Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My own anti-bicycling screed

Well, not really. But even I have to call "bullshit" once in a while, even when it involves one of the country's most well respected cycling advocates.

Portland attorney Bob Mionske is a former pro, a former Olympian, and a widely published bicycling advocate. I've never met him, but he seems like a good guy, and I usually find myself screaming "Amen" in response to his writings.

Last week, the L.A. Times published an opinion piece authored by Mionske, which was written in response to the recent sentencing of the violent criminal Dr. Christopher T. Thomson, who attempted to kill cyclists (on more than one occasion) with his car.

I agree 100% with Mionske on his outrage over the fact that it took more than one assault by Thomson to land him in jail. And that the legal system is rigged in favor of motorists over cyclists. And that distracted driving is a menace to everyone.

I do, however, take issue with other points made in his article. For example, he states that:

"...The roads are common spaces, and their use is an ancient right for all -- except motorists.

Referring to the arcane common law doctrine that roads were built for pedestrians, carriages, and (later) bicyclists is not going to win the hearts and minds of most people. Yes, that it how it was back in the day. These days, most roads are built for cars and, in enlightened areas, they are built for mixed use (cars, bikes, and pedestrians). Our country's transportation priorities are severely flawed. Our car culture is unsustainable. But, arguing with a straight face about the bicycle's superior right to the road over cars in 2010 just makes you look out of touch and compromises your credibility with the readers you are trying to persuade.

He also says that:

"...Every cyclist you see on the road represents one less car contributing to congestion. Yes, you may occasionally have to slow down for a few seconds, but those few seconds are offset by the time you save for every car that is not on the road ahead of you. Cyclists also neither consume gasoline nor contribute to climate change, and they cause far less wear and tear on the road than cars. These are benefits that accrue directly to motorists in the form of less demand for limited resources, driving regulations and limited tax dollars."

So true, if only cycling was limited to utilitarian purposes.

This is an area where recreational cyclists and racers are routinely dishonest with themselves. I will freely admit that my involvement in cycling has done more harm than good for the environment. The environmental benefits of any commuting or errand running I do by bike are highly outweighed by my driving to races all over creation, driving to bike shops, driving to (some but not many) rides, and the stupid amount of resource intensive food I eat when doing high volume training. I'm pretty sure that the same can be said for the vast majority of cyclists who own cars. For example, the local bike paths around here are very crowded during the warmer months. And so are their parking lots.

The issues of safe cycling and bicycle advocacy are dear to my heart. Let's try to keep the movement going forward by only using honest arguments and refrain from the type of insincere rhetoric reserved for political campaigns and recent Congressional debates.

1 comment:

Jim said...

Maybe it is just me but I took it to mean that "roads" were originally for transportation (foot, wagon, horse, etc) of all kinds. Later, they became paved and much more usable because of automobiles. The sheer number of autos dictates that tax dollars be spent to make conditions better for them and we (on bikes) are the beneficiaries. Just a slightly different way of looking at things.