One of the great joys of maintaining Bikes for Humanity’s presence on the internet is checking in to see what’s happening in the wide world of bicycles through twitter, from Portland on outward. I personally enjoy the Bicycle Lobby’s tweets, and other activists who use parody or other forms of satire to bring to light bikey issues. Another method of course, is to retweet folks not so thrilled about increased biking infrastructure, and to point out a bias, fun fact, etc. As it is with twitter, such differences of opinion can quickly become confrontational with the original tweets deleted and the ensuing conversations thus gone forever. This one luckily has not been deleted (as of 12/28), from the day before Christmas, as a driver stuck in London traffic looks longingly at the unused bikeway:
I was very happy to find that, in spite of the negativity of the original offending tweet, bicycle advocates remained quite civil when taking issue with it. There are many implicit arguments in the motorist’s perspective to take apart here, and a couple dozen users and lovers of bike infrastructure relished in sharing their counterarguments:
- Just because there remains one unused vestige of public space not dominated by a single interest, does not entitle that single interest to just because they have used up their own finite resources. “look at the sky too, that is completely empty,” from @tallmoner. The same logic can be extended to the barely used pavement, as @Mindful_man writes, “The pavement is hardly being used. Shall we scrap that too and turn the city into a giant car park?” In other words, just because folks are not enjoying the sidewalks and bikeways in full force on one of the shortest, coldest days of the year, doesn’t mean that making a viable and safe bike option is a “superwasteofmoney.”
- Another fun and polite argument to raise is that a bikeway is not a waste of resources, but rather a means of empowering individuals who are not wasting resources, in that they are human-powered, and not taking up a space meant for five people, what one may term a responsible and reasonable allocation of resources, compared to using a car to transport a single human. “What is absurd is all those cars with one person in them, queuing to go where they need to. The folk on bikes are already there.”
- Along those lines, one might as easily argue that the bikeway is not “unused,” it is simply a functioning means of transportation, and so, in this stretch where there is no intersection, there are no bikes clustered together struggling to make forward movement. One user was helpful enough to upload this video from the perspective of someone riding this route on a busier day, passing clusters of cyclists at intersections. Another writes, “the absurdity of drivers sitting in a traffic jam of their own making.” As it turns out, contrary to the motorist’s assumed logic, increased capacity does not reduce congestion. What instead we have found by handing over more and more lanes and space to cars over the last century is that it just provides more space for more cars to sit in traffic, and, in some cases, increased congestion. A Swanky Bicycle Being puts it nicely, “its not ‘unused’ it’s clear because cars cause jams, not bicycles,” and also adds the helpful observation that it is not safe to drive and take pictures on your phone. This addendum was a little less civil, though: “Put your damn phone down, idiot.”
- Of course folks with completely opposite perspectives and ways of life could argue back and forth forever, which is why it is important to remember that we are all just humans making transportation choices that change from trip to trip. A viable bikeway simply allows the option for folks to ride a bike. Having one less lane on which to temporarily idle your car does not suddenly create safe mobility that prior to did not exist. For the multi-modal, bicyclist/transit-riding drivers, these truths are obvious. “It’s views like this that proliferate an ‘us & them’ mentality which only damages road safety. FYI 80% of cyclists have cars.” That strikes me as a British statistic, but all the same: “Ironically cyclists are MORE likely to have cars than the overall population average.”
Whether urban areas should be freely accessible to cars, or instead geared toward public transport, bikes, and taxis as London has become, is an argument to be made at a later date, and that question pertains more to London than any American city at present. Civil, empathetic, and positive discourse will be necessary as we make future decisions. What I’m presently not sure of interested in answering is whether this is a parody account of a hypothetical “cars in the streets, EVERYDAY!” motor enthusiast, or someone who really, sincerely wants more cars on city streets:
Not all questions are answerable.