Thursday, November 28, 2013

Insanity Rules in the War on Bikes

So the week has not been quite so cheery for cyclists.  The news was so bad it could have left a reasonable cyclist believing that the anti-bike set exists in a separate reality, with different facts.

Best to get the bad news out of the way first.

In a Washington, D.C. suburb, a grand jury investigated a driver who killed a cyclist by hitting her from behind.  Instead of returning an indictment on manslaughter charges, the grand jury determined that the offense amounted to a lesser charge sparking outrage and dismay in the cycling community.  Apparently the penalty for the offense requires a fine of $2,000.  Oh my.  Holy nonsense, Batman.

In Edinburgh, Scotland, the police identified a driver who struck and killed a cyclist.  Apparently the driver was eating his cereal behind the wheel.  A video of the distracted and hungry driver was located on Youtube.  How good could that cereal have been to have caused the death of a human being?  Was it some small batch musli? Count Chocula with extra chocula?  Honestly.  It could have waited for terra firma.

Bike lanes along King Street in Alexandria, Virginia were held up for greater study by a minority of people who testified at public hearing.  Among the anti-bike lane group was a law professor who stated that the bike lanes were anti-car.  Hmmmm.  Interesting logic indeed, professor.  Perhaps you could study this problem from an unbiased perspective.  The best lawyers always look at issues from both sides to calculate a reasoned response.  This would not be reason.

Not as serious as a car-on-cycle death, but appalling just the same:
A married couple, founders of a conservative think-tank that denies global warming, berated a cyclist who reported a van parked in the bike lane.  The two were captured on a helmet-cam being . . . well just terrible and out of touch.  Appropos of nothing, the husband offered the view that Washington was once a nice place where people got along, implying the bike rider was part of the demise of this imagined Washington civility.  Yes, I know.  Please stop snorting with laughter.  Clearly they were not rational.  Remember what Harry Truman said:  "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."  My guess is that they will not read this, but I do not have hurt feelings.  I hope the guy who captured this with his helmet cam gets a bonus from his employer or wins a scratch-off this week.  He did God's work.

In London there is a certain madness when it comes to cyclists and cars.
The Times reports that Met police have a bike ticket quota of 10 citations for cyclists a month.  Not the greatest use of police resources in a town with elevated deaths of cyclists hit by cars.  But I am not the Queen.  If I were, I would stop this at once, provided it was permissible under whatever laws govern in the instance.

On an up note, Road cc reports on Twitter that the Minister of Labour will ride his Brompton about London.  He will make a point of riding through the worst intersections in support of cyclists and to better understand the the problems they face.  The sooner the better since so many deaths have occurred that tomorrow, November 29, 2013, stopthekilling is holding a protest.  Any U.K. cyclist who is half healthy should really attend.  No really.  If you are there, you should attend.

This is all so dreadful I had to take a deep breath and watch a video of a cat wearing a hat while riding on the back of a bicycle.  I did feel a little better afterwards.

So how did they get all those bike lanes in Holland?  Well, apparently cyclists protested, and even held a mass die-in.  This is what the stopthekilling group hopes to replicate tomorrow in the U.K., and frankly, I hope it works.

There were high notes to the week as well.  The M Street cycle lanes began to be installed in D.C., though the cold weather that made biking tough apparently stopped the painting of the lanes too.

WABA is hosting the first ever Cider Ride in Maryland next month, with three lengths for every rider.

And a random note to end the week's review.
Springfield, Massachusetts is getting bike lanes.  Wooo-hoo.

So, if I see you in the bike lane, even if you are a cat, and you are not parked in it,  let's be smug.

Elisa P.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Safety in Numbers

Photo from

This week the bike safety debate continues.  And the debate continues to be interesting. It is not about the Tour de France pile ups we all want to avoid.  It's about commuting on bikes and how to make that safer.  I have an answer.  More cyclists.  A lot more.

The more cyclists there are in the roads in the United States, the more drivers will expect cyclists.  The more communities will have to respond by training police officers, drivers and cyclists, and building the infrastructure to support cycling. The more people will be present on scary, remote bike paths after the sun sets.

