Saturday, March 28, 2009

A minute on the soapbox...

My comment to a piece in the Press Telegram regarding a cycling friendly Long Beach.

I applaud the city's interest in making Long Beach bicycle friendly, but there are also lots of very simple, inexpensive ways in which this could be quickly accomplished that I think are being overlooked.

It is no mystery that a lot of conflict that occurs between cyclists and motorists stem from a misunderstanding of where it is bikes belong. Hence motorists incorrectly yelling at cyclists to "get on the sidewalk" and that "roads are for cars." In the California Vehicle Code, it is stated that bicycles have all the rights and responsibilities of other roadway users.

Simply put: Bicycles have the right to be on the road.

Truly bicycle friendly cities support this basic right from the TOP down and make it clear in unequivocal terms that bicycles are an accepted and valued roadway users.

What does this mean for Long Beach? I would like a statement from Chief Batts that he has his officers understand and will help protect this right of cyclists. I would like to see similar statements from other community leaders and this newspaper that bikes unequivocally have rights to the road that should be respected.

Why is this important?

While the occasional new bicycle lane or bicycle facility when well designed is welcomed, that improvement affects only that very specific area. It does nothing for the cyclists in other parts of the city who may never encounter the new improvements. However, a powerful blanket statement from our top brass and an aggressive bicycles belong campaign makes every mile of Long Beach more bicycle friendly, not just those select few blocks.

The challenge of making a city bicycle friendly is not just an infrastructure one, but also a cultural one. In this way, bicycle rights parallel civil rights. Though cyclists have all the rights of other roadway users, they are marginalized and treated as 2nd class citizens. They are verbally harassed and threatened everyday on the streets, yet there are no actions to stymie this sort of behavior.

My fear is that if the city promotes these separated facilities, WITHOUT simultaneously asserting the rights of cyclists on ALL streets, it will give the impression that cyclists must only use these facilities and are not legitimate roadway users. This happens now at Hartwell Park where there is a cycle path near a roadway. I have ridden there and have been harassed and told to use the path, even though it doesn't serve where I want to go.

I'd like to challenge the city to not only look in terms of infrastructure but roadway culture as well, when they take on the task of making Long Beach cyclist friendly.

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