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bicycle debates

November 2, 2010

Coffee shop

A History of Reading

The other day I was sitting in one coffee shop while reading responses to my letter to the editor regarding a different coffee shop in town. This coffee shop (pictured above) is a lovely place with great service (and a bike rack!) and one I much prefer to frequent. Unfortunately, it is farther away from my house or campus and so I don’t make it over here all too often.

But here I was, the other day, enjoying a cup of iced coffee and getting ready to start my work when a new string of comments on my letter in the local paper caught my eye. Incidentally, Dottie (of Let’s Go Ride a Bike)  just posted about a similar phenomenon; cycling and [the macho discourse on] traffic laws.

I had written to discuss the issue of bike racks in town and unintentionally triggered a discussion about cyclists and their usage of bike lights at night, their willingness to stop at red lights, and the altogether debate of whether bikes need follow the same traffic rules as cars.

It seems like there will always be dissent in the bike community regarding this topic. While some noted that the advantage of traveling by bike is getting to move where a car might have to stop, I believe that for bikes to be accepted as equal shareholders of the roads that cars now so exclusively occupy, they have to function as vehicles. Which means respecting the same regulations that other vehicles have to respect; stopping at red lights, signaling when turning, at least slowing down at stop signs (hey, even by car I tend to roll through in second gear), and having functioning lights for visibility in the dark. I believe that this type of riding makes for safer roads for both cyclists and drivers; each know how to negotiate different traffic situations because both adhere to the same rules and regulations.

Other than going on tangents regarding road signs and helmet use, my letter to the editor was well-received by those who wrote in. Readers made helpful suggestions about what else could be done to better the bike racks situation in our city and some chimed in with useful tips about which local officials to contact.

The only voice of dissent came from an anonymous commenter who chided me for ‘slamming’ a local business for not being able to ‘find a bike rack’ outside, suggesting that I should be ashamed of myself for worrying about something like this when ‘everything else is going on’. I can only guess that this person is referring to the greater issues plaguing our nation; war, the recession, the elections, health care, etc, etc. While I agree that there are much weightier issues to be addressed in our nation today, I’m also pretty certain that fitness, health, air pollution, oil consumption, and sustainability factor pretty mightily into the issues debated on a national and international level as well. Allow me to go out on a limb here and suggest that one little bike rack has more to do with all of those things than that reader might imagine. So, no, I’m not ashamed of thinking about my bicycle in all of this.

Compared to that statement, I much welcome the ones discussing where cyclists should ride and when they should adhere to traffic laws. At least the parties involved in this debate recognize that cycling has a place, even if they can’t quite agree on where that is and how it should be dictated.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. November 2, 2010 15:06

    I think you have a great, measured response to that anonymous rant. Yes, the larger issues are indeed more important, but you seem to embody the “Think Globally, Act Locally” idea. A bike rack is a small step, but it should be an easy choice for a city to make.

    Good luck with it.

  2. November 2, 2010 16:24

    oh jeez, I believe it. NEVER read the comments on a newspaper website. It’s like reading comments on YouTube… entirely pointless and useless. In the history of online newspapers, there has yet to be a meaningful comment left in response to an article – not like my comments here, which are always insightful and helpful ;)

  3. Janni permalink
    November 2, 2010 17:12

    Es ist doch überall das gleiche: Keine inhaltlichen Auseinandersetzungen, sondern gleich nur Pauschal-Urteile.

    Natürlich haben Radfahrer das Problem, dass ein großer Teil von ihnen Verkehrsregeln einfach ignoriert – diese Tatsache stellt aber sicher nicht das Verkehrsmittel Fahrrad infrage! Zu den Regeln für Ampeln und Stop-Zeichen kommt in Deutschland noch die immer wieder heftig diskutierte Frage, ob für Radfahrer auch die verbreiteten Einbahn-Straßen gelten…

    Auch wenn ein Fahrradständer nebensächlich wirkt gegenüber nationalen und globalen Problemen, ist er doch Bestandteil einer menschlicheren und umweltfreundlicheren Umwelt!

  4. Dave permalink
    November 2, 2010 17:54

    Like Reuben, I usually avoid reading commments on our local newspaper’s site, as they tend to be mostly from the ultra-conservative, angry, reactionary faction of society – the kind that make comments like “I have a lot of insurance, and if you get in my way, you’re going down” or “let’s meet in a dark alley, we’ll see what happens.”