There are serious ways to accomplish this, such as new laws and new bikes lanes.  Governments and companies could establish policies to motivate people to cycle, like subsidies, clean up areas in offices, and bike parking zones.  Restrict the numbers of trucks on the main streets when it is bike commute time and increase the penalties for traffic offenses committed by motorized vehicles that have breached the bike lanes.

There are not so serious ways to this end.  All cyclists could make it their personal mission to look as absolutely fabulous as they possibly can when atop two wheels and ride smugly in the most visible place so drivers grow envious and want to cycle.

Marie-Claire magazine

Or we could all just wait, because 15% more people are commuting by bike across the country today than were doing so only a few years ago and the numbers are going up.

All the elitist cycling cynics - who fear their prior status and way of life are being eclipsed by hearty and hale cycling hipsters who could care less which stretched NYC matron posed stiffly with another of her ilk for Bill Cunningham (ironically a cyclist himself) at the Met - will eventually stop carping and go back to their small worlds and fad diets.  The merchants who opposed bike lanes will find their profits going up despite their fears.  And even grumpy, negative people will re-discover that feeling we all had at the age of eight when we soared down a hill on our very first big bike.
Of course, there is plenty of advice for cyclists out there on safety.  Wear a helmet.  Be predictable.  Wear chartreuse, even though it is flattering to no one.  Don't make fun of a guy with a thick mustache, he might be concealing a harelip.  (OK that advice came from my mother and has nothing to do with cycling.)

But this advice doesn't always help.  I spoke to a colleague today who had a serious fall when she hit a washed out spot on the bike path.  Her concussion was massive, and she does not remember anything after hitting the puddle until she woke up in the hospital.  She was wearing a helmet that was compressed in the fall, she was being predictable, and using a bike path.

I had an accident myself this week when I encountered a sensible woman on a 10-speed with cleats on the Senate side of the Capitol.  I was on my Pashley Princess Sovereign in high heels with my leopard-print helmet.  We both tried to pass through and narrow opening between two wrought iron barriers at the same time and crashed into each other.  I pried her off my peddle and apologized and she did the same.  It never occurred to me that any woman would wear cleats on a commuter bike when she could easily don a cleaver pair of patent leather T-strap pumps.  Then it dawned on me that the only reason we collided was because she could not get her shoe off of her pedal.  So some near tragedies cannot be fixed by law, policy or numbers of cyclists.  I will not advance the theory that cleats are the problem lest   some cyclists set upon me like something out of Lord of the Flies.

The Economist - yup that one, with its sort of everyman for his own hedge-fund venal tone- this week had a piece about who would be in fault in a truck on car incident in a number of different scenarios in the U.S. and the Netherlands.  It is worth a read after the New York Times oped piece that prompted tons of tweets accusing the author of anti-cyclist bias and a blame the victim mentality.  It also reminded me that more people die in bike accidents per capita in the U.S. than do in the Netherlands.  This should not be the case.  We are Americans.  We can walk and chew gum at the same time.  We have much bigger windmills than the Dutch.  In fact we have wind farms.

But being serious for a moment, and certainly no longer than a moment, many people died in the UK this past month in car on bike incidents.  They were fathers, architects, mothers, and societal contributors.  And they were cyclists which we know means something more in the area of personal character.  This shouldn't be happening in the U.K. or the U.S.  If significantly greater numbers of cyclists would make these deaths less likely, then we should help that to happen by whatever policies we can establish.  Links to these stories are here.

And on the good news front, Bixi, the Canadian bike share company, was rescued.  So the Apocalypse is not surely upon us.

So if I see you in the bike lane, be smug, look fabulous, and invite a friend.
Elisa P.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Ethicist: Bad to Kill Cyclists and Drive on Dedicated Bike Lanes

This week marked the nadir for bicycling advocacy, fair discourse, and enforcement of the traffic laws that protect cyclists.  Which means the only direction that this can go is up.  Whew.  

