Tuesday, November 26

Distinctive Markings

People follow their passions.  It's just how we're built.  We cast our life energy at the activities and ideals that we value.  In that vein let me say...not all bicycle advocates are created equal.
Lately I've found myself in conversations where one or the other dialoguists has to make a distinction between advocating for recreational cyclists and utilitarian cyclists. Club advocates walk and talk a certain way and lifestyle utilitarian cyclists look different.  And then you have the distinction between cyclists and "a guy on a bike" type riders.  
To be effective as advocates we must not let ourselves be comfortably trapped in our silos.  We've got to remember what we're advocating for and make sure it's about the bike and not our own narrow interests.  Freds like to put their energy into Fred-oriented infrastructure and policy.  They will become passionate about three abreast policies and the Idaho Stop.  They’ll want to form clubs and organize group rides.  Utilitarian cyclists will argue for more space on the road for the single rider.  They’ll ask why there aren’t more bike racks in town.  They’ll argue for vulnerable user laws.  They’ll organize community action groups and organize letter writing campaigns.
In the final analysis the details don’t matter as much as the attitude toward bikes by the general public.  The source of the solution is to convince the non-cyclist that the bike can reasonably fulfill some need they have.  That doesn’t mean we have to get everyone on a bike.  That would be utopia; no, we have to convince everyone that bikes are a crucial part of the solution.  The solution to what?  Most of our societal problems.
That’s a bold statement to make.  I realize that.  There is truth in that statement, and it’s somewhat misleading I must confess.  Some of the ways that bikes can influence the quality of our lives are indirect.  Bikes have become a serious talking point with otherwise non-cyclical types around project team meeting tables.  And those that still consider bikes as little more than toys are being pushed into corners with endangered cigarette smokers. More bikes reduce traffic congestion.  More bikes reduce pollution.  Bikes and their riders drive economic vitality.  The mere presence of bikes in an area draws other bikers.  Bikes also help to drive the right kinds of dialogue in community planning processes.  They also influence cultural shifts and the pattern of the fabric of communities and regions.  
I think that’s why it’s frustrating to be in a large room full of bike advocates and see the event played out like the coup de grace at the Tower of Babel.  Freds keep inviting the Bikeyface types to their annual club fundraiser while the ghost of Ken Kifer grumbles to himself over in the corner.
We’ve got to stop going to transportation conferences, public meetings, and club outings with our narrowly focused agendas waving in the faces of anyone that will sit still for the presentation.  But we can’t stop doing that either.  We’ve got to learn to speak many cycling languages.  We’ve got to learn not to leave out the other cyclists needs.  We’ve got to remember that bikes aren’t toys even when they’re being used for recreation.
We don’t make the distinction between recreational and utilitarian motor vehicle trips.  There are no laws that say the driver headed for the park must yield right of way to the driver on their way to work.  Grocery trips aren’t more important than those carrying gramma to her doctor’s appointment.  I’m in danger of going down a rabbit hole with this one.  I have issues with the way we all drive our cars in general.  You could imagine a world without bikes or pedestrians and I think we’d still have a problem with motorists behaving unreasonably in their cars.
Some men in mid-life crisis mode choose a sporty red convertible to shuttle them about.  Some men in mid-life crisis choose a sporty red carbon-fiber bike that costs more than my car and weighs less than a hummingbird.  Some parents choose a min-van to shuttle the kids from school to soccer practice to dance recital.  Some (arguable concentrated in the more hip and trendy urban areas of the country) choose cargo bikes to fulfill that function. Uncle Fred and the Xtracycle Mama both represent a valid user group on the roads.
Distinctions, whether intentional or not, between utilitarian and recreational cyclists are counter-productive much the same way the argument that “roads are built for cars” is counter-productive.  The bike is a vehicle exactly like the car is a vehicle.  It serves the same purposes.  I provides the same services.  
[Ironically I had started composing this post, left it for dead, and then after reading the Bikeyface post this morning decided to reinvigorate it.]


As this is a short work week, and I will be incommunicado for at least part of the White Thanksgiving that is to come, I am calling hiatus on the blog until an undetermined time.  Worst case I will resume transmission next Monday, December 2nd.  Unless of course I become thoroughly bored sitting at home watching water fall from the sky and think of some rambling post I can drop into an illegal dumpsite on this backroad of the internet.

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