Saturday, May 24, 2008

Cycling as a speed/thrill activity

Read the comments---all 217 of them---to the online version of the Chronicle's story about bicycle messenger Kirk Janes's fatal accident at Fulton and Steiner. Even I was a little surprised at the number of commenters who mentioned the routinely reckless, scofflaw behavior of many cyclists on city streets, singling out the messengers for special mention.
But the story in the Examiner is apparently more accurate, since, according to the police and witnesses, Janes wasn't hit by the truck; he hit the truck after it was already in the intersection.

As a bike messenger, Janes was evidently representative of that reckless breed and presumably understood the dangers involved in his occupation, though apparently he wasn't wearing a helmet at the time of his fatal accident. My condolences to his family and friends. Based on the article in the Chronicle and the comments, it sounds like Janes was a good guy.

Cultivating this rebel image is a political problem for bike advocates in San Francisco. Many of them evidently fancy themselves as rebels and indulge in anti-social conduct on their bikes---flouting traffic laws, flipping off motorists, intimidating pedestrians in crosswalks, etc. These folks see the bike messengers as cool and imitate their style and attitude; even the kind of bags some cyclists carry are part of cultivating that image. Critical Mass---listed on the SF Bicycle Coalition's online calendar ( what happens when lot of these pseudo-rebels congregate on the last Friday of the month, though I'm told that the bike messengers themselves scornfully call those who participate in Critical Mass as "amateurs" and "massholes."

A cyclist's admiring comment on Janes:

I know that intersection and the direction he was traveling, because I ride it myself sometimes around that time of day. If you scream east on Fulton from Scott (a small summit), run the stop sign at Pierce at full speed, you can catch every green light from Steiner to Franklin at about 40 mph. You have to really haul to make it, and from Scott to Steiner is where you get the most momentum to fly! I'm not saying Janes was flying, but when I'm flying, there's usually somebody else who can fly faster, somebody who thinks they have more experience or bravery, perhaps somebody who flies for a living. RIP Janes. You had a good run, dogg!

This is the kind of thrill-seeking motivation common for mountain bikers---it's the essence of mountain biking, so they can hardly deny it---but not acknowledged as an important aspect of urban cycling by the city's bike advocates. The notion that cycling is an important transportation "mode" is a secondary consideration to these guys. And of course they are almost all guys.

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