To start, Daniel Duane, a "Contributing Editor for Men's Journal," wrote an op-ed piece for the august New York Times wherein he decried the lack of charges against drivers who kill cyclists.  The piece noted that car drivers are usually to blame in the accidents that injure cyclists.  Duane also suggested the following solution to the problem of car on bike injuries:  "Every time you get on a bike, from this moment forward, obey the letter of the law in every traffic exchange everywhere to help drivers (and police officers) view cyclists as predictable users of the road who deserve respect. And every time you get behind the wheel, remember that even the slightest inattention can maim or kill a human being enjoying a legitimate form of transportation."  My initial reaction was to point out that Duane wrote for Men's Journal, not the New York Times.  Taddumdum!
@brooklynspoke and @bikesnobnyc then engaged in a series of tweets and replies on the topic, generously responding without profanity to every anti-cycling nut who antagonized them out of boredom or a need to be relevant.  Their tweets are a pure delight and as I watched this madness unfold, I could not help laughing out loud.  May they tweet forever.
In Washington, greatergreaterwashington's founder, David Alpert, noted that Duane was just one of several writers who had complained about cyclists and cycling advocates who seek enforcement of the laws that protect cyclists.  Those other pieces also concluded that the consequences for a driver killing a cyclists are not significant enough.  In his typical sober prose, Alpert drove home the point that there is no meaningful enforcement of the laws that could change behavior and save lives.

At the same time Washington's WTOP radio - which has any ratings at all because it broadcasts traffic and weather conditions every 10 minutes from a "glass enclosed newsroom" - aired a story about the confusing nature of cycle tracks.  Confusing?  Barriers and green paint are confusing?  Ok.  It would be fair to say that no one listens to WTOP unless they are in a car in traffic.  Cyclists don't care if the Beltway is backed up.  That's why they ride a bike.  The piece was a bit lopsided to say the least.  A driver described a cyclist attacking a car by pulling on the car's windshield wiper blades.  The implication is that cyclists bring it on themselves.  The story did not mention the fight-or-flight response that kicks in when someone's life is threatened by a heavy projectile.  The tale of the enraged cyclists was of course not a logical comparison since the average man weighs less than 200 pounds, while the average car weighs over 2000.  Even accounting for the coefficient of drag on a boxy SUV, I think the odds are stacked against the bicyclist.  Physics be damed.  Perhaps I am wrong.  After all, I was told as a child that elephants fear mice.  On some level I still believe that.

A similar acrimonious exchange is taking place on the other side of the Atlantic where conservative MPs are suggesting that cyclists should pay the dreaded road tax and register their bikes.  No mention is made of the fact that many British conservatives are contrarians who like the aghast responses of those who are appalled by their public statements.  On that theme, the Times of London ran a piece explaining why even conservatives should welcome more cycling and support its infrastructure.

Amidst this growing debate, the town or Oro Valley, Arizona blissfully noted it silver rating as a bike friendly town from the League of American Cyclists.  Without irony.  I may want to live there.  Except I hate hot weather.

I propose the following solution.  Start educating drivers on the rules about cyclists in driver's ed class.  The idea that drivers know the rules is simply wrong.  In written and live driver's tests, add questions and exercises on the rights of cyclists on the road.  If a drivers hurts or kills a cyclist in a dedicated bike lane or cycle track, the punishment should be increased just like it would be for other crimes involving more culpable conduct like bringing a gun to a fist fight.  Strict enforcement of the laws that protect cyclists needs to occur as soon as the bike lanes are in.  Not after drivers have developed bad habits.  And we need to change the culture in many big city police departments where officers regularly park in the bike lanes - while they are getting a sandwich, not responding to a hostage taking.  Officer discipline would help a lot.  Municipalities should aggressively ticket drivers who enter bike lanes or cycle tracks.  As these enforcement efforts are underway, cities should have their public information representative call the press.  Heck, call WTOP, so the word gets out to drivers that there are consequences.  Which media outlet is better to call than one that caters to car drivers?  Where the facts support it, charge a car as a deadly weapon.  This is not new.  In domestic violence cases, where an estranged husband tries to run over his wife, a car will be added as a deadly weapon.  Simple.  As for cyclists, if they actually endanger someone in violation of the law, then write them up too.  I have seen such cyclists once or twice over the last decade.  But I would not squander police resources on ticketing cyclists who are running red lights where there is no opposing traffic, the rain is coming and the hand-warmers have just gone kaput.  They don't weigh enough to inflict the same harm.  Go after the heavy.  Literally.  

