Occasionally I am lured into playing the role of the bicycle advocate. Somehow, within seconds, I am made to feel like Bill Oddie in an episode of The Goodies parodying South Africa. No longer allowed to discriminate on the basis of race, the white South African character introduces “Apart-Height” and Bill—now just a “Little’un”—is saying “Thank you boss for that most agreeable kick aaarp the bum” every time he is kicked up the arse for no reason.
You see, for a second class citizen, a kick up the arse is indeed better than a flogging or being hanged. As many bicycle advocates will tell you, a bike lane in the door zone is better than no lane at all, as a bike rack positioned where thieves are delighted (not in full view) is better than having nothing but twigs to chain up to.
A false meta-narrative is constructed according to which all these dolly steps are leading toward some perfect future when everything will be better for cyclists. That’s some crystal ball!
All we can really be sure of, is that there is an entrenched power imbalance between bicycle advocates and City Hall. Their engineers and politicians act as though they’re as happy to see us as Kim Jong-il was happy to see Hans Blix in Team America:
“There you go bike advocates. How you like your new sharrows, you f#@&ing c*#k suckers! You have any idea how f&%$ing busy we are bicycle advocates! Well f#@k you! You want safe routes? Well ride those you butt-f*@#ing pieces of sh*t!”
That’s exactly what they say to our backs as we leave.
Enough is enough, as far as I am concerned. I’ll be a part of any blockade or die-in. Anti-establishment intellectuals like David Harvey and Jacques Ranciere, have established the logic of such approaches.
Alternatively, I’ll wear and suit and go in a car to city hall. I’ll speak for the politicians themselves. Like anyone, they want to live active lifestyles. They all can ride bikes. I would be very surprised if any don’t have bikes already, that they bought once with the vague intension of riding to work. Like most people though, they don’t want to get sweaty, they are frightened of being hit by a car, they have been suckered into buying freestanding houses that are too far away or on top of hills, and they really don’t want to chance being rained on. I’ll mention all those as my own reasons for driving to meet them (or taking a bus, if I don’t own car).
Our grandparents lived in cities that were dreadful for driving but embarked on a radical transformation that entailed new places to live, building car parking stations in city centres, and reengineering the streets in between. Their belief in machines was so profound they rebuilt their own parents’ cities.
It is time for our generation to similarly remodel our cities in accordance with our new belief, in active lifestyles. The barriers I mentioned for not cycling to meetings can be solved with 4 simple measures. Sweaty shirts can be fixed with dehumidifying fans in the entrances of all public buildings. Fear of being hit can be solved by separating human powered and motorised transport. The problem of distance can be solved by permitting high density housing in and near the town centre without any car parking. The problem of rain can be solved with canopies over bike routes.
Going to City Hall and asking for less than I have just listed, is just asking for appeasement as a minority group. It is asking for a kick up the bum, not a hanging. It is fundamentally disempowering and counterproductive. If you’re a bicycling advocate, stop doing it. It might make you feel important having politicians giving you their ear for a few minutes, but everyone knows you’re pathetic.