Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Infrastructure’s Not The Problem. It’s The People!

I just finished reading the comment section on an article over at the blog, “One Woman Many Bicycles.” The article was about cyclists basically throwing in the towel, and considering parking their bikes, after having the crap scared out of them for the umpteenth time by a motorist.  The comments ranged from the pointed and logical, to the amusing, but one epideictic theme kept leaping to the forefront of the discussion: “We need more, and better, cycling infrastructure.”  “We have too many cars.”  Sure, as if all of the terrors of our minds could be eliminated with more bike lanes/paths and fewer motor vehicles.  Dream on.    

However, it got me thinking.

Amid the calls for “Better infrastructure,” “More Bike Lanes,” “Traffic Calming,” and “Road Diets,” it dawned on me that even if every cycling plan ever conceived by humans were implemented, absolutely nothing would actually change until people themselves began to change.  I mean, c’mon, we basically already have a pretty decent road network to begin with, we all just have to learn to get along on that network.  More to the point, if motorists and cyclists were both considerate users of the road, and everyone obeyed the law, we would not even need to be discussing “Cycling Infrastructure” in the first place.  We all would, simply, just get along.   

In traffic congested areas motorists want more roads, and rightfully so.  In Los Angeles, for example, the freeway system is woefully inadequate, and horribly outdated.  And, like streets, more, and logical, capacity was needed yesterday.  All the wishing in the world for the opposite is completely foolish, as the traffic of tomorrow is already here today.  Removing available traffic lanes/roads via any method only exacerbates the existing problems.  Additionally, efforts to take away “Their” infrastructure will, of course, be met with firm resistance to “Us,” the us being cyclists.  It is not rocket science, people.  For someone to gain, someone has to lose, and that is not how harmony and understanding are promoted.  We need better integration of road users, not segregation, which creates the “Us versus Them” mentality in the first place.

It was once said land was valuable because they are not making any more of it.  This is especially true when it comes to a finite amount of space in which to make roads.  Drivers want more roads, cyclists want more exclusive lanes - Is there any wonder we conflict on how best to use the limited real estate we have?  While adding lanes in already built-up areas is not impossible, taking away available road space in already crowded areas, solely for bicycles, is not going to win us any friends in the long run. 

So, what does this all mean?

First, no one should have to fear for their life so much that they are actually considering parking their bicycles.  How would motorists feel if they were “Constantly harassed by 18-Wheelers all day, everyday,” as was suggested in the comment section following an article in the Orange County Register about a cyclist recently killed on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in Laguna Beach, California.  While that may sound like an immature idea, the commenter backed up their point with, “…So that drivers understand the position cyclists are in when they ride the roads they are legally entitled to use.”  Good point.    

Additionally, and factually, society today operates at the speed of commerce, and like it or not, methods such as the horse and buggy are not the most effective, anymore.  Motor vehicles, airplanes, and massive ships are the ways the world does business and how people move around freely and efficiently.  All of the wishing and praying at the alter of “The Church of The Holy Bicycle” will not bring about the extinction of the internal combustion engine, and it never should.  And, since “They” are not going away anytime soon, and since “We” are not going away anytime soon, either, it just makes plain sense to pursue massive, dedicated efforts to get along, and quit trying to “Out-Lane” each other.

OK, so what do we all do? 

While I don’t have the magic, ready answer, ponder the following: The best, first step, would be driver and rider education programs beginning at the State level, filtering down to the local municipalities, being taught as a component of every driver’s education program, and even in the schools.  Heck, if we can teach kids how to do their taxes in schools, why can’t we begin to teach them what the real meaning of what a “Shared Road” is?  This idea would also require serious attention from Law Enforcement to drive home the point of shared road safety, no matter what conveyance one is utilizing at any given moment.  The results would not come over night, but it would be one heck of a good start.

This, then, also leads to us to the concept of capacities and finite spaces.  We limit capacities all over society, from the number of seats in theatres, airliners, buses, trains, our automobiles, the number of souls on an elevator, all the way to how many people can sit at the counter of your local Denny’s.  These capacity protocols were established, and are enforced, for our own safety.  Why, therefore, do cities not follow the logical protocols of capacity limits?  I hate to sound like a Loon, but at what point do we just flat-out, and logically, have to say, “Sorry, no vacancy.”  Congestion need not be a bitter pill we are all forced to swallow.

So, as I wrap this up, we may be better served if the following societal axioms were taken to heart by all parties involved in the battle (which should not even be a battle) for road-based relevancy:

  • To the people in Motor Vehicles: Bicycles are never going to go away.

  • To the people on Bicycles: Motor Vehicles are never going to go away.

And finally, to Law Enforcement and Law Makers: The penalties for harming another on the road must be immediate and huge, lest people think they can “Get Away” with breaking the law without any consequences.

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