Why Is ‘Urban Cycling’ So Violent?

Background Reading

Summary

We begin with an admission (perhaps made in jest):

Moving to Naperville?

Moving to Naperville?

Chicago is a beautiful city. I have visited most of the major metropolitan areas across this land and Chicago is still my favorite. But like all cities it is a great place to ‘visit‘. Living there is quite another story. Every night the folks in my neighborhood walk around the block and chat with their neighbors and get caught up. We know one another’s names and even the names of our dogs. Our children are taught to say hello ‘sir‘ and ‘maam‘ and we do not usually feel threatened when we encounter one at midnight should they be walking down the sidewalk.

Folks out here still leave their doors unlocked. If we do have guns, it is not something that we feel it necessary to talk about. Our kids still leave their bicycles in the driveways at night and expect to see them there in the morning. And while the Urban Cycling culture might think this is a lame and uninviting place to dwell, nothing in my experience bears that out.

We have block parties at least twice a year and folks come and enjoy one another’s company. People have developed relationships over the years that border on those likely to normally be reserved for family members. It is rather strange. Our block is full of educators, middle management types and some are black and most are white. Nobody makes a big deal of race it is simply one of the defining characteristics of a person and nothing more.

But Urban Cycling is far different. There is an aggressive edginess to the language that people use to communicate with one another on the ChainLink. The sad thing is that this has become all too common across the length and breadth of this great country. So much so that a place like the ChainLink is considered a haven for urban cyclists who want to stay in touch.

Now I agree that it probably is the best place for them to congregate but that is like saying that a crack house is the best place to hold a church service. Yes, the folks that need you the most are right there. But I doubt that sitting down and listening to a sermon would be very pleasant. And the level of confrontation that is likely to be going on all around you would be distracting.

I cannot imagine living in a place where the level of traffic accidents is high enough that it sticks out like a sore thumb by comparison with its surroundings. But hey, let’s not concentrate on accidents, how about thefts. There are at least two kinds of theft that seem to permeate the lives of the folks on the ChainLink. They are either being accosted for the money they have on their persons or more likely their primary modes of transportation are being stolen from the places where they are locked during working hours or from their very homes and housing complexes.

Bicycle Theft In San Francisco

Bicycle Theft In San Francisco

The problem is not limited to Chicago. It would seem that many major cities are dealing with a crime wave (in terms of bicycle theft) that is breath-taking. When you have a 70% increase in bike theft over a 5 year period something is terribly wrong. This smacks of a breakdown in “law and order” and that conjures up visions of the Thunder Dome scenes in Mad Max films. This is neither good nor health.

I sense that the stress levels from living in places like this largely contribute to the aggressive tones that people have when speaking to one another on the ChainLink. There is verbal violence being waged each and every day.

Chicago ChainLink Forum  "Civility In Action"

Chicago ChainLink Forum
“Civility In Action”

Eventually I decided to create a visual symbol of the fact that this forum is indeed ‘broken‘. The city itself is ‘broken‘. Gun violence is high and nobody knows how best to ‘stem the tide‘ other than to wait out the weather. It is bad enough that one thinks twice about a leisurely ride along the Chicago Lakefront Trail. And frankly coming inland to ride through neighborhoods means either horrific traffic conditions or bodily harm and that is a terrible twosome to have to choose from.

Chicago ChainLink Forum Is Broken!

Chicago ChainLink Forum Is Broken!

I would hate to have culture of the city transplanted to the suburbs where I live. We really do not need the brash in your face style that Chicagoans love and thrive upon. What I want to see happen is for them to focus on the things that will really make their town and their cycling experience ‘safer‘. Pretty green lanes through gun-infested territories does not make you feel safer nor does it encourage new riders.

When you have a population of cyclists who feel that drunk cycling is just another option from which to choose on any given day, then you have a real problem. The ChainLink needs to consider forming a group to not only pass out Look Chicago stickers to motorists, but is severely in need of having their community members taught that drunk cycling is not OK.

Chicago should not be the Syria of the Midwest! It has a great deal to offer. But frankly nicer bike lanes is very far down the list of urgent needs!

Sorry Not Buying Your Blather

Julie Hochstädter put up an interesting bit on community building by a supposed expert:

For Those of You Interested in Online Community Management
Posted by Julie Hochstadter on August 1, 2013 at 9:55pm

I read Richard Millington of FeverBee’s daily tip as much as possible. Here is today’s tidbit…
How does Age, Gender, Occupation Impact Community Building?
A few observations here.

