Your mission, chump: ride a bike in the city
My suspicions were confirmed by last Thursday's story ("Mission: Not Impossible," Paul McHugh, Feb. 17, 2005) in the SF Chronicle: even cycling experts think riding a bike in San Francisco is difficult and dangerous:
Gaze at rush-hour traffic on city streets for about 30 seconds, and any notion of transforming yourself into a brave urban bicyclist might seem like Mission: Impossible. However, experienced wheelmen say this dream is indeed achievable for most. All it requires is everything you've got (emphasis added).
McHugh draws on a book by a former bike messenger, Robert Hurst, and the expertise of Bert Hill, who teaches clinics for the SF Bicycle Coalition: "First and foremost, remain in the present moment when you ride. Don't wool-gather, or you'll harvest road rash instead. Hazards abound; don't drift into denial. Instead, use awareness of danger to help you stay focused."
Best too to dress as if going into combat before you get on your bike in the city: "...always, always, ride wearing a quality helmet and gloves. Abrasion-resistant clothing is a plus."
Hill tells McHugh that 45% of all accidents on bikes are "solo falls," and only 18% involve another vehicle. Hence, prospective bike riders better learn how to take a fall, just like boxers must learn to take a punch: "When you start to go over, get your arms out, but don't make them stiff. Use them to absorb initial impact, yes, but even more to steer your fall into a body roll. Want to practice falls? Take a class in judo or aikido."
Hurst: "The successful urban cyclist counts on nothing but chaos and stupidity," including, crucially, his or her own for choosing to ride a bike in the city in the first place.
McHugh ends his article with some Polonius-like advice to city bike riders: "Never run a red light. Don't forget, you're an ambassador. Leaving a line of upset drivers in your wake is like planting a string of land mines for the next cyclist. You might encounter some of those drivers again on your return commute."
Yes, and the main point McHugh makes in the article is this: riding a bike in the city is an inherently dangerous activity.
Many city cyclists are poor ambassadors for their dangerous, foolish avocation, running red lights, intimidating pedestrians out of crosswalks (McHugh doesn't mention this, but it has happened to everyone who walks a lot in the city), going off on motorists and bus drivers, and generally acting like buttholes. Yet this behavior by individual cyclists is the perfect analogue to the political arrogance symbolized by Critical Mass---screwing up rush hour traffic downtown on the last Friday of every month.
The whole bike thing is completely oversold in SF, because the bike zealots are very aggressive politically. They seem to have a number of kindred souls in the Planning Dept., since the Planning Commission recently rubber-stamped the notion of making the San Francisco Bicycle Plan Policy Framework part of the General Plan without a CEQA review, though the document will clearly have an impact on the city's environment---on roadway planning, housing, parking, lane design, lane changes, etc. Just as important, no matter what the issue under discussion is in the city, the bike Nazis---excuse me, I of course mean the Cycling Community---will be at the table making sure that whatever is being discussed meets with their approval. And they are not just pro-bike, they are anti-car, anti-parking, anti-anything that makes it convenient for any of the 367,570 people in SF that own a car to drive and park in the city. The bike zealots are like a religious cult that is gaining more political clout all the time, because they are the darlings of our delusional progressive culture, even though they are no more than 2% of the population.
Several weeks ago, when I made some comments like this at a Planning Commission meeting, Leah Shahum, Executive Director of the Bicycle Coalition, almost sprinted up to the podium after me to refute my heresy. She said that the bicycle community is not a minority "cult," since they just had a press conference with Mayor Newsom on the steps of City Hall, etc. Well, yes, that's my point: even though they are a small, fanatical minority, the bike zealots have been successful so far in foisting their dangerous hobby onto the larger political community. I'm one of the few members of the city's political community who thinks they are actually a negative political influence, especially and increasingly, on housing issues. They like housing developments that don't provide enough parking for residents, because...well, you tell me why. Because cars are evil, and we're all supposed to ride bikes?