Seattle’s Socialist War on Driving Cars Gears Up
Alternate title: “Misinformed People Outraged by Their Hasty Generalizations”
People who complain about cyclists–and correct me if I’m wrong–seem to do so because they’re in a hurry. Here’s a thought experiment: If we take away Seattle’s three percent of bicycling commuters and add the same number of cars to the road, can you imagine what happens?
Reliably, the Seattle Times story on the event has over 100 comments, largely from people who feel that road safety should be based solely on anecdotal stories about how all cyclists run red lights or who argue that cyclists, being a strange breed of being who pay no sales, property, or gas taxes (Did you know no cyclists own cars? Not one! It’s ideological) should have to pay for license and registration.
There are real concerns you can have with Seattle’s growing bike infrastructure, but these aren’t admissible. Some drivers flaunt traffic laws every second of every day, making other drivers crazy, but few have suggested not paying for lane striping would improve the situation. And for the record, there is no cyclist lobby pushing for red-light-running privileges; it’s dangerous for everyone and the more tickets handed out for it, the better.
As for taxes…the math doesn’t work the way the easily outraged seem to think. As Seattle Bike Blog notes, only the cyclist pays close to their way in taxes–car drivers pay about one-tenth the actual cost of driving in taxes and fees. If we want to start charging on a usage basis, let’s start with the people who are really enjoying a socialized ride.
You wouldn’t think you’d have to explain that a human-powered, 20-pound, two-wheeled machine is vastly less expensive from every angle than a gas-powered, 4-wheeled car weighing several tons, but again, these are people who–in their rush to banish cyclists from the road, and despite the bumper stickers which spell this out–fail to consider that each bicycle is one less car to clog traffic.
Two conclusions then, one more obvious: The real annoyance here is that other people get in your way! It’s a form of narcissistic injury.
The second is that people are highly conflicted about riding bicycles. Cyclists do make people driving cars feel like lazy, natural-resource-swilling polluters. In many, if not most cases, people would rather be on a bicycle if it weren’t for the host of (real and imaginary) reasons that they can’t ride a bicycle…ever. Not to work, to the store, to the park, to the movies, to a friend’s house, to get some air and exercise.
It’s a funny thing that if people have to commute 30 miles–too far for a bike–then there’s really no reason not to drive a car everywhere else. Or closer to home, because Seattle has hills, there’s no point in riding the flats and valleys instead. (An absurd commute is a good reason not to bike to work, by the way. There are plenty of others–weather, nature of the job, health issues, and so on.) People who have been driving a car too long lose the ability to imagine life without one.
Yet driving hasn’t been any fun–except in car commercials–for some decades. People feel trapped in their car, by their commute; they may worry about the price of gas and what they’re doing to the planet; they feel judged by cyclists (even as the cyclist is mainly concerned with dodging the person on their cell phone making a last-second turn with no blinker). So there is a level of anxiety and discomfort as the extent of their incarceration is exposed as self-imposed by a tubby middle-aged mayor who rides to downtown from Greenwood.
But for rage and vitriol, you can’t beat narcissism. You can bet the same person who drives 45 down the 30-mph arterial foams at the mouth about cyclists who use crosswalks to get around red lights. (Ironically, the cyclist who doesn’t stop for red lights at all is similarly narcissistic, but there’s no benevolent brotherhood of law-flouting narcissists.)
I said there are real concerns, though, about bike infrastructure and here is one: People (in general, cyclists and drivers) have no idea what the rules are anymore. City planners can paint bike boxes, bike lanes, and sharrows, but if the majority of people don’t understand what these things are, they don’t help. They confuse and aggravate.
As a cyclist, I can’t ride in any bike lane in Seattle the same way I drive a car down my lane. Cars don’t yield for the bike lane when they want to turn, cabs double-park in it to pick up fares, trucks unload there. It is treated as anything other than another lane of traffic. Where there’s parking, the lane usually allows some four inches of safe door-opening, which means that the bulk of the door disagrees with my bike’s progress. Sharrows? I have no idea what sharrows are supposed to do.
With the new bike box, there’s a sign next to it (like this) that, practically speaking, communicates to drivers only that the green box on the road is not a mirage. It obviously can’t explain what a bike box is for, and neither does it tell you that you can’t make a free right behind a bike box. If you consider all the things a driver in rush-hour traffic has to pay attention to at a busy intersection–and that you probably can’t see the bike box itself until you’re on top of it–what is this sign accomplishing?
On top of that, there is already a backlog of misinformation that was already wedging drivers and cyclists apart. Seattle has a bike code–how many people would pass it if it were given as a test?
Many people don’t know that it is legal to ride your bicycle on a sidewalk in Seattle–at a safe speed, and yielding to pedestrians, not yelling to them–or that cyclists can ride two abreast in the street. Seattle requires you to have a helmet, brakes, and, at night, a white light on the front of your bike with a red reflector on back. Cyclists can use crosswalks, but not heedlessly endanger pedestrians or impede traffic. Cyclists are required to use hand signals. A person in a car can’t open their door to traffic (bike or otherwise) in a way that impedes traffic.
If cyclists are going to integrate safely with car traffic, this knowledge needs to be more common than it is. The other option is, realizing the limits of retraining the general public, to move toward a separated bike infrastructure, either through buffered bike lanes, or by opening key neighborhood streets to all traffic (foot, scooter, bike, car, skateboard). The narcissism, in contrast, is a harder nut to crack.