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Chainbuster MTB Racing Series - Georgia's friendliest MTB racing. 6 & 9 Hour Endurance racing for solo or teams.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Cycling is growing in Georgia...What do we do?

I recently attended a meeting in Gainesville and spoke in front of a panel of State House Representatives about cycling. I'm not very good at speeches, just typing I guess, but this meeting was important and filled with great opportunity. Our local politicians had been under pressure from some constituents to do something about the ever increasing cyclists on the public roadways. There are plenty of options for how to handle complaints and I assume that they exhausted all options before submitting the terrible House Bill 689. In that bill were crazy things like putting a 7x4 inch tag on every bicycle in Georgia and requiring cyclists to ride no more than 4 to a group and always single file. There were also provisions for allowing the restriction of cycling on certain roads. It was a huge overreach and completely void of common sense. It was so ridiculous that I began to dismiss the threat of the bill and see the resulting onslaught of venom from my cycling brethren as a positive step in advocacy for cycling. So with that in mind I wrote this speech (some research plagiarisms exist). However during the meeting I scratched through some things because I either felt they were redundant or would take too much time. But here's the speech in its entirety.

Speech Notes

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?

No one – on a bike or in a car - is immune to bad behavior on our roads. If I understand correctly the reason we are all here is because you and those bending your ears care about the safety of cyclists. And somehow a license plate on every bike in Georgia will do that.

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.

Second, if the goal is to improve bike safety, bike license plates won’t do much. Enforcing such a requirement would make us all less safe by distracting police from real crime. And if you simply want the ability to anonymously call the police on a cyclist who you believe has done something wrong then you yourself are distracting police from real crime. If you truly believe a crime has been committed then you should call 911 and follow the cyclist. Shouldn’t be too hard since he’s on a bike. In case of an accident everything works as it normally would whether the cyclist has a license plate or not. He is responsible for his actions because in the eyes of the law he is a vehicle as well.

Another problem I have with the proposed changes in HB689 is it will discourage biking for exercise. And boy do Georgians need exercise.
From healthyamericans.org: "Fifteen years ago, Georgia had a combined obesity and overweight rate of 51.3 percent. Ten years ago, it was 57.2 percent. Now, the combined rate is 65.3 percent."

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?

Here’s where I admit to a problem I’ve seen with these groups: YOU MUST RIDE NO MORE THAN TWO ABREAST! The law is clear. At no time ever are you allowed to ride more than two abreast unless you are in danger. Especially on a very busy road.  Someone needs to take a leading role in the group and give instruction before you head out and then bark it out during the ride. And you others need to do your part! AND show some courtesy by singling up! Wave and be friendly! It's up to us to create a positive impression for our neighbors.

When it comes to educating our own there is a great organization called Georgia Bikes.org. Obviously bicycling in Georgia is growing at a rapid pace. It’s only going to get bigger. Some articles I found call it the next Golf! Georgia Bikes has developed many Guides and Booklets to educate cyclists and motorists. Maybe we should make it mandatory that everyone who purchases a bike in Georgia gets a POCKET GUIDE?

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.

Bicycling fatalities in Georgia rose in 2012 and do you know why? Because there are more of us! But in Atlanta they had ZERO fatalities because the city is well on its way to becoming a top tier bicycle friendly city.
Atlanta’s Mayor Kasim Reed recently announced the city will double its miles of bike lanes and multi-use trails by 2016, and just approved $2.5 million for high quality bicycle projects that will help it achieve a network of safe, convenient, and connected bikeable streets and facilities.

Now people may ask “Why should I care about having a bike friendly community? It doesn’t benefit me.” Well just a little bit of research told me that the Silver Comet trail from Smyrna to the Alabama state line west of Cedar­town generates approximately $57 million in economic benefit to the State of Georgia. Plenty of other studies from across the nation will attest to the same impact.

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.

