Radical ramblings

Ever noticed how you work harder, pedal faster, and make smarter decisions when you feel you’re ahead? Or have you seen the way social advantage, particularly between religions and races, is carried down through the centuries? The human is not an instinctively charitable creature. Most of us thrive on seeing others lose while we win. It motivates us. If we’re a group, our numbers swell when we’re winning, and wane when we’re losing.

I think of this whenever an absence of bicycle infrastructure forces me to choose between the road and the footpath. If I choose the road, I make myself the slowest and weakest among others using that space. If I choose the footpath I make myself the fastest and strongest. By choosing the road I look strong among cyclists, but I make cycling, in general, look weak. I win. Cycling loses.

That betrayal is magnified by bicycling advocates, who purport to speak on behalf of all cyclists, but who accept the status quo by riding on roads. Whenever the general population is surveyed, we see that the overwhelming majority of people can ride a bike (and are therefore all cyclists), that nearly half own a bike (and so want to be regular cyclists), but that virtually nobody rides and the reason they state, is they are afraid of riding on roads. Bike advocates who accept the status quo, speak for themselves and their pride with a megaphone. And there’s a whiff of Stockholm Syndrome in the way they interact with planners and politicians, who all love a patsy.

If you’re a bike advocate whose “work” echoes your personal preference for roads over paths when you have a choice, you’re doing more harm than good. You make child cyclists look weak when you don’t choose routes the way they do. You aught to show some solidarity with old lady cyclists, and ride where they would ride, if you showed them by example that it was fine to ride on the footpath.

If you put bicycle transport ahead of your pride, and your infatuation with people in power, you would steer it toward a winning position, where it would thrive. You would stop begging for a safe allotment of road, and make pedestrians beg for a safe allotment of footpath—or you could just tell pedestrians they aught to wear day glow*. There’s no pride in victim blaming, I know. But who said advancing cycling was going to be noble? Just look at the inglorious rise of the car!

I will not join Cycling Tasmania in pleading for car driver’s clemency at this rally on Saturday. And I would sooner wear a star of david on my arm than sign whatever “code of conduct” they have in mind.

 

About Steven

I'm on a mission to put cycling on the agendas of architects, urban designers and fellow academics, who see the potential for bicycles to change cities and buildings. My PhD is in architectural history and my interdisciplinary research spans art theory, philosophy and cultural studies. I teach architectural history and theory and design studio at The University of Tasmania, Australia, and formerly worked as an architect designing large public housing projects in Singapore. My favourite bikes are a titanium racing bike I use for racing, a Velorbis retro commuter for riding to cafes and work, a single speed ultra light Brompton that I take with me when I travel on planes, a 29er hard tail mountain bike that I get lost on in remote places, an old track bike that scares me, a 1984 Colnago Super with all original campagnolo components that is plugged into a virtual realm that I train in, and a Dutch-made Bakfiets, that could easily replace half of the bikes I just mentioned.
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12 Responses to Radical ramblings

  1. tim says:

    Fantastic post, radical maybe but it has to said. Meanwhile on Sunday Bicycle Tasmania will have a good turn out to make the case (yet again) for decent infrastructure. Give ‘em a plug they’re generally on our side.

  2. tassiedi says:

    I choose not to knock over pedestrians. I think it’s quite appropriate to push for separated paths while in the meantime making a statement and asserting your rights on the roads. I’ll be at the ride on Sunday to demand a cyclepath along Sandy Bay rd.

