Two Thought-Provoking Articles and a Trap


I came across two thought-provoking articles today:

The first of these articles deals with an age old problem here in American, Racism. It begins this way:

Stop Racism (Graphic)
© Daily Kos

There are people who believe that racism is as American as apple pie.

I’m one of them.

There are others who live in the delusion that we are approaching, or living in a “post-racial” society.

I beg to differ.

It should be patently clear to anyone who just went through the trauma of one of the most racially vituperative presidential elections in recent history that racism hasn’t magically dissolved into the ether. Doubtful it will get better in the next four years if the millions of racists in this country have anything to say about it.

It really isn’t about racist politicians. They are only a symptom of the disease. They got elected by the racists who voted for them. Those same racists will be voting in the next election.

We have a black president for the second time. That has done little to diminish the outpouring of racial hatred here, and in some ways it has only inflamed it.

This is no time to do a victory dance where racism is concerned. It is however, time to ask a serious question.

What are you doing to stop racism?

The second article deals with the lies we accept from authority figures:

I’ve got lots of half-finished posts which for one reason or another I never got around to completing. This one covers old ground – many bloggers have tackled TfL’s “encouragement” of cycling already, as have I. But I like the propaganda parallels between TfL with the GDR, so I’m putting this out there anyway. (Though it’s not my intention to trivialise the situation of GDR citizens back then, or suggest that TfL are as bad as the SED or anything.)

My Take On Authoritarian Lies

Let me deal with these in reverse order. We as cyclists here in the United States are an eager bunch. We have a palpable inferiority complex with respect to our lack of cycling infrastructure. In some very many ways we lead the world. But in this one area we are woefully lagging. Our politicians and cycling advocates understand this dynamic. And like the authorities in the UK ours too will pander for our votes and our money.

Our politicians can get us to sell our souls and our votes for a few miles of green paint laid down on busy streets. Never mind that what we are being promised by the cycling advocates is not necessarily ending the carnage on our streets we are busy trying to repeat mantras to ourselves that belie the facts.

Just last evening I found yet another indication that despite our best attempts with bicycle lanes people are still dying:

The problem is that there are no silver bullets. To believe that you would have to accept the notion that the constant safety improvements in automobile design and road/street design have resulted in an elimination of accidents. They have not. Nothing about our past experience with automobiles indicates that we can design multi-modal traffic infrastructure that eliminates the problems of accidental death.

In the real world you still have planes that crash, cruise liners that sink, trains that collide and bicyclists that crash into pedestrians killing them dead. You can try to disguise the obvious by claiming that every collision between bike and car should not be reported as an accident.

But nothing about human behavior indicates that any of react to situations well within our personal limitations. Instead we all decide that the laws of physics and human behavior apply to others and not ourselves. How else do you explain the constant arguments over whether riding your bike at night with no lights and black clothing is your prerogative or just plain stupid. Ask any motorist who has had a drink before getting behind the wheel and most will tell you that they thought they could handle their liquor. And many will continue this charade while looking down at the carnage they have created when their vehicle slammed into a tree killing all aboard, save them.

But worse yet is the fact that while we have some ideas we would like to test out in an attempt to improve traffic design we are being told by our government and our cycling advocates that what we are getting actually works. Yet every time someone is either killed or injured while in a bike lane by either an open car door or a right turning truck we immediately jump to the conclusion that the lane works but those darned motorists are the problem.

We have that usual knee-jerk reaction that results in a hue and cry regarding more onerous legislation that will force drivers to think twice about what they do so that cyclists will not die. But that is like supposing that if we have capital punishment legislation people will be deterred and thus murders will cease. Or that if everyone is packing a gun under their shirts all gun murders from berserk co-workers will end. Neither of these has ever proven true and if somehow we were ever able to design a street system that had zero accidents between bikes and motorists someone in the mayor’s office would be handing out medals to all concerned. The medals are still gathering dust.

What mankind is about is attempting to find better ways of doing things. So far we know that the wheel is a big success. But all bets are off on most other inventions that we have created.

My Take On Hatred

Racism is not a unique thing. It is a branch on a tree we call hatred. If you find yourself able to see a person as valuable despite the color of their skin that is a wonderful thing. But the moment you decide that because some drives an automobile that they are the Spawn of Satan you have slipped back into the same cesspool you had thought to have escaped when you gave up racism.