And right here in Hall County there’s a committee called the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan PlanningOrganization. This group has developed a plan for bicycle and pedestrian mobility. They have created a bicycle network map that uses the state-designated bicycle route along Hog Mountain Road, Atlanta Highway, and Clarks Bridge Road as the “trunk line” from which to build. Employing things like separate striped bike lanes on roads with adequate right-of-way and high traffic volume; wide curb lanes on lower automotive traffic volume roads; multiuse paths between corridors; existing town centers have sidewalks that can be expanded; and natural waterways and abandoned rail corridors provide multiuse trail opportunities. This extensive and highly researched plan can make it possible to provide safe access between schools, parks, and downtowns. Is has already been endorsed and approved by every local jurisdiction. They can be used to get these large cycling groups out of the city and onto the low traffic roads that, believe it or not, we’d rather be on.

I suggest we put our energy into getting these types of locally beneficial plans funded instead of creating more bureaucratic tax loss. The cycling community is making its best effort to create positive change in Georgia. But most opponents don’t really care to find out about that. They only care about getting to the mall a little faster.

So gentlemen, instead of blaming the victim when a cyclist is injured, let’s support safer streets that keep you from being inconvenienced and me from being incapacitated. Supporting the things I’ve spoken about here today is the best way to handle the ever increasing cyclists on the roadways with the bonus of positive economic impact and promotion of healthier lifestyles. For me personally I’m excited about the recently announced Georgia High School Cycling League that will allow students like my daughter to letter in biking!

To me there’s only one way to go. Everybody wins if you will shift your efforts to the promotion of healthy life styles, complete streets, GeorgiaBikes.org advocacy and funding of plans to create it all.

The state legislature should be spending time to work with these entities to assist with these efforts and not on unworkable regulations that just create more animosity between cars and bicycles on the road.

Thank you for allowing me to speak today.

So there you have it. The speech heard round the world... or the room. Now believe me I had a lot more to say. But I felt the need to be precise with my cycling friends and my elected officials. Besides there were plenty of stories of love and loss (weight loss),  defense of liberty and rights and freedom,  and even one guy who rattled on about the brainwashing of our government schools. The bill was so stupid I won't bother telling you about all the antics and props some guys used to demonstrate how stupid. Some of these folks really had great and well thought out things to say and I'm going to paraphrase some of them right now.

My friend Stephen Dean said, "We all know what we're doing when we hop on our bikes just like I knew the risk I took as a police officer when I put on my gun. It's our choice and you don't have an obligation to fix us."

During my speech I almost addressed the first lady that spoke that evening. She told us how she was scared when she came up on cyclists in the road. She said the roads in her area are curvy and hilly (just what we like) and she worried about our safety. Now normally I'd say the safety angle is just a way to get out of saying you don't like having to slow down but she was so nice and soft spoken. I wanted to tell her that we are grateful for her worry and because of her heart I'm sure she'll never have an accident with a cyclist. I imagined the scene she depicted, saying she had run up on cyclists stopped in the road. I wondered if those guys waved to her in gratitude and apologies. Probably not because if they had she would have seen them as something totally different... as real people. She probably wouldn't have come there that night. She probably would have forgotten about it like you would if a dog ran out in front of you.

One guy spoke about moving from New York to get away from the crushing taxation, regulation, and licensing of everything. Another told them about his experience cycling in the military while in other countries and how drivers here don't know how to act because there's no history of cycling here. I think we all looked at him with a little bit of envy. Another guy moved here after living in some very cycling friendly states and said we need to act on Complete Streets and then keep them clean. Promoting the healthy lifestyle brings it's own economic benefits to any region.

One guy told us how he commuted to work everyday on his bike. He works for a Christian company that helps the poor find jobs and get on their feet. He pointed out that in other countries a sign that you were a poor person was that you looked starved. You can't even buy food. But in this country, and especially in Georgia, we have pennyless gluttons (my words not his). His point was that the last thing we should do is make exercise of any kind more expensive or unappealing.

One lady spoke about the liberation of cycling. How discovering cycling had changed her both physically and mentally. She made the point that cycling on a path or in the confines of a park is not the same. The freedom of the open road is cyclings big breath of fresh air in the hard life of working people.

An elderly gentlemen read from American Jurisprudence Section 10 and I loved it! Before he read it he told the story of competing in the 70+ Georgia State Road Race Championship. What a cool guy! I want to grow up to be just like him.

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!


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