Stay Tuned: The Wheels May Be Coming Off Of “Bicycle Heaven”


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The day may come when the debriefing of the Cycling Movement will involve some of the handwringing that the GOP is currently undergoing. Methinks that some of that is beginning in of all places Copenhagen (a.k.a. Bicycle Heaven).

The big problem with this years defeat of Mitt Romney seems to be the total unpreparedness of the GOP Faithful for their candidates loss. In fact they were being groomed as a collective for a landslide! So how did things go so wrong?

Simple. If you are not willing to compromise you eventually raise the hackles of the opposition to the point that they wake out of their stupor and realize that what you represent is more than a bunch of loony pundits but a real threat to their personal freedoms. When you start offering solutions like quarantining all the gay persons in a far off place, you get noticed. When your colleagues in the movement provide no pushback it becomes clear that you are less of an outlier than you seemed and are instead viewed as a loose canon whose loose lips are divulging plans heretofore unknown outside the inner circles of the movement.

When you admit that you are a hater or say automobiles, you leave little room that you must be stopped. There are people whose livelihoods are centered around the automobile industry and the gasoline and electricity concerns that power these vehicles. After all even cyclists have to occasionally send for fire trucks, ambulances, police help, or be airlifted from a rooftop during a flood. I guess that in all these instances I would prefer that the fastest vehicle possible be sent. I do not care if it uses gasoline or not. Only a fool would lie dying of a gun shot wound to the abdomen and refuse transport to the hospital because he was insisting on a bicycle ambulance.

In fact the insistence by cyclists that all things cycling supersede everything motorized is a bit like demanding that every undocumented alien be sent home to their country of origin despite having to  hold online because one or more public or private businesses or services that relies almost completely on the lower waged undocumented worker was doing a lousy job of meeting their needs. It took the Alabamans a while as it has the Wisconsinites that their farming industry relies nearly completely on undocumented workers and that their absence brings services to a grinding halt.

Mikael Colville-Andersen Is Too Smart To Be Stupid

Did it never occur to him and to the other luminaries in the cycling movement that one day their petulance would wear thin? After all you really cannot make cycling the primary mode of transportation unless you are living in a fantasyland. Every big city needs to have mass transportation. Not everyone is capable of riding an upright bicycle. And the problems that are currently being faced in Bicycle Heaven are something that would be positively stifling here in America.

Have you ever seen the photographs of all the bikes parked in and around the urban centers where folks have to leave them to get into the city proper. Merchants all over the city are bemoaning the fact that parking on the street in front of their shops is driving away customers. The tail has begun to wag the dog. Everything was fine until that Critical Mass was reached that meant as much bicycle congestion as was already experienced with automobiles. Neither is preferable and that is a hard lesson to grasp the meaning of if your aim is simply to grow the movement.

There are always consequences

We need to think about cycling as part of a whole that includes automobiles. They cannot be considered the sole problem. The density of a city is a fact. It is in fact what defines them. Spread out the population over ten times and much land and suddenly all the current problems are abated. Less congestion makes the city livable. In fact you only need to visit downtown Chicago on a weekend versus during the week to know that what only a day before was unbearable is now by comparison delightful.

But let that weekend be the one where the Air and Water Show is occurring and you suddenly realize why the city is a horrible place to ride a bike. It is because there are simply too many people and nothing short of a nuclear blast could make things better at that moment. As Pogo noticed the problem is always, “us”. And in this case the “us” are cyclists.

We are people with such high expectations as to be silly and unreasonable. We act as if we are in a bubble. Kinda like the GOP Faithful who willed that the nasty aliens and people of color were no longer in their midst, spoiling the very air they breath. In fact it turns out that the spoil sports who could not be satisfied with letting Democracy dictate the outcome of the election have decided to secede.

There are many cyclists who understand this sentiment. They would love to have motorists vanish from the face of the planet and leave it to them. But this works only if you don’t need to have your local supermarket replenished by semi trucks or your mail delivered by mail vans or any of the hundreds of other things that the motor vehicle is capable of that simply cannot be done on a bicycle.

It is one thing to post pictures of you bringing home your water heater on a trailer behind your bike. It is entirely another to realize that the water heaters at your local hardware store or perhaps the Big Box store had a couple of hundred of those delivered last Thursday and not by bicycle. We need to stop thinking like teenagers who want their parents to give them some space but have to run to those same persons for money to buy movie tickets or new sneakers or blouses or stretch jeans or goodness know what else.

We are petulant and silly some times. And it is high time that the Big Boy pants be pulled on and we begin to deal with the realities that are facing us. We will no longer be getting monies earmarked for us alone. We will have to fight for dollars alongside everyone else that wants to share the bounty (such as it is) of Federal Dollars coming back in service of transportation.

In places like New York, that will mean in the wake of Sandy that entire chunks of infrastructure be refurbished or replaced to avoid the inevitable repeats of such superstores. We will have to get used to these despite the Evangelical Christians who are Climate Change Science Deniers and want us to take their word for it that scientific inquiries are “straight out of hell”.

We are going to have to find a way to re-educate ourselves about how to ride on streets where no pretty green painted lanes are available because they all got washed away in the big storm or scraped clean over the winter. We in essence are eventually going to have to go back to doing what we have always done, muddle our way through on our own.

Even if you imagine that the video (elsewhere on this site) of vehicular airbags for cyclists and pedestrians become adopted it still means that helmets are in order. Not every car will have such airbags (if they ever do) for years to come. So that means that in a crash you want at least to have your noggin protected as much as is possible from a crushing blow.

So if you are not considering burying your head up your anus (which in a crash might provide more protection than I had previously considered) you will have to get off the fence and choose wisely. Meanwhile we can let Mikael and his consultant friends figure out what they can do to keep earning those big salaries since their homeland is probably going to undergo a much needed reality check.

Learning From Others

Eventually the money being used to paint our streets green will come to a grinding halt. I expect that the Fiscal Cliff negotiations will push cycling infrastructure even further into the non-essential category while “silly” things like health care and feeding children are allowed to come to the fore. We will no doubt have our lower lips jutted out far enough to carry coal buckets (a favorite description from parents of their petulant children pre-World War II).

But we can soften the blow by taking a look at the coming fights in Portland and New York. The motorists are going to get tired of being pushed around. There is sure to be continued efforts in Portland to get bicyclists licensed and taxed and certainly re-educated. That you can count on. No amount of wishful GOP-style thinking will make the inevitable disappear.