• Thom

Winter cycling where cars rule Part 2

Updated: Apr 11, 2019

I posted my history of getting on my bike in the winter https://www.thomasfredmusic.net/blog/winter-cycling-where-cars-rule-part-1

It's always surprising to me the vitriol of online people - and to a much lesser extend actual flesh and blood people - in regards to 1) cycling in general and 2) winter cycling specifically.

It seems that a bunch of these folks want cyclists off the road, off the sidewalks and are also totally unwilling to provide any kind of alternative infrastructure for cyclists. Except, of course, if the cyclists pay for said infrastructure. Like drivers and pedestrians do....

They also think that cyclists "fly through intersections" "dangerously drive in the middle of the lane" "scare pedestrians off sidewalks" etc.

I wonder if any of these people have ridden a bike recently? Or ever. Of course, the rhetoric is anything from, "I own bikes too" to "I'm and expert cyclist and even I would not be stupid enough to choose to ride in the winter next to cars."

I want to unpack some myths here about winter cycling in particular.

It's dangerous.

In my experience, this is simply not the case, especially if you're prepared. Preparation is basically dressing for the conditions and having studded tires on your bike and maybe cleats on your shoes. Other than these provisos, you'll need to - just like driving a car - adapt to the conditions at hand: If that hill you're about to go down looks icy, it probably is. Maybe don't go down it at your normal summer clip. I'm half a century old and not in any way an athlete. If I can ride in winter, so can many, many others. From kids to grandmothers.

This idea of danger also tends to conveniently sidestep the idea that to be on a bicycle is to be more in touch with your surroundings. I know it sounds like lyrics to some Hippy anthem, but it is true. On a bike, if you're not aware of what's around you, you quickly can be made aware. From weather to curbs to ice to motorists. Compared to those driving cars, we are often road bodhisattvas.

Why do you ride in the middle of the lane? It's dangerous!

Sensing a theme here yet? There are a number of possible reasons that cyclists might ride in the middle of the lane (or towards the left side of the lane). One could be that the cyclist does not want to get cut off by right-turning automobiles while they continue straight or turn left. Another is that they want to remain as visible as possible to drivers. Another is that, especially in the shoulder seasons or winter, the shoulder of the road is covered with gravel, snow, ice or a deadly combination of all three: Snirt. Now that is dangerous.

You don't belong on the road.

I wish I lived in a place where I would never have to watch vigilantly for motor vehicles. That is not the case here in Edmonton and will not be for many a year. Yet according to law, I absolutely belong on the road. https://www.edmonton.ca/transportation/Bylaws/C5590.pdf

Soon the city's legislation will change to allow me onto sidewalks too. This annoys drivers no end, because many want to dominate not only the roads but apparently sidewalks too. Hell, a couple weeks ago I did see a driver on the sidewalk because he was too lazy to take the legal route. In the middle of downtown.

No. Drivers may also wish for the eradication of cycle infrastructure, laws that pertain to allowance of cycling in our city and maybe even cyclists themselves. But they live in the same one sided dream world as the statement that began this section. We are simply trying to get where we are going. Because there is more of something (or some people) does not instantaneously make it right. Too many people here follow the adage that thousands of people together cannot be wrong. All you have to do is look back at our past: one example: the Nazis - thousands of them, millions probably, if you don't think that these people are wrong, well, I doubt you're still reading this, if you are in fact able to do so.

You don't belong on bike infrastructure either.

If this seems like being a part of a totally unwinnable argument on social media - you're right! That's exactly what it's like. These people would never say the same thing about outdoor basketball courts, baseball diamonds, soccer fields or football uprights. But because we're taking up their perceived space - space that could be better developed for use with cars - it's a huge problem so:

Why should society, taxpayers, drivers - anyone - support a bunch of selfish fringe hobbyist freaks?

One of my personal favourites. The fact that we ride bikes anywhere near anyone puts us squarely outside of all society. Even though most cyclists here own and drive cars too. Even though almost all are taxpayers. Even though we breathe the same fucking air that all do, we are separated and segregated. Yet the cries come on strong when we take that logical step of, well, if there is carelessness or even open hostility toward us while riding, could we have some separating infrastructure to keep us relatively safe? Particularly for those who would otherwise not ride in our downtown core. Kids, elderly or people who are, understandably, intimidated by riding with cars and trucks.

