Thursday, October 17

Use The Road

Recently Bike Delaware asked DelDOT to simply use the W11-1  or the R4-11 signs as opposed to the W16-1P plaque that has been seen all over the land with increasing frequency.  
 
This:
 

 
 
Or this:
 

 
 
Not this:
 
 
 
 
I must admit, as a former urban cyclist I’ve either heard first or second hand more than a few instances of motorists yelling at cyclists to “share the !@#$ road!”  This is interesting coming from a human being piloting (rather skillfully with one hand while having a cell phone glued to their ear) a large fast-moving vehicle and directed at another human being driving a small slow-moving frame of thin metal on two skinny wheels.  
 
I agree that the meaning is ambiguous and doesn’t support the motorists’ view that cyclists should just stay off the road altogether or the cyclists’ perception that the sign somehow protects them from negative vibes and/or fender-related contusions.  
 
Share the road signs don’t do much for me.  I was shocked to see them out on the rural roads around my hometown a few years ago, but they didn’t make me feel any safer.  Realistically I knew that the paucity of cyclists in my community was the real danger, and that increased presence of actual cyclists on the roads—not some sign that everyone ignores anyway—would be the path to true biketopia in Powell County, Kentucky.  We’re getting there.
 
At the time I didn’t realize that the signs were there because of the political influence of a single cyclist living in the county and that they hadn’t been put up as a result of the normal process which involves some fuzzy math and a loud local contingent.  And a dash of political influence.
My rural community had share the road signs years before Lexington.
 
Anyway, the signs do nothing for me.  They don’t make me feel safer and they don’t embolden me to hog the road.  When I hog the road it has nothing to do with a sign and everything to do with tactical maneuvering to control the space around me on the road for my own safety.  My brand of cyclo-anarchism isn’t about punishing motorists or fighting some ideological war, it’s about exercising my freedom to choose my mode of transportation and expecting a reasonable amount of respect as a user on the road.  I will shout at you if you threaten my safety.  Jane Jacobs told me it was okay.
 
 
believe…and have for a long time…that most (MOST) Americans do not take driving seriously enough.  We kill and maim with abandon and impunity.  “It was a tragic accident,” might be the quote by a law enforcement official when some oblivious driver plows over a toddler with their SUV.  No, it was no accident.  It was carelessness.  And it is an epidemic of tragic carelessness that we live with.
 
So when I read the most recent post by Rebel Metropolis (Hart Noecker) entitled: “It’s Time to Stop Sharing the Road”  I tried to read it objectively without succumbing to confirmation bias. I wanted to stand up and shout in unison “STOP SHARING THE ROAD!!!”  And maybe I will.  But first, my take on the whole issue.
 
Let me iterate this up front: if you break the law there are consequences.  How you choose to abide by the law is a personal choice.  I don’t mean you can apply situational ethics to your urges to murder your neighbor for throwing loud parties late into the night, but if you’re willing to accept the consequences of breaking a law then more power to you.  Where there is a major dysfunction is when the consequences are not severe enough.
 
If you’ve been reading BikeSnobNYC much lately you’re undoubtedly familiar with his ongoing rant against the NYPD’s failure to investigate and prosecute any level of vehicular assault.   First (not really) there was the cabbie that nearly killed and most definitely maimed a foreign tourist with his cab while in the midst of a road rage incident with a cyclist.  Of course most people wanted to vilify the cyclist, and he seemed like a scuzzy kind of guy, but it was obvious that the cabbie acted criminally and should have been prosecuted for attempted involuntary manslaughter at the very least (yes, I know that’s probably not legally possible).
 
Snob goes on to chronicle more and more events where motorists act with (what should be) criminal irresponsibility and get away often without even a slap on the wrist.  I’ll say it again: MOST AMERICANS DO NOT TAKE DRIVING SERIOUSLY ENOUGH.
 
