The Economics of Cycling Activism Are Changing

Background Reading

Summary

Chicago's Cycling Movement Issues A Leftist Manifesto

Chicago’s Cycling Movement Issues A Leftist Manifesto

Nothing is ever really FREE! The Urban Cycling Movement has largely been unwilling or simply ignorant of the facts surrounding what it takes to cause a ‘sea change‘ within a society.

From my point of view the guys at StreetsBlog have been laboring under some very old ideas about what it takes to institute ‘lasting change‘. To date the movement has been all about the number of miles of pretty green paint and PVC bollards that get planted into the pavement with very little idea how translate that into increased ridership.

Let’s face it. If you want a 64% ridership from a city like Chicago that means an overwhelming number of automobile drivers have to become convinced that what they are doing now needs to change.

But the strategy by the Left has been all wrong. They fight like the Tea Party with a constant demonization of the automobile culture. Their obsession with removing bicycles from the Transportation Landscape is rivaled only by the efforts of the Tea Party Faithful to eschew anything whatsoever that has seen the hand of POTUS Barack Obama. And of course that makes no sense.

‘Bicycle Heaven’ Isn’t

Last night, Steven and John celebrated the achievements of the last two years with a dinner at La Zacatecana, where we hatched the plan for our original blog Grid Chicago back in 2011.

Last night, Steven and John celebrated the achievements of the last two years with a dinner at La Zacatecana, where we hatched the plan for our original blog Grid Chicago back in 2011.

Being a follower of guys like Mikael Coalville-Andersen has its problems. His ideas can be reduced to two bits of silliness:

  • Design infrastructure the way that Capablanca played chess. Get as many pieces off the board as possible to reduce the complexity of the strategies needed to defeat your opponent. When you are down to pawns and a king your End Game strategy will prevail. This is essentially the Grand Plan of the ‘War on Cars‘ crowd.
  • When bicyclists ignore the Rules of the Road or otherwise fail to follow the ‘dictates‘ of the infrastructure design, ‘scrap the design‘. Instead discover the ‘Desire Lines‘ of the cyclists who use your roadways and use that information to revamp the streets.
Commuters with bicycles, electric bikes and mopeds move across the street, Friday, May 23, 2008 in Shanghai, China. While two-wheelers have long since yielded the roads to sedans in this increasingly affluent society, the bicycle is far from dead. In fact, its numbers are growing. For many, if not most Chinese, pedal power remains a mainstay, for commuting, sending children to school or making a living. (AP Photo)

Commuters with bicycles, electric bikes and mopeds move across the street, Friday, May 23, 2008 in Shanghai, China. While two-wheelers have long since yielded the roads to sedans in this increasingly affluent society, the bicycle is far from dead. In fact, its numbers are growing. For many, if not most Chinese, pedal power remains a mainstay, for commuting, sending children to school or making a living. (AP Photo)

These ideas have their value in many instances in life. I try to use the Capablanca strategy when I play chess. But I realize that most players are content with having as many pieces on the board as possible.

And of course the Desire Lines stratagem is famously employed in laying out sidewalks on college campuses. The only problem is that there are far better and more fluid ways of controlling traffic, but it involves the following:

  • Accept the fact that traffic is a fact of life. You can indeed have too many bicycles in a given area. The problem is that the concentration of people and not the vehicles they use is what creates gridlock. Control the gridlock via sophisticated computer technology and you can run at much higher vehicle concentrations without traffic jams.
  • Broaden your view of parking problems to include bicycles. Parking space for automobiles should not be considered as something evil. We need to configure our cities around autonomous vehicular traffic. That means that fewer cars are actually parked. Families that need more than one car would be able with an intelligent grid to have a single vehicle be shared amongst all of its members.
  • The aim of traffic design should not be to replicate Europe in the 1920s. Probably the most debilitating thing about the Urban Cycling Movement is the fact that it is largely a Luddite Vision. Bicycles and indeed vehicles in general will need to get more complicated and intelligent and not less. Streets will need more lanes not fewer to handle all sorts of different kinds of traffic vehicles.

Money Talks, Bullshit Walks

Like it or not the money is in the hands of the wealthy who in turn favor (for the most part) automobile culture. In fact not even automobiles will be useful to the extent they are now because ever faster means of transportation are likely to be harnessed by those in power. Think teleportation.

But for now the Urban Cycling Movement is not going to have the monetary firepower to bring about that coup mentioned the Manifesto above. We are going into a phase where fiscal policies of all sorts are going to be turned upside down and shaken violently.

What remains will be a very pragmatic sense of governance that demands something far less squishy then Bicycle Comfort. People are going to be demanding performance ratings based upon actual data. To date we have been failing miserably at promoting pedestrians safety. And the fact that cyclists have earned the scorn of everyone as murderers of those same pedestrians is not helping.

But at the end of the day, it will be the lack of savvy on the part of the Urban Cycling Movement in knowing how to ‘make a deal’ that will determine if much of it will be around in a decade or not. So if you have a magazine or a new outlet like StreetsBlog that needs financial backing or a RideShare system like Divvy that needs honest-to-goodness subscribers then ‘activists‘ are going to have to dig deeper.

It’s that simple and complex at the same time. We live in a world where coup d’ états from the Left are increasingly unlikely. Learn the reality of the battlefield and you can survive. Fail to do so and you are on hiatus.