Don’t ask cyclists how to get drivers out of their cars. Their only suggestions are whippings and mental reprogramming. Drivers, they will tell you, need either to be taxed in ways they will never vote for, or else need to come around to our weltanschauung. Even if cyclists can accept that most people won’t ride until it is a lot safer, they still insist that everyone should learn about rain wear and suffering if they wish to be a part of our priesthood. I’ve been losing cyclists as twitter followers and blog readers lately, because I’m toying with a blasphemous idea, that bike routes aught to be covered from rain. (I have other heresies too, but let’s stay with canopies over bike routes for now).
Advocates of segregated bike infrastructure (and I am one too), criticise vehicular cyclists for insisting that everyone should just toughen up and ride among cars. But I’ve heard the reaction of otherwise sane bike campaigners when I mention rain protection over a bike route. They start exhibiting the same proud behaviour as our arch rivals: John Forrester, the MAMIL brigade, the American League of Wheelmen, etc.. They say, “just toughen up”, “the Dutch put up with the rain,” and, “you’re not made of sugar.”
Vehicular cyclists have not just wanted the right to ride on the road. They have sought to deny risk-averse cyclists the right to ride on a cycle track. While these rain-loving bike advocates are happy to admit that a lot of people are waiting for safe infrastructure before they switch from cars to bikes, they refuse to entertain the real prospect that many people are also waiting for weather protection—after all, that’s what drivers get with their cars. Why are so many cyclists unwilling to even countenance such a suggestion? I’ll tell you: smugness. It has held cycling back in the past, and will hold it back in the future as well.
John Forrester couldn’t bare the thought of protected bike infrastructure invading America. God forbid, he might be forced to ride among women and children. How would he be able to show off his physical strength! Then he became the voice of American cycling and has blocked safe bike infrastructure for all of this time.
Stoics who would object to rain protection for cyclists would be just as obstructionist, out of roughly the same selfish motive. Riding in the rain is their way of differentiating themselves from those cowardly weaklings emitting Co2 with their cars.
I was riding between Utrecht city and the university last year, when suddenly it started raining. I looked around and all of the cyclists (mainly students) had stopped and were taking shelter beneath stands of trees. We were all waiting to see if the rain would pass quickly, or if we would have to battle on and get wet. Meanwhile cars and buses kept rolling. The Dutch are in a position to start building rain refuges for occasions like this, and in increments work toward covering all their main bike routes.
I can see myself parting company with the bike advocacy community, as good as you have been to be, reading my blog, and lampooning me in your forums. I have always believed that policies which serve our interests as committed cyclists would best serve society as a whole. Then I learned that Rotterdam has a pitifully low rate of bikes use, compared to car use, despite its world-beating bike infrastructure. Barrier protected cycle tracks don’t do enough to incentivise cycling. They have to be covered as well. If this is something bicycle advocates will oppose, then see ya later, you turkeys.
I’m of the view that morphologies and typologies of the city all need to be as attuned to the bike, as suburbia is attuned to the car, or Amsterdam is attuned to the barge. If not, the bike has no hope of eclipsing the car, or the bus or the train.
If the only thing at stake here was your right, and my right, to cycle in safety because that is our choice, I would shut up. What is at stake though, is the health of our populations. This study by my colleague Anne Lusk found regular cycling is our only hope, really, of controlling weight in middle age. If we cared about the health of our fellow humans, including the ones who don’t want to get rained on, we would be looking at ways to retrofit urban districts, and purpose build new ways, to function on a bicycle mobility platform, in all weather conditions, for the precious and stoic alike. In any city with a sustainable density (by which I mean, high to very high), the shortest trip between any two points is the trip made by bike. If we make that trip attractive to all those not cycling at present, because they don’t want to get, the sedentary modes will just pass away.
As always, thanks for your comments, objections, whatever.