Friday, November 07, 2008

Bikes uber alles

It was bound to happen sooner or later in the city where Critical Mass was born: There's a new force in local bike politics with the arrival of Peter Smith and the San Francisco Bike Blog (http://bikeblogs.org/sf/). Smith is flanking the stodgy old SF Bicycle Coalition---those wimps!---on the left-wing of the great bike liberation movement. He's so militant he's not only anti-car he's anti-bus. He assumes that cyclists are morally superior and thus have more right to the streets than motor vehicles. True, this kind of self-righteousness is common among SF cyclists, but the SFBC doesn't put it so baldly. For Smith anything less than asserting this moral superiority is simply lame:

You should stand up and take what is rightfully yours---a share of the road. You, biker person, deserve more of the road than any other type of user besides pedestrians. Period...And we don’t need just crappy little bike lanes---we need full, physically-separated paths for bikes, where we won’t be intimidated by motorists. This is the absolute bare minimum we need and deserve...If cars are in a hurry to get where they need to go, then...they can take the long route because they deserve to have a lower priority on the streets than we bikers do...[cyclists] deserve to be on that road more than any other road user, except pedestrians (and other active-transport folks).The major roads of the city may currently be dominated by cars and buses and other assorted people-killers, but that can change. It is changing. But we need to stick together, and we need to know that we bikers have at least as much right to the roads as the car people do---including the major roads, especially the major roads. The car people will push back---of course they will---and we need to continue to push for at least equal access to the roads, ideally more, to reflect our considerable benefits to the city’s livability.

Note the more militant terminology: cars are not merely "death machines," as Steve Jones at the Bay Guardian calls them; cars and buses---and no doubt trucks, too---are simply "people killers," not the primary transportation "modes" used by the overwhelming majority of people in the city. Bike lanes? Mere painted "lines on the road": "We don’t need just crappy little bike lanes---we need full, physically-separated paths for bikes, where we won’t be intimidated by motorists. This is the absolute bare minimum we need and deserve." Cyclists should when possible stay off the city's busiest traffic arteries for their own safety? Only wimps take secondary routes!

In case anyone thinks I'm quoting Smith out of context, the full text of his rant is below in italics.

Debunking the "Better Street to Ride on" Argument
Some streets are better to ride on than others. Sometimes that is by design---either the city decided to throw a bone to cyclists and paint some lines on the road, or advocates busted their butts for years to force the city to paint some lines on the road. Advanced civilizations have even been known to install other bike infrastructure like Copenhagen-style bike lanes, or bike boxes, or traffic calming devices---all things aimed at making cycling at least feel safer.

And yet people will suggest that we should not push to gain bicycle access on some particular road---often a major road---because there is another nearby, often parallel, road that is ‘a better street to ride on, anyways.’ Maybe they don’t want to ‘piss off the motorists’ or some other nonsense. I have no idea.

In any case, we need to disabuse ourselves of this way of thinking---it is extremely harmful to the bicycle advocacy movement.

First, as I’ve pointed out, in order to achieve high-levels of cycling mode share (associated with perceived cycling safety, and eventually, hopefully, actual safety), we need to do a lot of things---and some of those things are absolutely core---if we don’t do them, we fail to achieve our goals---it’s that simple. Obtaining real bicycle access along major travel corridors is one of those things which we absolutely must accomplish if we want to be able to get from point A to point B in relative safety in this town. It makes good sense intuitively, and
people who have studied bike adoption rates say we need to do this. That’s good enough for me to believe that we need to do this. On this basis alone, it makes perfect sense to me---as a bicycle advocate---to push for bicycle access along the most major travel corridors in, around, into, and out of San Francisco. Period.

No, I don’t not ‘feel sorry’ for the car people. And neither should you. You should stand up and take what is rightfully yours---a share of the road. You, biker person, deserve more of the road than any other type of user besides pedestrians. Period.

What are these heavily-traveled corridors that we need to get real bicycle access to? Take your pick. The ones I’m familiar with, off the top of my head, include 3rd Street, Market Street, Potrero Ave., Cesar Chavez/Army Ave., Geary, Van Ness, 101, the Great Highway, San Jose, Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, the Embarcadero, all trains, buses, and ferries into and out of the city---we even need full access to and from SFO airport.

And we don’t need just crappy little bike lanes---we need full, physically-separated paths for bikes, where we won’t be intimidated by motorists. This is the absolute bare minimum we need and deserve.

But why must we have access on the most major routes in the city? Because that’s where people like to travel. It’s where people can get from Point A to Point B the quickest. Bikers are not fundamentally different from other human beings---we like to be able to get places. I like to tell my car friends about how nice it is to just cruise to my destination---take my time---participate in the sights and sounds and smells of the city. But sometimes---often---I just want to get where I’m going. And the most major routes in the city are the streets and roads that can get me to my destination quickest. They are often the most direct routes. That’s why people travel on them. Bikes deserve to travel on them, too.

I am not particularly concerned that car people will not like it when we tell them that they are going to have to share the road with non-polluting vehicles, too. You should not be particularly concerned, either.

How about a practical example? OK---
3rd Street. It’s got the light rail line, and parking, and two lanes of pollution traffic in either direction. Sometimes a biker will haul up or down Third Street. Other bikers choose to slide one street over to Illinois St./Terry Francois Blvd---or into Dogpatch on the other side of 3rd Street---which they sometimes choose if they’re staying local---and that’s their prerogative. Bikers can go where they want. But don’t tell me to get off Third Street. That’s my street. And don’t tell me to give up bicycle access on 3rd Street---to just take an alternate, parallel route instead. If cars are in a hurry to get where they need to go, then they can go out to Illinois St./Terry Francois Blvd.---and they can take the long route because they deserve to have a lower priority on the streets than we bikers do. The bikers who do stay on 3rd Street are not doing it because they love the smell of exhaust, or because they love cars pushing them off the road, honking at them, etc.---they ride it because it gets them where they’re going the quickest---and they deserve to be on that road more than any other road user, except pedestrians (and other active-transport folks).

The major roads of the city may currently be dominated by cars and buses and other assorted people-killers, but that can change. It is changing. But we need to stick together, and we need to know that we bikers have at least as much right to the roads as the car people do---including the major roads, especially the major roads. The car people will push back---of course they will---and we need to continue to push for at least equal access to the roads, ideally more, to reflect our considerable benefits to the city’s livability.


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