So if I see you in the bike lanes, on a bike, let's be smug.
Elisa P.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

If Miss Manners and Judge Judy Enforced Crimes Against Cyclists

One in an Occasional Series of Responses to The Bike Proctor.  Expect Enforcement.

This posts responds to requests from those seeking guidance on bicycle etiquette and ethics.

Dear Bike Proctor:
I wonder if there are circumstances under which it is acceptable to block the bike lane.
Confused in Cleveland

Dear Confused (I omit the "Cleveland" since, as a sophisticated, big city person, I assume that many there are confused):
Indeed there is but one circumstance under which it is acceptable to block the bike lane.  If you are selling ice cream from a cargo bike which you have used to arrive at your vending spot, then it is clearly appropriate to block the bike lane.  However, should you not get any customers because your ice cream is somehow befouled, melted, or inferior then you would not be within refined social norms to continue to block the bike lane.
The Bicycle Proctor

Dear Bike Proctor:
Hypothetically, let's say that I have a friend who is the CEO of a major Canadian company that makes the bikes used is bike share programs globally, and somehow I let my company go into massive debt thereby endangering the long-term success of bike share programs across the globe.  Is there anything that my friend can do to prevent becoming the object of scorn?
Anxiety-Ridden in Montreal

Dear Anxiety-Ridden:
This is where the Bike Proctor becomes General Patton-meets-Super Nanny.  Failure is not an option.  The bike share programs are changing the world.  You may damage or impede this positive momentum.  You will have to get this company back on track or get the heck out of the way.  Tighten your belt, cut costs, stop throwing away cash on limos, small jets, liquor, narcotics, and corporate retreats.  Did you see the film "Margin Call?"  Do not become Jeremy Irons' character unless you want experience eternal damnation.  If you have a mistress, jettison her like so much extra baggage.  Go paperless, recycle, seek outside investors who are not emitting smoke from their heads and holding tridents.  If you know you cannot stop hemorrhaging cash, locate a fixer, or a closer, like the fat guys they bring out at the end of baseball games just to smack one out of the stadium to win the game.  Then promptly resign your position falsely citing a desire to spend more time with your family as the reason for your departure.  Do not take with you a Golden Parachute.  You do not deserve such a thing.  It is not about you, it is about the planet, mankind, the free world.  Fix it, or get out of the way.  The Bike Proctor knows not every relationship can be fixed, but you are Canadian, and I think that means that you are less vulnerable to shenanigans.  Therefore I counsel you to get cracking.  Immediately.
The Bike Proctor

Dear Bike Proctor:
I frequently block the bike lane to get a latte, drop off my girlfriend, use the ATM machine, or scratch myself.  I never seem to get ticketed.  Will I someday be held to account for these infractions?
Morally Bankrupt

Dear Morally Bankrupt:
It is rare that the Bike Proctor hears from someone as utterly depraved as you, but at least you are reaching out.  It is a little bit like Jim Jones expressing remorse only after he ladled Kool-Ade into the waxed paper cups of a hundred toddlers, but I supposed that it is better than nothing.  At the turn of the 17th Century, we had certain methods of punishing people that relied heavily on their well-developed sense of shame.  The pillories were used to embarrass thieves and to make them so physically uncomfortable that they were deterred from further criminal involvement.  Modernly, we simply post photos of people like you on Instagram in the misguided belief that you care about the opinion of those with higher IQs than yourself.  This is a serious waste of data since you will not see the photo, you do not care, and have a very high threshold of shame - certainly higher than people did circa 1679.  I want to tell you to go in peace and sin no more, but I doubt that will work.  No Hail Marys can cure your infractions.  So I suggest you sell your car immediately.  Maybe tonight on eBay or Craigslist.  Get a Bicycle.  Start using cycle tracks tomorrow and become a spokesperson for cycling good.  Everyone loves a story of redemption.  Be like the guy who left the skinheads to marry a woman of color.  Kind of.  Change your life.  Then write again and I will reconsider my advice.
With Irritated Reserve,
The Bike Proctor

Please feel free to send your request for advice to the Bike Proctor.

If I see you in the bike lane, and you are riding in the bike lane, and not blocking the bike lane, let's be smug.
Elisa P.