I’m tired of hearing both cyclists and the general public insist that cyclists should obey all traffic laws because those laws are in place for everyone’s safety.  That’s a big ole stinking barrel of hogwash.  The glaring issue with the notion that traffic laws are for everyone’s safety is that they grant the people driving motor vehicles absolute power over the roadway and do little to protect vulnerable users.  Roads are for moving people; not cars.  The reality though is that regardless of what the laws of the land are and who abides by them or not you cannot bend or break the laws of physics.  
 
To Noecker’s point about commenters that state that “if a cyclist gets killed by a car, it was their own foolish fault for getting in the way” thereby showing they have no empathy it seems that since we’ll pretty much let anyone drive then a good number of sociopaths end up behind the wheel.  If you do a quick google search on “what percentage of the population are sociopaths” and scan the results it appears as if the best guess is about 3% of the population are sociopaths.  In the Denver metro area this would equal about 75,000 maniac drivers, including one former coworker.  In Powell County, Kentucky 3% is only 378 people.  I’m probably related to half of them.
 
The intentions of drivers are irrelevant.  I said that.  The outcome of a motorist versus cyclist collision rarely favors the cyclist.  Bumpers and fenders do not give way to flesh and bone.  For that reason I believe the cyclist should always ride to their own interests regardless of what the law mandates.  I’m not saying it’s safer for a cyclist to run a stop sign than not, but the geometrics and physics involved in most intersections directly relate to the motor vehicle and not to the bicycle.
  
What we need to do (somewhere for crying out loud) is to take every traffic law relating to bicycles and pedestrians and pitch them.  Then we start over with new laws that empower the most vulnerable users instead of marginalizing them and getting them out of the way of the car.  People drive because they feel like they have no other choices, and they feel this way because they (rightly so) fear the alternatives of trying to walk or bike on roads not welcoming to them.
 
The factors that keep us in our cars are legion; not least of all is the common necessity of living in one place and working far away.  We tend to choose this arrangement because the perception is that commuting by car is cheaper than trying to live near employment centers.  But this arrangement occurs too because employers locate in places where we don’t want to liveand that aren’t conducive to commuting to by any other means than an SOV.
 
Another factor that keeps us in our cars is laziness.  We’re only a couple of generations gone from a time when people had to use much more human energy to get things done in life, whether it be work, chores, or play.  We’re fat lazy slobs and we don’t care who knows it.    
 
 
I’m an unrepentant lane taker.  I’ll risk the wrath of the occasional sociopath to keep at bay the casual careless driver.  I know what I’m doing when I block traffic behind me until oncoming traffic has cleared so it’s safe to pass.  I know what I’m doing when I take a full lane going into a blind curve to prevent a motorist from endangering not only my life and theirs but the potential driver or cyclist coming the other way.
 
In the strictest sense I AM sharing the road…responsibly at that point…but the motorists that understand what I’m doing are few and far between.  And even if they’re tolerant they’re stillunlikely to apply what I’ve taught them further down the road when they encounter some other point of friction in the roadway.  
 
Recreationally I’ve favored mountain biking this past year because it keeps me off the road.  I’ve been lazy when it comes to using the bike for utility and transportation.  I’m hoping to change that trend.  And as far as anyone else on the road is concerned there should be no distinction between my recreational rides or my useful rides.  We don’t make those kinds of distinctions for motorists, and so also we shouldn’t assess intent for cyclists or pedestrians.
 
What I would like to say regarding Noecker’s assertion is this:  I plan on using the road like everyone else.  Sharing comes only as a matter of course, not as some kind of policy or ideology.  As humans we need to share space with other humans. But beyond that I don’t think we need to make distinctions.  
 
We must sculpt cultural attitudes of mutual respect, understanding, and patience.  We lack these.  We suffer from an epidemic of carelessness and thoughtlessness.  They cost us much when the alternatives could benefit us so much more.  We need to feed positive energy back into our social environment and stop insisting that every point of contention has to be an “us vs. them” war.
 
 
 
 ADDENDUM:  This is a great post on the Surly blog.

"To all the drivers out there I'd like to say stay off the hooch, put down the phone, slow down and start seeing the life over the bike and the destination."
 
 

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