“One Foot in Each Camp”

August 5th, 2009

An interesting post appeared on EcoVelo last month. The author presents a case for why he feels his position on bicycle advocacy represents “one foot in each camp” of the debate between separated facilities advocates and competent vehicular cyclists. From the outset, this premise if flawed. Just as religion and science are incompatible, facilities advocacy and vehicular cycling are mutually exclusive when it comes to transportation.

The author does and admirable and largely accurate job of defining hallmarks of the two sides. Vehicular cyclists do believe that the existing “road network [is sufficient to the task of accommodating competent, skilled cyclists] and [since] bicycles are already classified as vehicles, …all we need to do is maintain our rights as road users and educate [less experienced] bicyclists on the techniques of riding a bicycle as a vehicle.” This viewpoint has many decades of experience to back it. Knowing the law, knowing the rules of the road and applying both concepts to operation as a vehicle is a proven philosophy for competent vehicular cycling.

In the other camp are those who “[argue] that until we do more to separate bicyclists from motor vehicles we’ll never see the numbers of bicyclists in the U.S. that we see in some European countries.” This perception is accurate for the most part, but ignores the influence a lack of skill and timidity bring to the equation.

From this point forward, the argument begins to disintegrate. One cannot, in my opinion, have “thinking [which] falls somewhere in the middle between these two extremes.” Being fundamentally  incompatible, it is a sign of a conflicted mind to suggest that one can be an effective advocate with “one foot in each camp.” The very concept of conceding a need for separated facilities is incompatible with the tenets of vehicular operation. The misconception within the facilities community is that vehicular cycling is an inherent skill, learned primarily in one’s youth and which needs no specialized training to employ. Separated travel conduits — whether by grade or Magic Paint — serve only to protect the novice and timid, while providing a so-called “training ground” for future competence.

The truth is that these ideals are laced with irrational perceptions and goals. Few cyclists, once indoctrinated into the facilities paradigm, ever venture outside the perceived zone of protection and become fully fledged as competent vehicular cyclists. Instead, they become dependent upon the facilities crutch and demand ever more of these unsafe, segregated zones.

In the final two paragraphs of his discussion, the author reveals his true nature. By stating he, “fully agree[s] that the fear of auto traffic is one of the main obstacles we have to overcome before we’ll see a dramatic increase in bicycle use in the U.S.”, it is plain to see he is, in fact, not a competent or an experienced vehicular cyclist. Fear of motor vehicle traffic is irrational and reflects a lack of vehicular cycling skill. The idea that the US, with its penchant for urban sprawl and dependence on the motor vehicle will ever approach the adoption level of European cities is folly. The proponents of beliefs such as these are totally out of touch with reality.

The final paragraph is, perhaps the most salient.

Bicycling may be a relatively safe activity, but the perception that bicycling is dangerous is extremely pervasive in the U.S. and it’s unlikely we’ll change that perception through logical arguments or statistics.

As I cited and argued in a discussion on this issue elsewhere, stating that…

We must find a way to build more separated facilities to make bicycling less intimidating to beginners and non-enthusiasts. We also need more training in vehicular cycling techniques to build rider skill and confidence for dealing with the realities on the ground as we build those new facilities.

…is indicative of logical disconnect between reality and fantasy. Why does he feel facilities and education are equal imperatives? Likely because, deep down inside, despite his stated beliefs to the contrary, he is not particularly as competent or experienced as he believes  himself to be. Like many fearful cyclists, he cannot reconcile the psychological from the physical; discriminate the imagined from the real.

The realm of bicycle advocacy is plagued by those who have little or no credentials to support their work. They have been convinced by others that the issue is one of “butts on bikes” at any cost. That cost can be dear. As groups lobby legislators for special protections and facilities, they surrender — whether willingly or through ignorance — not only their rights, but those of others as well.

One Response to ““One Foot in Each Camp””

  1. pmsummer says:

    Well put. I would add that the national experience has been that the more that segregated bicycle facilities are deployed, the more other vehicles users expect cyclists to stay in them, and the less bicycles are recognized as legitimate vehicles… even by cyclists.

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