Age has a significant impact in platform selection, tone of voice, and types of discussions initiated. Older audiences are more reluctant to use new technology, expect a softer tone of voice, and have less tolerance for ongoing fights/attention-seeking behaviour (with exceptions for some professions).

The seriousness of the occupation has an impact. Doctors, lawyers, investors and psychologists, etc. need to believe they’re coming solely for information. They typically need to ask a few information-seeking questions before the ego-effect and status-maintenance process begins. This isn’t directly correlated to pay (e.g. teachers), but it’s not far away.

Gender has a small impact. Men tend to respond better to status-orientated appeals and are more eager to impress. Women respond better to social-bonding related discussions.

My TakeAways

I’ve been running either a weblog or a discussion board for nearly 40 years. In all of that time I have had to play the ‘heavy‘ at times or ‘spur‘ on activity that I thought was meaningful. In the early days I hosted a calendar that was used by lots of clubs in the Chicagoland area. Always there were folks who either wanted to do things online that I found questionable or downright offensive. Sometimes you are forced to make the hard choices.

golden-rule-of-cyclingWhat tone your site takes in the final analysis is up to you. A blog or community site is not some sort of amorphous entity that grows like topsy. It is what it is because the person who pays the bills at the end of the month to support the site takes the initiative. If you have people on your site who are aggressive then you need to find a way to make certain that their actions do not drive away the ones who are more civil.

In fact a civil site is exactly what you want. If you need to allow the ‘cowboys‘ a chance to stretch their legs in the saddle then place them in a restricted area. What usually happens when this occurs is they lose their bluster. They act out largely because they are hoping to attract females who like ‘bad boys‘. Reduce their audience to people like them and they lose interest in being assholes.

There is never a need for a site to become offensive to its membership. The real problem that threatens the ChainLink is its limited participation. If you truly have some 9,800+ members then you are in serious need of wider participation by that group. Right now I would imagine that no more than 300 people at any one time is ever really participating in the conversations. It shows because the same assholes get into silly fights with one another almost weekly.

When I watched that shameful discussion on Lance Armstrong deteriorate before my very eyes I knew at that moment that you had lost either the will or the ability to control and shape this site and that is pitiful. Take some time an get your head out of your anus. Millington is blathering. He is acting as if a site is an should be on autopilot. It should not. It should be nurtured and guided towards something useful.

If this group is willing to let the $15K+ that was contributed (along with the additional monies that Active Transportation Alliance has been touting as profit from the SwapMeet) result in nothing more than what we have at present you are bigger fools that I imagined. Take this bull by the horns. Make it kneel and serve cycling and not the egos of a silly few folks with whom you drink beer on occasion. This cannot be a site that caters solely to the few hundred folks that meet and greet at every Lee Diamond Tour or some other contrived excuse to be together.

If you fail to act you will not flourish.

Leaders Lead They Do Not Follow

Every organization needs to understand that there is someone in charge. That is not the case with the ChainLink. It functions more like the Lord of the Flies than anything worthwhile. Eventually it will become clear that rather than building a site with insightful articles and tips what you have is a virtual bathroom wall. No amount of propping up by your ‘friends‘ will cover up this reality.

People from overseas will be the first to understand that this is a sham. They will understand that more time is spent squabbling and cussing than in moving forward. In fact I seriously wonder whether some of the folks who are saying such silly things about issues like ‘drunk biking‘ are not here to sabotage the whole place.

The site needs serious structure so that people know where to look for the information they seek. With your search feature defunct you are now essentially reduced waiting until an article is resurrected by some well-meaning soul. But frankly the calendar portion of this site is not enough to keep it in the forefront of usefulness to folks who want some substance.

Someone will come along and increase the scope of the work done by Mike in Oswego and that will make your calendar of little effect. The beauty of the ChainLink is its speed. But bringing up crappy arguments is not my idea of the best way to utilize that speed. Hiding behind the age, gender, race or social position of your users is not effective. They are no different than the people who work at any Fortune 500 company. They need leadership. Failing that you have anarchy. That is the status of the situation more often than not around here on any given day.

