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 Shahum? 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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At 4:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for wasting more tax money and time with your silly injunction. All forms of transportation should be encouraged.
Think big...


At 5:10 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Thank you, Eric for your Big Thought. Speaking of Big, the Bicycle Plan is a big project that will affect nearly every street in the city. Trying to get the city to do the legally required environmental study before this ambitious project is implemented is "silly"? What's really silly is the intellectual level you and your comrades are operating on. There's a big difference between encouraging different forms of transportation and redesigning city streets on behalf of 2% of the population and, in doing so, making traffic worse for everyone. And who's really responsible for wasting city money here? If the city had just done the study in the beginning, instead of pretending that the 460-page Bicycle Plan couldn't possibly have any significant effect on the city's environment, a lot of time, energy, and money could have been saved for everyone involved.

By the way, have you actually read the Plan? I have, which is more than you can say of anyone on the BOS or the Planning Commission, who, like you, mindlessly assumed it's just about Bikes versus Cars.

At 1:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your thoughts are quite reasonable and I won't contradict with you here, as I don't agree with too many points. Still, it is true that Bicycle plan will make much good rather than bad, as people can't breath or walk freely due to cars and they don't move much... As for the "silly" beliefs of cyclists, it is typical for any community of people. Many manufacturers believe that there is no greenhouse effect, for example.

At 11:25 PM, Blogger Opra said...

Your post is rather informative. I've learn much more about Bicycle plan. Probably, I didn't pay much attention to some facts.


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