Thursday, May 21

Bicycles Vs. Motor Vehicles

It really shouldn't be a face-off. Both bikes and cars should be able to co-exist.

The League of American Wheelmen helped launch the Good Roads Movement around the turn of the century, making possible nice smooth roads for the earliest automobiles to cruise upon.

According to John Forester the first bikeway policies were created by motorists, not cyclists:

"When consistent high-speed motoring became possible, with the first freeways and the like, and when cyclists had no political power (1940s), the motoring establishment enacted traffic laws that prohibited cyclists from using more than the right-hand margin of roads, from using roads when a path was available, and from using the new high-speed roads. The motoring establishment used the argument that these restrictions were necessary for the safety of cyclists. In actual fact, they were arguing that motorists should not have to slow down for the safety of cyclists, but there were no spokesmen for cyclists empowered to point out that truth."

Robert Moses and others shaped an America that shunned public transit and human powered transport for the glamor and convenience of the car with very little consideration of the consequences. Rail travel declined because the auto industry willed it to be so.

Moses had a utopian vision of parkways and his development of the landscape around New York City was an influence on the rest of America. We wholly focused on being behind the wheel, building our cities to cater to our growing obsession.

The car has been a central theme in the "American Dream" since the '50s and continues to be so even today, in our world where everyone can scoff at the US's over-dependence on foreign oil. Every 16 year old kid's greatest desire is to get a license and gain a perception of freedom from the oppression of the mature. And we mature even go so far as to encourage that attitude, salute a young person's escalation to motorist as a "rite of passage."

And now in the 21st Century America is beginning to see a glimmer of the folly. Our wholesale dependence on petroleum powered transport has become part of the focus of our woes. We blame wars on that dependence. We see it as a slavery to all that is bad in the global economy, but still we drive, drive, drive. We push our children behind the wheel while bemoaning the dangers they will encounter on the road. It's amazing...

We live in Wash Park. The neighborhood is perfectly suited for bicycle travel. There is no reason that the speed limit should be greater than 20 mph in most places and you can get from one end of a block to the other on a bike in the same amount of time that you can in a car moving at reasonable speed.

But the reality is that people fly down narrow streets at upwards of 30-40 mph, honking angrily at cyclists and yell "SHARE THE ROAD!" when they are forced to wait for a safe situation to pass. As if "Share the Road" was a rally cry for impatient motorists...

Our society has trained us to have no patience and believe that slower moving modes of transportation are unsafe. You only walk for utility if you are too poor to afford a car or a second car. You only ride a bike for fun, and far from the roads unless you're "crazy."

In Kentucky it was even worse. Grown people just don't do that sort of thing unless they have lost their license and still have a job.

Americans don't consider how far away their jobs are from where they live sleep. I knew of people in Kentucky that drove hours for mediocre jobs. It was fairly common to have an hour (one way) commute for jobs that barely paid the bills. No one would ever consider the good sense of moving closer to work or finding a less paying job (and GASP! living within their means) closer to home.

Now in Colorado I see people who live in the mountains (part of the American Dream) and commute long distances to work in Denver and the surrounding suburbs. Then they wail about their hardships when the distance and climate interfere with their lifestyle.

Live way out in the suburbs and work miles away in the city...a necessary part of the American Dream...

How absurd!

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