Friday, July 21, 2006

BikeThink: The ideology of bicycles

Illustration by Jim Swanson

In view of all the flak about the injunction I'm getting from the Bike People and their fellow-travelers here in SF, you may have noticed that they all share a number of assumptions---often unspoken---about bikes, history, and the state of the world. Calling this mish-mash of historical ignorance, self-righteousness, self-congratulation, and anger an ideology is of course overstating the case. Still, add all the nonsense up and you have a more or less coherent point of view.

First on the list is the fact that bicycles don't burn fossil fuel. It's this reality that fuels, so to speak, their self-righteousness: Get out of our way, we don't burn fossil fuel! These folks aren't simply choosing a rather risky form of transport by riding a bike in the city; they are also striking a blow for the environment and world peace.

Cyclists, especially with Critical Mass, like to talk about "reclaiming" the streets for bikes, as if at some Edenic time in our distant past cyclists roamed the streets freely, unimpeded by devilish motor vehicles. The reality is that bicycles are a late Nineteenth Century invention, long after the city streets were laid out for horses and horse-drawn conveyances, not bikes.

Lately, given fuel prices and the turmoil in the Middle East, cyclists are increasingly talking about a car-free future for the US and the world, as if Americans and the rest of the world will just give up motor vehicles when the price of gas gets high enough. Given the state of hybrid and electric motor technology, it's safe to assume that different ways of powering motor vehicles will become available if that unlikely dystopian reality comes to pass. It just shows how little these folks understand the modern world and even their own society to think that there will ever a time when, out of necessity, Americans turn en mass to bicycles.

Cyclists as oppressed class: This may be the most astonishing bullshit in the worldview of cyclists---that they are an oppressed minority, much like blacks, gays, and women in days of yore. The corollary to this preposterous, self-pitying assumption is that some day they too will get to the top of the mountain and see the Promised Land. Who will lead them into that blissful utopia? Andy Thornley? Leah Shaum? Marc Salomon? That remains to be seen, as this great historical process plays out over time.

That the Bike People are the grossest elitists is obvious from their behavior individually and collectively. The arrogance of individual cyclists in SF is legendary, and it's a rare pedestrian who hasn't nearly been run down in a crosswalk by a cyclist running a stoplight or stop sign. Collectively their arrogance is displayed every month at Critical Mass, which takes place during commute hours on Fridays to make it more difficult for working people to get home after working all week. How's that for PR? That will show the non-cycling public that cyclists deserve more consideration on the city's streets!

Elitist arrogance was on clear display during the attempt to sneak the massive Bicycle Plan---a 500-page combination manifesto and Bicycle Coalition wish list---through the political/legal process without the environmental study required by law. The howls of outrage after the injunction came down are evidence of this arrogance: Why should we be subject to the same laws as everyone else? We don't burn fossil fuel! Bikes are Good and Cars are Bad! What else do you need to know?

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Message from another know-nothing "progressive"

Isabel Wade contributes her ignorance and incomprehension to the dialogue (below). Thanks for sharing, Isabel.
 
The notion that I singlehandedly convinced Judge Warren, who I've never spoken with, "to shut down city bike development" is ludicrous, though a flattering estimate of my powers of persuasion. In fact, Judge Warren was persuaded by the facts and the law to issue an injunction until the hearing in September. The Bicycle Plan was just as poorly thought out as Wade's letter. Even worse, the city was implementing the Plan, street by street, as the case was being litigated, which, without the injunction, would have rendered our case more or less moot by the time the actual hearing takes place. Note, however, Wade's complete acceptance of BikeThink with the assumption that people who ride bikes in SF aren't just choosing a rather risky means of transportation, they are also fighting cancer and global warming! Note too Wade's total failure to come to grips with any specifics of either the city's obligations under CEQA or the Bicycle Plan itself, which I bet she hasn't read. This obsession with bikes is really more like a religious faith than about a reality-based transportation "mode."
 
WHERE'S THE EIR ON CARS? (Letter to SF Bay Guardian, July 19)
It's a shame that Rob Anderson has managed to persuade Judge Warren to shut down city bike development ["Good News and Bad News for Bicyclists," 6/28/06]. One man's antibike crusade is endangering well-thought-out plans to encourage bicycling in our city—plans that are increasingly relevant given the dangers that driving presents to us all. Burning gasoline may be convenient for the motorist, but it has inconvenient consequences: rising ocean levels; massive hurricanes and drought; the damage auto-related sprawl has done to our communities; and pollution-linked asthma, cancer and other health threats. Who did the environmental impact report on the automobile?

I hope that the court will see through the claims that the bike plan is in violation of environmental laws. Let the city get on with the Blue Greenway and other vital projects for putting people on our streets instead of cars. Biking is good for the heart—and the heart of our city.

Isabel Wade
Executive director
San Francisco Neighborhood Parks Council

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