    Nice to hear that you can actually raise a useful discussion on yours, and I hope that in the long run it helps people think rationally about these issues, as opposed to all the reactionary nonsense that is always in the media. Thinking about issues of livability in your town or city address budget issues, health issues, national security, foreign policy, all kinds of things, you just have to think a little farther than the end of your nose to see how they relate, and hopefully if you keep bringing it up, more people will notice the connections.

    Good luck!

    • November 3, 2010 02:27

      Dave, online comments aren’t exactly like you’ve described here, there are always at least 2-3 misspellings per sentence.

      • Dave permalink
        November 3, 2010 02:29

        Oh yeah, forgot about that – and at least one or two comments per thread that are basically unintelligible, apart from words that make it clear they are angry.

  5. Gary permalink
    November 2, 2010 18:09

    My thought is that any vehicle that travels on city streets and roads must follow the laws of that city, whether the vehicle has four wheels or two, is powered by a motor or pedaled. Bicyclists who feel that the laws do not apply to them are mistaken and may just place themselves in harm’s way. I, for one, would not like to tangle with a 4,000 pound steel vehicle for obvious reasons.

    Gary

    • Dave permalink
      November 2, 2010 18:28

      Gary: i would say ideally there would be separate law and infrastructure for bicycles and cars, as bicycles are not always capable of following the same laws as automobiles (i, for instance, cannot ride in a way that does not “impede reasonable traffic movement” on a street where the speed limit is above 15mph, which is almost all of them).

      Bicycles simply move differently, and that should be accounted for. But in the meantime, yes, everyone should follow the road law as much as possible, behave predictably, and just chill out. I think half the conflict comes because everyone is so frantic to get where they are going, that they cannot react to anything in time. If everyone was going 15-20mph, and just relaxed about getting there, traffic would be much less stressful for everyone.

  6. Melissa @ HerGreenLife permalink
    November 2, 2010 20:49

    I just found your blog and really like this sentence in your “About” section:

    “Having seen what is possible, I want to bring that cycling lifestyle and mentality to the US.”

    My hope is that you, readers of this blog, and I can continue to work to promote cycling and end the ignorance that spawns the negative press and comments about bicycling. We have our work cut out for us, but it is possible!

  7. steve permalink
    November 2, 2010 21:48

    Just out of curiosity…how much further is this coffee shop away from the campus?

    • November 3, 2010 23:10

      It’s about 2 miles from campus away and away from where I live – not huge distances by city standards but far enough for a small college town that it means students and faculty prefer the coffee shop directly across from campus for their regular meetings and such.

  8. Karina permalink
    November 2, 2010 22:53

    I’m a long time lurker, first time commenter. I started following you over at academichic when I recognized the photos from your wedding as my alma mater and have since followed you over here as well. While I worked on my master’s program, I had an assistantship with the university-affiliated transportation research facility, so I am all too familiar with the issues faced when trying to get consideration for bikes. I have since made the move to that larger city just south of you where I’ve found the general public and city officials to be more tolerant of bikes and pedestrians, although there is still much to be desired.

    I have to admit I’m not surprised that you are running into resistance from the city. The local city council meetings were always a huge headache (I was required to attend some as part of my coursework) and growth of any kind seems to be fought at every step. If you want an example, just ask someone about the new mall that was supposed to be developed several years ago and is still stalled. I am somewhat surprised, however, that the coffee shop, which is a huge student attraction and rather urban chic for such a small city, hasn’t responded to your request. I suppose the coffee shop has a captive audience and doesn’t feel a need to make the change, but hopefully your letter to the editor has sparked enough bad press to make them do something.

    • November 3, 2010 23:09

      Karina,

      thanks for the comment. You’re right – it is urban chic and I would have expected much more support for cyclists from that type of place (especially since it looks like at least one of their employees gets to work by bike, seeing as how there is one particular bike that is always chined there to the parking meter). I was thinking that I would go to a city council meeting but right now I’ve had other work projects to prioritize. I do want to go though and am curious to see one in action, despite your warnings ;)

  9. November 3, 2010 11:21

    Ha, I’m with Rueben. The comments section of the Chicago Trib, at least, is like an idiot convention.

