I think my fellow cyclists feel when we read about these misguided attempts at governance.
So here is a list of things I believe cyclist want anti-bike politicians to understand:
Cyclists in General Aren't Out to Ban Cars
The "war on the car" Mayor Ford feared so mightily was in his imagination. Sure there are a small percentage of cyclists who are anti-car, and arguably most of us are concerned with the environmental impact of cars, but the majority of cyclists likely drive cars of their own, and consider them a viable source of transportation (when used responsibly). I own a car myself. I don't drive it to work and try to minimize how much I use it for errands, but I happily use it for weekend trips, and situations where I need to haul heavy or bulky things.
What Alleged "Anti-Car" People Are More Likely Asking for Are Options
Only a small percentage of us are suggesting your roads be torn up and turned into gold leaf bike paths, moving sidewalks, and lush greenways filled with herds of unicorns. Honestly, just give us some bike lanes, pedestrian access, public transportation, and other practical infrastructure that grants us the option to get around by means other than a car. Believe it or not, it's a win-win for you too. The fewer of us on your roads, the less traffic you have to deal with.
Cyclists just want a place to ride (Photo by Ronit Bezalel)
Most of All, Cyclists Want a Safe Place to Ride
Rest assured we don't like cars barreling down on us any more than drivers want cyclists slowing them down. All we ask for is a situation where motorists and cyclists can peacefully coexist, and arrive at our respective destinations without getting in each other's way.
Bike Paths Don't Cut It for Practical Transportation
Imagine if your roads went like two miles and then just abruptly ended at some random grassy field. It would be hard to get to where you're going, right? The problem with most bike paths is that they were designed for recreation and don't generally connect to anything. I'm guessing they stop at wherever the budget or grant money happened to run out. So if you want us to stay off the roads and stick to the bike paths, give us bike paths that actually get us to places.
Cyclists Don't Want to Be Subject to Laws Written by People with No Experience, Knowledge or Understanding of Bikes
If it seems like cyclists are resistant to some laws and some forms of bike infrastructure, it's usually because they don't actually make sense for cyclists. And you wouldn't understand why if you don't ride a bike. It'd be like me getting elected to office and proposing a bunch of...I don't know...hunting and fishing laws when I've never hunted and I've fished like maybe twice. So please, do us all a favor and before you start dreaming up a bunch of laws, or cracking down on old, out-of-date laws, get on a damn bike and ride around a little bit. This video is a great example of how powerful it can be to experience what it's actually like to ride a bicycle in traffic. If you're not willing to do that, at the very least consult some avid cyclists before you start spewing out misguided legislation.
We Wish You'd Stop Writing Laws About What You Perceive as "Safe"
I once had this conversation with a co-worker who said she forbids her kids from snowboarding because it's "not safe to have their feet strapped in." She'll let them ski, but not snowboard. Mind you, this is a person who had done neither activity and knows nothing about either activity beyond her perception of what they might be like. Clearly, both activities have their dangers, but she was not in any position to speak on those dangers from any place resembling knowledge or authority. The same holds true for cycling, where there is a lot of misinformation about what in reality is safe or unsafe. People who actually bike every day are a lot more attuned with the real dangers of cycling, and also know what "dangers" merely exist in the imaginations of non-cyclists. So maybe ask for input from cyclists? And in addition, back up your proposed "safety" laws with some actual scientific data. Oh, and to the city council people in California; why it is safe to drive a 3,500 lb car 70 mph to get your parks, but once you arrive, it's unsafe to ride a bike faster than 15 mph?
We Wish You'd Resist the Urge to Let a Few Bad Apples Spoil Your View of the Entire Cycling Population
There are douche bag cyclists. No doubt about it. But there are also d-bag drivers, d-bag pedestrians, and definitely d-bag politicians. If you're writing bike legislation, please write it for the vast majority of responsible riders out there.
Bikes Are Good for the Economy
Not only does evidence suggest cyclists reduce wear and tear on the roadways, reduce pollution, reduce traffic, ease parking problems, are healthier (in turn saving employer healthcare costs), spend more tourism dollars than non-cyclists, and on and on and on...but bikes are good for the economy, too. So, seriously, if you're a politician worried about tax revenue and economic development and all that stuff, why discourage a proven driver of it? Seems a bit counterproductive, no?
Those Roads You Covet So Much? You Can Thank Cyclists for Them
It's easy to believe paved roadways were created for (and thereby belong to) cars. But that's actually not the case. So I guess what I'm saying is back in the day, cyclists shared their roads with motorists, why not return the favor?