That's too much! You're selfish! Entitled! Socialist! Say the most arrogantly entitled class of people yet known to mankind: drivers. Check your heads people. Owning and operating a car or truck is not a god-given right. It should be a hard won privilege that maybe, just maybe, imbues the fledgling driver with some humility and sense of gratitude. None of this is the case here, however. Johnny or Jill get their license and, well, get the fuck outta my way!

I've said it before and I will say it until my dying breath. Cars aren't just like weapons, cars have become weapons. And I'm not talking about their recent tragic applications in terrorist attacks around the world either, though that is also a discussion worth having at some point in the not-too-distant. I say this not as a person who has no experience driving. I'm a great driver with no accidents in over thirty years of driving. Still, I am also the guy who has expressed his emotions while driving. From flying the bird to people who annoy me, to gunning the throttle when I'm mad (usually while moving) to slamming on the brakes to foolishly try to discipline my kids. Yep. Not proud of any of it. Now, picture doing anything you do as a power move in a motorized vehicle on a bike, on foot, on a skateboard. It's ridiculous, right? I think of every driver who accelerates after stopping for me or every one who accelerates up a hill or even idles their car. VROOOM. What a huge waste of energy! Yeah gas is cheap, blah blah blah. Great reasoning there, Aristotle. If you wonder why the world seems hopeless, the underlying 'thinking' here is a central reason, I figure.

I've driven the QE2 (the highway that goes between Edmonton and Calgary - our two major cities in Alberta) enough times to have seen the blatant aggression of city drivers trying to get out of town to relax, because the importance of their downtime trumps all others. And because they have a Dodge RAM 3500 with a Cummins Diesel engine rammed up against your Japanese import's rear windshield. Always fun times.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. There is little to convey the feeling of limitless power better to any individual in this world than the instant gratification of stepping on the gas in a car. Freedom of the open road! Pedal to the metal! Fuckin' give 'er! Hold my beer!

We've become a continent of red neck idiots when it comes to automobiles. Don't believe me? Travel to other parts of the world and see how they drive. It's not slow, or maybe doesn't even seem safe. But more often than not, it's a highly aware skill set that's been developed. People in the UK aren't driving their couches through the street texting and ignoring what's happening on the roadway. If they do, they're likely to get killed or kill someone else because the margin for driving error is much less.

A cab driver in Mexico City is watching for five streams of varying directions of traffic, motorcycles, bikes, trikes, pedestrians, dogs, chickens, you name it. You won't see them driving on sidewalks. You also won't see them use a car as an intimidation tool. They use it as a means from A to B and - from what I've seen - they use it with respect for all others on the road.

Whoa! A bit of a rant-a-thon there. But is it, really?

Don't read the comments.

Below is a "discussion" I was part of on social media. Less a discussion than two worlds nearly colliding but certainly never understanding each other.

As a preface, I volunteered for a city-sponsored video shoot to encourage winter cycling in Edmonton. So it was highly visible and so, highly open to hostility from online presences. I kept quiet around most of the negative commentary but decided to wade into the waters after a bit.

1st Poster: These are the only people in the city that ride their bicycles … millions of dollars appropriated from taxes to build the stupid lanes that nobody uses but you never hear any cyclists thanking the people of this city that paid for them….. [thumbs down emoji]

Me: that’s because the cyclists paid the same taxes everyone does. At least the last time I checked my property tax bill, that was the case. But we do appreciate the lanes for sure. Hope all the drivers out there really are grateful for the billions we put into our roads as well.

1st Poster: yes cyclists paid their taxes as well … all 20 or 30 of them, but I digress … the roads are for all of us regardless of whether they’re used or not right?

Me: it’s complicated by the fact that most cyclists are also drivers and taxpayers. And that there’s more than 30 of them. Not the same amount as drivers but we didn’t spend proportionately the amount on infrastructure on cyclists either. The figures are there if you want to check it out. I have.

2nd Poster: You have? So how do you justify the cost and severe negative impact to residents, businesses and commuters to the core just to accommodate a few wacko winter cycling hobbyists – half who don’t use the bike lanes anyway?

Me: hobbyists don’t commute to work. I do. I’m sorry you think bike commuters are crazy but then, hey, you have memes on your wall about how marijuana can make you gay, so I don’t think I’ll get too far explaining anything about why I do what I do to you. Just an educated guess.