Hatred is as old as mankind itself. It is not going away. And again we are deluded if we think that hating motorists is okay. It is not. We can be disappointed in the behavior of just about any class of individuals. But unless we can empathize with them we have not allowed our humanity to emerge.

When our cycling activism erupts into a naked aggressiveness and hatred of not only motorists, but joggers who use “our” lanes or pedestrians who do things that we are also guilt of, something is amiss. Think closely about the problems we have witnessed with the Tea Party. They were and are openly aggressive and unforgiving of those with whom they disagree. This means turning not only against Liberals but members of their own party (GOP) when they disapprove of an individuals decisions.

Any time you find yourself in a group which can turn on a dime and threaten to tear limb-from-limb any journalist whose words you dislike or any forum members who do not “toe the party line” you are behaving like Tea Party members. That is a dangerous thing to do. The totalitarian states of the past were like this as well. No one has the right to tell you how to think. There are no movements, not a single one, that have ever been right on every issue.

The cycling movement will in due time find that its eagerly awaited lane creations will turn out to be passé in the not too distant future. Engineers will learn better ways to trigger traffic control signals. And streets widths will change to better accommodate the new vehicle designs of the future. Everything will change of that we can be certain. Patience in the key to being open to what new ideas might be coming our way.

Velomobile and Wind Turbines

Most cyclists have in mind that bicycles as we understand them will be the wave of the future. I doubt this completely. The wave of the future will belong to bikes like those we currently call velomobiles.

I believe this because:

  • These bikes can be designed with electric assist which means that even people with special needs can propel them.
  • Because they have at least three wheels it means the balance is no longer an issue for people with certain disabilities
  • Because they are enclosed you can ride them year round and do so even on icy roads without fear of falling
  • Their cruising speeds even when used without electric assist mean that they can easily gobble up commuting distances upwards of 25 miles.
  • They will appeal to more folks who are non-cyclists because they ride lower to the ground and look more like small cars.
  • They can carrying much more in the way of payloads that even bikes with panniers and are easily locked and stored in places often reserved for automobiles. They do not need the antiquated bike rack to secure them.
  • Most of these can be made with onboard hub generator driven lights and turn signals which will make them much more acceptable to motorists who are used to that kind of technology. So for places where streets have not as yet been transformed these will work well.

Getting back to our shared hatreds. We need to jettison these as quickly as we do rotten bananas pulled from the bottom of a pannier on a sweltering day. We as both motorists and cyclists are all in this together. Together we need to find ways to prevent accidents. We need to understand and develop best practices. Finger pointing is as counter-productive as signing Grover Norquist pledges never to raise taxes.

Eventually we paint ourselves into corners when we allow ourselves the luxury of hating someone who might differ with us. Who knows but the next great cycling invention might come from a person who will never ride a bike. The next great street design that benefits cyclists might come from a person who hates bicycles but loves boats. You just never know.

We need to lose the intensity that cripples the discussions on our forums. If we are all about improving our forums then we need to consider before all else improvement the quality and civility of our discussions. Otherwise we should slump back into the better known system of hatred (racism) and resign ourselves to never growing up.

One Additional Reflection

Something I find disturbing in the debate that cyclists have with those who differ about their need for “special” infrastructure is the attitude that when confronted with examples of bad cyclist behavior our notion is to bring up bad motorist behavior:

Reply by Cheryl 13 hours ago
Kass has an obsession with cyclists running reds, doesn’t he?!?!? Kudos to Gabe for trying to bring drivers who run reds into the discussion.

I would like to think that each and every cyclist is “obsessed” with the notion that any cyclist would run red lights or blow stop signs. If not then why are we grousing about motorists who act likewise? Look at it this way. If we are actually seeking to end deaths due to accidents on streets and roadways then we also want to eliminate the ones which are self-inflicted. We know that running red lights can result in the death of the cyclist. We know that using fixed gear bikes on downhill runs that intersect with pedestrian crosswalks can result in pedestrians deaths. In fact we know that cyclists can be killed as well. for each of these situations there are already citable cases.

To argue however that killing baby rabbits for sport is no worse when I do it than when you do is silly and stupid. Let’s try and grow the conversation level a bit more in the upward direction. Otherwise we end up comparing one another’s concentration kill rates to see which totalitarian regime was least worse. That way lies madness.