Remember When ‘Resource Sharing’ Was A Good Thing?

Background Reading

The bike light initiative: Lit up in 2013

Free Bike Lights!

Free Bike Lights!

This summer, University of Montana student Mike Seltzer was riding his bike home from the Fox Club Cabaret when, on the corner of Paxon and Brooks Streets, he flew over the curb and “ate shit.” A police officer stationed nearby saw what happened and approached Seltzer to see if he was OK.

“I started talking shit and he hit me with a ticket,” Seltzer said.

The communications major was given a citation and told to appear in Missoula Municipal Court the following day. He was handed a $110 fine for riding after dark without lights. 

The end of daylight savings time on Sunday prompted police to be on the lookout for bikers like Seltzer.

In addition to ticketing violators, police will be passing out 150 free bike lights throughout the week.

Mayor John Engen’s Bike Light Initiative kicked off Friday in an attempt to promote bike light use in Missoula. The initiative works with the Bicycle/Pedestrian Office, Missoula Police Department and the UM Office of Public Safety to promote bike light use in Missoula.

“We are happy to have folks cycle in Missoula for obvious reasons,” Engen said. “My hope is that we have bikers, pedestrians and motorists all working together to find a middle ground and make transportation in Missoula efficient.”

He said he began the initiative in response to increased bike use in Missoula, and the nighttime accidents spurring from that.

Missoula Bicycle/Pedestrian program manager Ben Weiss said that the initiative was a result, in particular, of the October 2006 death of a 14-year-old boy who was hit by a pickup while riding unlit near the Higgins Avenue and Beckwith Avenue roundabout. Weiss said that since 2007, the city has sponsored the initiative in correspondence with the fall time change, because bikers who have not adjusted their schedules are riding unlit.

He said a majority of bikers ride unlit not because they are ignorant or impervious to the law, but because of their situations. Some riders may not have known they would be out past dark, that the batteries to their headlamps were dead or simply where their light is, Weiss said.

“I can tell you that unlit bikers is the most frequent complaint I get from citizens,” Weiss said. “We believe it is a very inexpensive and efficient way to keep people from getting hit.”

Mayoral candidate Peggy Cain said she gets frustrated with bikers who don’t obey the rules of the road, especially the use of bike lights.

“It’s very disrupting to all of the sudden see a bicyclist and have to slam on your brakes,” Cain said. “And then have your dogs fly into the front seat.”

Cain said that as a former nurse she has seen her share of bike related injuries. She believes that more bikers would use lights if they understood they could be ticketed.

“I have patched up more than one boo-boo,” Cain said. “When bike meets car, car usually wins.”

According to Weiss, the city spends roughly $2,000 on the sets of front and back lights they distribute to bikers. He believes the lights give police an opportunity to positively interact with the individuals they are pulling over.

A city ordinance requires that “every bicycle when in use at nighttime, shall be equipped with a lamp on the front which shall emit a white light visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet to the front and with a red reflector on the rear.”

Last summer Kynslee Scott, a fishing guide for Blackfoot River Outfitters and UM graduate, had experienced similar treatment to Seltzer after her light burned out on her way home from downtown Missoula.

“I was given a ticket and had to walk home,” Scott said. “Literally, Missoula cops are no joke.”

Scott was given a $25 citation. She said she has always been an advocate of bike light use in Missoula but feels that she was just unlucky.

Sgt. Greg Amundson said there have been no deaths directly related to bikers not being illuminated since the initiative began. Amundson said there have been biker deaths in recent history, but they were the cause of drunk driving or driver error.

He said although the police department keeps records of warnings given to Missoula bikers for not being illuminated, it would be very difficult to produce an accurate estimate of whether or not more bikers are using lights.

But he believes the initiative is working.

And like Amundson, others believe it is working as well, including Engen, Weiss and Seltzer.

“If even one crash is avoided then all this is totally worth the effort,” Weiss said.


Things Have Changed

There was a time when it was considered the proper thing to do ‘to look out for one another‘. As the first story above says:

“We are happy to have folks cycle in Missoula for obvious reasons,” Engen said. “My hope is that we have bikers, pedestrians and motorists all working together to find a middle ground and make transportation in Missoula efficient.”

But things are very different now. When an automotive company like Volvo follows up its SmartHelmet with LivePaint it tends to make the news:


Albedo 100 Reflective Sprays

Albedo 100 Reflective Sprays

It has been reported that this spray is easily washed off and so would be useless on garments worn in the rain. But it turns out that the Light Metallic version is indeed permanent.

It differs from the lights that were passed out in the previous article in that it does not require batteries. In fact it works better than lights in those in-between situations we call dusk and dawn. Car lights (or any other lights) cause the fabric or fur or plastic helmet shell or whatever to glow in a manner that is visible directly by the driver of the car whose lights hit the surface of the paint.

It is another weapon in the arsenal that any smart cyclists would wield to help save their lives. Collisions are what you want to avoid in the first instance. Being seen gives the driver time to take evasive action should they come upon you suddenly.

Today’s beam shapes make it difficult to see anything above the level of the head lamps themselves. Keep the application of the paint low helps illuminate the moving legs and shoes to help ensure that a drowsy driver will be alerted to your presence.

So why would anyone ridicule this product? In fact why would they not also ridicule the distribution of lights? These two products are both being distributed to the same end.

Cyclists May Have Lost A Sense Of Comradeship With Motorists and Pedestrians

In essence that middle ground spoken of by the Missoula Montana official has all but evaporated. In fact if I understand the essence of the message of the Pope of Bicycle Heaven even attempting to provide access to a product like Live Paint is to be described in this manner:

Volvo’s new attack on pedestrians and cyclists is insulting to every traffic user.

There is really no middle ground in this pronouncement. It means that all those lights that have been distributed by well-meaning citizens for the benefit of their cycling neighbors were ill-advised. They were more of a slap in the face of cyclists than a gesture of friendly concern.

Why have we allowed this to happen? Who benefits from our estrangement from one another? Is there any meaningful way to repair the rift. If the rift is not repaired what are the probable outcomes for the future. Is this something that we can afford to allow to happen?

In a decade or less we will better understand how much like the Arab-Israeli situation this really is. It need not be this way, but there are forces bound and determined to drive and increasingly wider wedge between the groups that occupy the transportation landscape.

Were Jim Jones still alive he would no doubt have found a way to become a cycling advocate whose chief aim would be to install a sense of paranoia that ensured continued leadership for him. Do we really want to see that happen again. Jonestown did not end well. This rift will likely suffer the same degree of misfortune.