    Then again, sounds like you got some helpful comments on your article, so that’s great! I think it’s awesome that you took the time to formulate a letter to the editor and agree with you that one bike rack means a lot more than one bike rack.

  10. November 3, 2010 21:06

    I can sympathize. We got a bike lane along the park near me and you would not believe the level of ridiculousness surrounding it:

    http://gothamist.com/2010/10/21/park_slope_bike_lane_protest.php

    My favorite comment on the NYTimes article was something like “you’re saying that no one ever uses the bike lane so it’s not worth it and then you’re saying that so many people use the bike lane not following rules and you can’t cross the street – which is it? are people using the bike lane improperly or not using it at all?”

    We also have a lot of bike messengers and delivery guys here who ride on the sidewalks, whip through people, etc. And I do see plenty of regular ol’ jerk cyclists who ride through pedestrians crossing on the street and don’t stop for lights or riding the wrong way down the middle of a street. Ideally, the city would start enforcing and ticketing the cyclists that aren’t following traffic rules.

    There are plenty of jerks on sidewalks and in cars as well. 2 weeks ago I had a guy pull up to a stop sign I was approaching (I’d seen him slow down and knew it was safe to cross), beep at me as I was crossing the walkway in front of his car and proceed to tell me that I’m taking my life into my hands because a) I had on dark colors at night and it was barely raining and b) I was on my cell phone. I explained that I’d seen him speed half way down the block, slow down towards the stop sign all while standing at the curb watching for him/waiting to see what he was doing and when I saw him stop, then I crossed. So, maybe he should just learn how to drive and earn his license for a change. I mean, really? I should wear safety orange and set off some flare to cross a street because your IQ is low? Maybe learn how to drive, jackass.

    Anyway, jerks are everywhere.

  11. November 5, 2010 19:39

    hello! i just came across your blog by accident and noticed this post. i live in southern california and although i mainly drive, i love bicycling and am getting into road cycling. in california, cyclists are expected to follow the same rules of the road as cars. i’ve never been to midwest – does your state not have the same rules? i assumed it was the same everywhere else, but maybe i’m wrong.

    i’m lucky to live in a bike-friendly city. yet despite the traffic laws, i notice many casual cyclists (especially around the university) fail to follow these rules, which i find a little annoying. the roads would be a lot safer for everyone if they just obeyed the law.

    i hope you eventually have a bike rack installed outside your local coffee shop. i look forward to reading more of your posts.

  12. November 6, 2010 13:17

    Glad you simply rise above the negative. STAND TALL! RIDE TALL! And keep smiling!

  13. November 7, 2010 21:13

    I have to agree with the rest of the people posting comments that reading comments in the local paper can be very discouraging. Lots of anger and distrust of cyclists, often over simply being on the road. Frequent, disparaging remarks about “socialists” and liberals. Oh, well, I admit to being both.

    I’ve worked for two city governments and found a couple of issues in play with respect to street furniture, which includes bike racks. Good ones can be expensive and most cities right now simply don’t have unbudgeted funds. Cities and towns are currently looking at their midyear budgets and getting depressed and don’t know what they have to cut further until the spring. Sometimes there is concern that placement will impede the flow of pedestrian traffic on the sidewalks. Many shops, cafes and restaurants have to provide for a certain amount of parking spaces and simply don’t have the any space to spare for a bike rack on their parking area. However, installing a bike rack could result in a decrease in the number of spaces required . . . . . Then again, one of the powers that be might possibly view bicycles and bike parking as a further encroachment of the UN’s socialist plot undermine free-market capitalism. I believe Dan Maes of Colorado had some interesting theories along those lines.

  14. Deby permalink
    November 8, 2010 02:34

    Thank you for your positive posts and the awareness you bring to cycling. Don’t get bummed by the negative responses as it seems sometimes these are the only responses and the only thing media ever responds to. I am glad to report my husband and I had great luck with our City Council. We went to a meeting and brought it to their attention the main cycling lane in our town was littered with steak knives, glass, and other debris and the following day the lanes were cleaned. Keep up the great work and know you have the support of fellow cyclists who just want to share the road.

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