Tuesday, May 05, 2009

What it's really all about...

I've been ruminating over my recent ticket and while in the larger sense it really is insignificant, what is really frustrating is that I feel it speaks to what is at the core of this whole "bicycle friendly" debate. On the coattails of Long Beach being awarded being a Bronze level Bicycle Friendly City, it really makes me question how bike friendly it is.

Yes there are bike lanes (many that are poorly striped, I might add...ahem PCH), bike paths, bike parking and even a small bike-share program. But is that enough? It looks good on paper, these xxx amount of miles of lanes and stripes, but does the city feel any friendlier to me as a bicyclist?

Well, since about 11am this morning, I would have to say NO.

My basic fundamental right (and all the responsibilities that go along with it) have yet to be respected. I still feel like drivers don't know that I have the right to be on the road and now I know that the LBPD isn't aware of that right either.

I recently saw a special on Bhutan, a small Asian country that in the 70s decided NOT to measure the success of the country by the GNP (Gross National Product) but by GNH (Gross National Happiness). I would like to submit, that bicycle advocates, city planners, bicyclists and the League of American Bicyclists adopt something similar.

In addition to just looking at the raw numbers, the miles of bike lanes or bike paths or sharrows, that they also seriously take into account the road culture of the city. Is the animosity between bike and driver so thick that you can cut it with a knife? Are the police/authority figures trained to understand bikes in traffic and sensitized to what cyclists face?

Given the choice of riding in a city with no bike paths but a healthy road culture or a city with 400 miles of bike paths but with a climate where that if you happen to turn on a street without a bike facility you feel like prey -- I would choose the former.

Bike paths are like the chaparone at the school dance. Of course everyone is going to behave when they're around. There's no virtue in that. The true test is when the chaparone leaves. Does it all revert into some state of nature?

And what would help with creating healthy road culture? Well, the same things that I have been trying to tell the city nearly EVERY single chance I get. Education and enforcement.

With the case of my ticket, a little of both -- educate the enforcement.

To obey the law, people must know the law. An aggressive PSA campaign, strong pro-bicyclst rights messages (none of this "share the road" crap anymore...I want in no uncertain terms that bikes have the rights and responsibilities of other road users) from the Chief of Police, mayor, City Manager, Bike Ambassador and Mobility Coordinator.

The LAW should follow the law. Bike Police should ride on the street and not on the sidewalk and not against traffic. People look up to them as the barometer of acceptable behavior (for better or worse), and if they ride on the sidewalk, what chance does a lawbiding cyclist on the street have?

Education. Education. Education. You can only control so much of a person's behavior with urban planning (remember the chaperon analogy?). The goal should be to engender good behaviors in both cyclists and motorists even when no one is looking, even when there isn't a drop of paint anywhere on the road. Isn't that really what bicycle friendly should really strive for?


Jamie Fellrath said...

Great post, Russ. I'm a firm believer in the Education and Enforcement sections of the 5 E's as well. If it came down to good traffic enforcement and no bike lanes versus the status quo and more bike lanes, I'm with you: good traffic enforcement wins every time.

IMHO, bike lanes indicate a failure of the municipality to enforce the rules of the road. When I started my blog, the first thing I did was look at the traffic code, particularly as it pertains to bicycles. And what I discovered is that (at least here in Columbus) the law is already on our side. If the police would actually enforce traffic laws (for both motorists and cyclists), and that includes speed violations, this would be a cycling paradise.

Like you said, though, the police don't always know the law, or they misinterpret it. And that comes down to education.

Instead, cities would rather put in special lanes and trails for cyclists to stay on. And that's insane. It seems that spending money to create unnecessary infrastructure is more inviting than teaching officers the proper interpretations of the law and then enforcing it. Possibly increasing the city's coffers with fines against motorists who refuse to follow the law is much less preferable than admitting defeat and spending more tax money. I don't get it.

Anonymous said...

I've been riding on the sidewalks for a while, some streets like Broadway and 4th are so unfriendly to bike riders.