Me: the cost of the bike lanes is under $3 [sic] (million) – some contained in the operating budget I believe. How much road do you think $3 million gets you? The Henday was easily 10 times that. Mountains out of molehills.

2nd Poster: Nobody cares why “you do what you do”. Taxpayers aren’t obliged to incur penalties [sic]to their commute, their community, or their livelihood to accommodate your fringe hobby. Nor are they obliged to fund it. I’m sorry that you are so incredibly selfish that you refuse to consider the impact of this failed project [sic] to your fellow citizens, but I’m not surprised to hear these sentiments from the mindless “gimme” socialist generation.

Me: you asked. If the city builds bike lanes downtown you’re absolutely right I will use them, my kids too and their kids. I too am a taxpayer, a driver, a cyclist. But nobody cares …. Until I don’t pay my taxes. How much did the Henday cost the taxpayer, exactly? I care way more about that expenditure than some bike lanes as it is way more of the tax base that is tied up. Anyway – have a great day.

2nd Poster: “Durr, roadways cost more than useless bike lanes!”, you keep on repeating this as if it’s a coherent point. Vehicles are required to traverse this city for [sic] to density and climate. Expenditures that facilitate the local economy like functional transportation are what we call “justified”. Projects that reduce accessibility and harm residents and the economy are what we call “failures”. This couldn’t get any simpler.

Me: it’s about $6,000 per driver in this city to build the Henday. It’s way less than that per cyclist to pay for the bike lanes, Cycling increases health, store front business, and community similar to walking.

2nd Poster: Whoosh. Why am I not surprised that you can’t comprehend the difference between the [sic]necessity of roads vs bike lanes? And the bike lanes have had a highly deleterious effect on downtown street level business and community, but we already saw how little you cared about that. Completely out to lunch.

Me: as I said earlier, there is nothing I can say that will satisfy you on this subject. Have a good day.

So here are examples of perceptions on both sides that could be mistaken. My perception that the protected bike network is automatically good is countered with Poster 2's assertion that they are harmful to street level business, mobility challenged people and, of course, take away parking in the core (a recurring theme that, somehow, a city is improved by conveniences like parking - I'm sure it's this way in Tokyo, London and NYC). I do intend to speak with folks about this, accessibility issues and businesses being hurt by the lanes. My suspicion is it's 2nd Poster blowing smoke to cover up the fact that these are auto-centric viewpoints essentially and have little to do with concern for businesses, mobility impaired people or taxpayers for that matter. But I'll give them the benefit of the doubt for the moment.

The significant thing I noticed is that, though the protected bike lanes haven't cost as much as any car-driven project (see what I did there?) outside of filling potholes, these two posters rain down hellfire AND damnation at the poor taxpayer's money being misspent on "failed" and "useless" projects. They seem to think that it doesn't matter that cyclists in this city are taxpayers and forget the fact that, no, it's not a club. They too can use those protected lanes. They are there for all city residents. They also forget about time. Because there aren't 100,000 cyclists per week using these lanes the instant they are open, they are failures, it is not a successful project. In fact, on another thread, these two agreed that removing the protected bike lanes was the only viable course of action (along with re-routing transit around the core) to enable "better access to the core." Leaving off the immense cost of these potential ventures for a moment, the question that leaps to my mind is: "Access... for whom?" Drivers, I would think.

I wonder how people felt about the installation of the Multi-Use Pathways (MUPs) that began here in the late 70's with a project called "The Ribbon of Green." Was there such widespread protests about money being ill-spent then? Most everyone has benefited from the access these pathways give most to our extensive river valley. That was begun almost half a century ago now and there's hardly an Edmontonian around that could conceive of our river valley without them.

I find it interesting that project a decade or two on might receive the general populace's blessing. I find it frustrating that few see the value in these projects at their inception. Varying the transportation modes in this place is a good thing. Edmonton drivers are not the best drivers and tend to suffer from SAD or spring fever or act like idiots behind the wheel at least 40% of the time, when they're not texting. It keeps people safer. Traffic may move slower. That is also safer. I like that our city has invested in this idea. Pretty forward thinking. So much so, that there is bound to be backlash.

See you on the bike lanes, roads, trails or wherever!

Two wheels, cold road. All good.

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