    • Steven says:

      G’day, I didn’t say you can’t assert your right to ride on the road, but that you should not assert your right to ride on the road when you have the choice to ride off the road.
      And I didn’t encourage any thinking person to knock over pedestrians. However, if you ride on the footpath or shared paths, no amount of care can rule out that possibility. I am super careful, and warn people with my bell, but I COULD hit a pedestrian. The only way you can avoid it, is to ride on the road and risk somebody’s life: your own.
      That said, I would be the first to support presumption of liability laws in Tasmania, to protect pedestrians from cyclists on any shared path. If a cyclists is presumed guilty when they hit a pedestrian, bikes will go slow, pedestrians will feel protected, and cyclists won’t lose their current right in this state to use the footpath. It’s the best protection for everyone.
      The next logical step would be to introduce those laws on the road, to protect bikes from cars. Hear what my love child Mark Cavendish has to say on the subject:
      http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/cyclesafety/article3451896.ece

  3. tassiedi says:

    HI Steven, here’s a link for the Family Fun Ride on Sunday to press for the Sandy Bay Road cycleway: http://www.facebook.com/events/291181134338657/

    Also here on the Bicycle Tasmania web page:
    http://www.biketas.org.au/lobby-for-action/facilities-development-actionss/2ndsandybayroadfamilyfunride-17thfeb

    Cheers
    Di

  4. markpa says:

    Cycling Tasmania’s role as promoter of sports cycling seems to leave then confused about the requirements of utility/transport cycling. Their mass events focus on sportif rides, their safety promotion is Amy Gillett or like the rally you mention all about riding on roads.
    Bike Tas do focus on general cycling advocacy. So while the Sandy Bay ride is on the road it’s to promote the separated cycleway.
    Yes both need to happen. I should be able to ride on the road safely, at speed, in lycra whatever …, I should also be able to ride safely with my family.
    Which will make a difference to cycling making a meanigful contribution as “clean, green transport option which also has many positive health outcomes.” – only separated facilities.

    • Steven says:

      Thanks for that. Wouldn’t the Sandy Bay ride be better if hundreds of people all rode on the footpath? It’s better to be feared than to be pitied. (My apologies to Machiavelli for corrupting his quote).
      Bike advocacy is overdue for one of those George Costanza moments, when you realise everything you’re accustomed to doing has to be wrong:

  5. Luke says:

    Not sure if I agree or not, but I like your style. I have decided never to apologise for pavement cycling, red light jumping, lack of lights or mobile phone use while cycling (the one concrete concession ever won by our supposedly pro-cycling mayor,Boris Johnson, aka the Dulux dog).

    • Steven says:

      He DOES look like the Dulux dog! I was taking photos of architecture with bikes in the foreground around Utrecht University last year (http://cycle-space.com/?p=10650), and was astounded by the way all these dating age students can update their Facebook accounts while they ride. Richard Florida has said transit cities are popular with the young who miss their web time while driving. Well the bike city seems to offer web time, and flexible mobility.
      I loved my pedicab job last year: using the phone and walkie-talkie while riding with passengers in the back. I might have lost a few drunks off the back, I’m really not sure.

  6. I am struggling to see your logic here Steven: ” but that you should not assert your right to ride on the road when you have the choice to ride off the road.”

    It seems to me you are saying that I should ride on path or take whatever is coming my way because I choose to ride on the road. Well sorry but I choose to ride on the road often over the path for a couple of reasons (a) one is speed. My commute is 42 km and I would like to get home as quick as I can sometimes; (b) we have what is in effect “vulnerable user” legislation here in WA which means I am presumed at fault if I hit a pedestrian on a path (sorry but no thanks) and (c) last time I checked I rode a road bike, well actually it is a vehicle.

    So whilst I don’t believe in rights, it is an appropriate vehicle to be on the road and as long as I am riding it legally and responsibly I have no issues with it.

    Frankly I could argue your same silly argument saying get off my “pedestrian path” if there is a ride next door. That same argument is heard here because pedestrian are a bit over agressive cyclists.

    I have no problem with people choosing to ride on the road or the path as along as they do so appropriately. Maybe time for some tolerance both ways?

    • Steven says:

      it’s bed time and I have 200km on the road tomorrow, cycling, including racing, so I will be brief. Think of it this way: northern europe treats cyclists more like sped up pedestrians than weak vehicles. The anglosphere swallowed john forester’s line. Now which has the most bicycle transport?

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