Turning your site maintenance over to folks with pet disagreements with those who ‘call you out for the lack of leadership‘ is silly and stupid. You might as well get your 12 year old nephew to run the site for you, if you are going to do that. What you need is to first consider what the heck it is that you want your site to be. Putting up boxes along the right of sponsors is a start. But eventually you need to consider how folks can find stuff.

There is virtually no meaningful way to get at something here barring knowing a phrase for which to search. And since your search function is busted, guess what… This is embarrassing and someone needs to tell you in an open forum just how useless the site has become. You need to stop surrounding yourself with sycophants who care more about petty issues in which they have interest than in an overall thrust for the site.

Make this become something more than a haven for idiots with nasty social skills and less intelligence than a toadstool.

Having Slept Upon It All

One of the respondents to another thread said something quite profound:

Reply by Hello Scarlett 12 hours ago
i too live in the humboldt – welcome 😀 i always breathe a sigh of relief on my commute home when i pass the light at california and augusta and see the park calling to me up ahead

I would never want to live far from one of the parksi love all of the green lushness and the mental health benefits <3

A Nighttime View of Humboldt Park

A Nighttime View of Humboldt Park

Hers was a response to the ‘I rode today thread‘. But she was making the case for every person in America whose sense of well-being is set aright every time they enter a pristine natural area. Frederick Law Olmstead did America a favor by understanding what Richard Millington does not. Knowing the propensity of the various flowers in your garden or flora in your park to bloom or to like shade or whatever is no substitute for being a great designer. Olmstead was indeed that.

Great parks are not an ‘accident of proximity‘ of nice plants. They are carved out of a natural setting by the ‘mind of an architect‘. And to the extent that they resonate hundreds of years later we know that the architect was onto something. People whether living in the suburbs or the city want never to live too far from a park. There is something about the color green, the presence of great bodies of water and the sounds of birds, and insects that simply draws you.

For that reason the suburbs have great Park Systems as well. DuPage has a Forest Preserve System that is the envy of the people in the Midwest. You come and ski our trails in winter or ride your horse along those same trails because it soothes the savage breast. It makes you whole again and restores your sanity.

The ChainLink Is Like A Park

What the ChainLink should be is a virtual park for the intellect. What draws people to it are their common interests in bicycles. What keeps them there is the feeding and nourishment of their spirits. I do not know if you have ever seen what man can do to a natural scene when given half a chance. Rather than enjoying the pristine beauty of the Yosemite Valley you can find folks whose idea of a great outing is to port into the park a few cases of beer to pour down their gullets while watching the sunset. Somehow that idea coupled with the fact that they are likely to have left those bottles and cans strewn around a campfire along with condoms, and cigarette butts is repugnant.

Passing On The Right!

Passing On The Right!

It pains me to think that there are people who treat the ChainLink in the same fashion. Rather than embracing the notion of a spiritual experience akin to what they could find in any Olmstead Park they embrace the idea of the bathroom wall. They go so far as to threaten one another with pissing on their garages. This is profane as well as insane. And it is this kind of behavior on the ChainLink that people like Lee Diamond want to protect rather than correct. Why?

Do we not have a vision of what the world should look and sound like that does not include vulgarity? What possible places does that kind of threat to a fellow member of the ChainLink have under any circumstances? What we need for this site is a Frederick Law Olmstead. We need someone who is doing more than trying to make a few bucks on membership sales and such. It has to be a place that is more than just a repository for tasteless posters about ninja cyclists and stale unimaginative wool jersey reproductions or even fake tattoos.

It needs to be a place where the human spirit can thrive. There is more to life than bitching about the car that cut you off tonight. Or the rider than like the car that cut you off nearly ran you over trying to pass you on the right. I do not go to the parks to shout out obscenities to the stillness of the place. I go there to drink in the beauty and the serenity of it all.

For me the ChainLink has not reached that point. It has to be more than just a collection of events in which people get together to drink beers or carouse at midnight to blow off some steam. These are things that can easily be carried out on Twitter. Flashmobs are not elevating in nature but rather help one descend into an anonymity that can make ‘bad behavior‘ seem less personal.

The ChainLink has to be a place where the actions of the individuals and the people who administer the place are uplifting. This has to be the place where we come to celebrate our lives as cyclists, not tear one another down. This has to be a place where strength and courage take precedence over fear and hatred. We need to be less concerned about who cut us off than how the future will look for our children.

When the ChainLink feels more like a shrine to the human spirit and less like a crack house I will have found it suitable.