When I hear complaints about cyclists on surface streets I am perplexed. There are stop signs, red lights, drivers slowing to look for a parking space, business or address. Traffic must not only slow but stop to allow pedestrians to cross at intersection, even if there are no traffic controls. And when motorists need to parallel park, not only do they slow and stop, but they must move in reverse. And, yes, of course, there are delays caused by slow moving drivers, buses, tractors, work crews and road work. Even animals and weather cause delays.
So, in light of all the delays normally encountered on surface streets, is the delay caused by bicyclists really even irregular, much less intolerable? Or is there some kind of irrational anti-cyclist prejudice at play in the intolerance and animosity directed at bicyclists in the roadway? Why is that okay?
Well first license plates on bicycles doesn’t work. Other communities in the U.S. have tried to license cyclists and found the costs vastly exceed any revenue raised and abandoned the scheme. So this idea that the funds would go toward bike lanes or more law enforcement is a pipe dream.
Speaking of exercise, let’s talk about the packs of riders rocking spandex and carbon frames. Complaints about group rides taking up space on the road for recreation reflects the view that driving trips are serious trips, whereas bike trips are optional. The truth is, most drivers are not simply going to work and back home again. Many people drive (alone) to the gym to work out every day - how is that different from donning a kit to get your workout on the road?
In two weeks, from October 18-20th in Roswell, GA they will host the Georgia Bike Summit. They are bringing together advocates, elected leaders and transportation officials from across the state for workshops and discussion on how to make Georgia a bicycle friendly state. I give money to GeorgiaBikes.org and they are worth it.
Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) adopted a Complete Streets policy last fall that commits its projects (our tax money) to considering the needs of all types of road users when designing projects. When GDOT adopts an approach that includes equal consideration for cyclists, you know times have changed.
The right of a citizen to travel upon the public highways and to transport his property thereon, by horse-drawn carriage, wagon, or automobile, is not a mere privilege which may be permitted or prohibited at will, but a common right which he has under his right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Under this constitutional guaranty one may, therefore, under normal conditions, travel at his inclination along the public highways or in public places, and while conducting himself in an orderly and decent manner, neither interfering with nor disturbing another's rights, he will be protected, not only in his person, but in his safe conduct."
-11 American Jurisprudence, Constitutional Law, section 329, page 1135 (Quoting the U.S. Supreme Court)
There were only a few people who spoke out against cycling on public roads. The lady I mentioned earlier and two men who spoke later in the evening after I and all these others did. The first poor guy was brave enough to show up and then even to speak while surrounded by over 300 cyclists. When it became apparent that the gist of his whole argument was one of inconvenience (he didn't like having to slow down) then he started getting heckled by the crowd. Nothing he said or even the way he said it led me to believe he cared about our safety. "If I am trying to get to a wedding or a funeral I don't want to have to figure out how to get around a bunch of slow bikers!" His time ended after he turned red and screeched back at a cyclist who told him to learn how to drive. I wasn't happy with that whole exchange. It made us look bad.
At the end we finally heard from the infamous Jim Syfan. He began with an apology and explained his point of view and how he's been emailing his representatives each time he hears a story of a cyclist hurt or killed in Georgia. Lucky for them it wasn't each time a motorcyclist is killed or a pedestrian is hurt. That's about 100 times more emails. He told us how he's been made to be the bad guy in all this and how his only concern was for our safety. And I believed him. After listening to our stories of love for the road and the cost vs. income of licensing and the economic impact of bicycle mobility plans and the state wide advocacy available from GeorgiaBikes.org he must be convinced that we have a new and better direction for accomplishing the safety he seems to be dedicating his time to.
Then he said, "I just can't figure for the life of me why you guys are so upset about registering your bikes!"
And those were the last words I could hear him speak. The sympathy he'd built for himself was gone like the wind and the mob was against him again. After a few more people spoke State Representative Carl Rogers announced that the bill would be removed and no further action would be taken on it. The jeers became cheers and we all filed out to go find a burger and celebrate our victory.
So what did we learn from this experience? I'm wondering what's to become of all the passionate ideas and recommendations we shared? Will we cyclists be bold enough to police our own in the peloton? Is there enough awareness now to help drivers understand why we ride and that it's a beautiful thing? Will our elected officials use this information to make better decisions and champion the right plans?
I don't know. But it's a good start. It polarized the issue and started the conversation. What I do know is that I will be riding with a hundred friends on Saturday morning in beautiful Clarkesville, Georgia. I will continue to wave to folks who pass me nicely. I will continue to single up for them. I will continue to influence those cyclists who care about what I have to say and to advocate for the sport I love. Beyond that the money I can control will go toward the entities that can reach a greater audience. I suggest if you really care about cycling safety that you do the same. Cycling on Georgia roads is growing and there are examples all around the country on how to deal with it. So let's deal with it!