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Archive for January, 2011

When cycling ‘advocates’ attack

January 27, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

NYC is cracking down on cyclists. Transportation Alternatives (TA) signed off on the attack, and then had the audacity to question the validity of the attack. New York City Officials — Janette Sadik-Khan, in fact, The Queen of Livable Streets — authorized a “Don’t be a jerk” publicity campaign directed at cyclists — effectively calling them ‘jerks’. It was a twisted and cowardly act.

In an imaginary system where bikes were not daily subject to random violence and threats of violence (‘domestic terrorism’ in every sense of the phrase), including the possibility of severe injury, maiming, and death, calling cyclists jerks might not be such a big deal. However, in the reality-based community, we know that the violence directed at pedestrians and cyclists, caused by law-breaking drivers, is all too real, and it continues — often, with impunity. One of the main reasons drivers are able to act so reprehensibly, and with such impunity, is because cyclists are vilified in the press — by drivers, by pedestrians, by politicians, and now, by cycling ‘advocates’.

These verbal attacks on cyclists from high-ranking officials is bad enough, but when cycling ‘advocates’ chime in, you really start to wonder what their actual motives are. Are they trying to get you killed?

Attacks on cyclists from right-wing politicians is fairly common, and they are always condemned, but why is the condemnation of Janette Sadik-Khan so muted, if not completely absent? I, for one, think she should resign immediately. Paul Steely White, the head of TA, should resign too.

Almost every week I meet someone new who has been maimed by a car — really. Just in the past couple of weeks I met a former cyclist who got his jaw crushed and various other gruesome injuries when he was left-hooked by a law-breaking driver — he no longer bikes. I met a girl who was a scholarship-caliber collegiate lacrosse player who was run down in her neighborhood as she was walking across the street — the cop told her she wasn’t in a crosswalk, so she was given a ticket for jaywalking — there are no crosswalks in her neighborhood, and she can no longer run. I, myself, quit cycling because I was tired of getting terrorized by cowardly drivers, and tired of dealing with police who would rather violate my rights than help me catch an outlaw driver. In fact, when a driver is jailed for attacking cyclists, it actually makes international news.

These verbal attacks can lead to physical attacks, and lead to an even more profound lack of protection for cyclists under the law. They delegitimize cyclists even more than they already are, putting them in even greater danger. We have years worth of data and anecdote to tell us that pedestrians and cyclists alike are hunted classes out on the streets — and yet we have our top leaders condemning cyclists. It’s really unbelievable.

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) has signed off on a similar, if not quite-as-extreme, attack against cyclists. This ‘resolution’ did achieve some blowback, though not nearly enough. I called the attack ‘pernicious’. But it was much worse than that. It was, and remains, a disgrace. Shane Farthing, the head of WABA, should also resign immediately. But first he wants DC-area cyclists to — wait for it — testify at a DC Council hearing to express “our concerns about the protection of cyclists by our laws.” Is that some kind of sick joke, Mr. Farthing?

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) has come very close over the past few years to signing off on a similar attack, but it has not, as of yet, fully materialized.

And now we have missives from bloggers defending cyclists as actual human beings who deserve the right to live free from violence and threats of violence — as if that’s going to stop the physical assaults, or do something about the profound lack of protections afforded to pedestrians and cyclists by our streetscape and the legal system.

There is absolutely no justification for attacking cyclists in this way. There are lots of ways to stop the slaughter on our streets — making cyclists obey unjust laws is not one of them. Instead, create bike-specific laws that accurately reflect the nature of biking. Create safe, comfortable, direct, and dignified cycling facilities. Pass stronger laws against distracted driving. Make it easier to prosecute all manner of driver law-breaking that routinely injures, maims, and kills pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers alike. Train police officers to take pedestrian and cyclist complaints seriously, and put some of them on bikes, in plainclothes. And tell non-biking pedestrians that we’re sick and tired of sticking up for their rights while they attack us — they need to be more responsible and go after the people who created the conditions that force cyclists up onto the sidewalks in the first place — you don’t just have rights, you have responsibilities, and just because you don’t bike doesn’t mean you get to abdicate those responsibilities to your fellow man — start acting right. The list goes on and on.

How NOT to design for active living

January 26, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

A blog called The Dirt by the American Society of Landscape Architects has a new blog post up titled ‘Designing For Active Living.’ It is not good, though I can’t say that I’m surprised. I feel like anyone who has been practicing anything related to urban planning/development in America for ten years or more should change careers, retire, or head directly to The Netherlands for some retraining — not that you have to be an experienced professional to know how to prevent active living.

Here’s the latest attack on American society, delivered in the form of a short animation video:

Designing for Active Living from ASLA on Vimeo.

Let’s start with a screenshot, at the 0:18 mark, of a bike lane in a door zone — perfect — exactly the type of development we want to encourage — if you want to ‘get active’ by getting doored and ‘stress test’ your body under the wheels of a city bus. And check out the incorrectly-installed bike racks on the sidewalk — perfect for tripping pedestrians:

At about the 0:23 mark, we get a slight positive with an overall negative — a multi-use path (MUP) with separated walk and bike lanes/areas (good, as many MUPs have proven dangerous), but the mini-walk path means you wouldn’t even be able to walk two-abreast, and the animation and narration suggests that bikes are only meant for exercise, and only to be used on ‘trails’ and ‘paths’ — not on roads. The rack also seems to be full — and that makes sense, because it doesn’t feel safe to ride a bike anywhere but on that mini-MUP:

Here’s a great picture with lots of motorized traffic, but nobody walking, and nobody biking. No bike lanes, no cycletracks, not even any sharrows — and, as best I can tell, the light rail line is running in the outer lane on the street shown, guaranteeing that the street will be unusable by bikes — similar to how Portland mis-designed some of its early streetcar lines, and how DC did some of its early streetcar lines (and may yet build more malignant streetcar lines). The outside lane is not designated, so we can only assume it is for car parking and bus stops. And notice the corner curb cyclist push-out — guaranteeing that we will never be able to see a cycletrack here, and guaranteeing that the 12-ton city bus will have to cross what I think is a (yellow) bike lane. [Is yellow the new color for bike lanes in Landscape Architect-landia?] Us cyclists and would-be cyclists love playing leap-frog with buses.

The ‘network of trails’ comment (1:40) says it is a good way to get people to ‘stop using their cars for 5-minute trips’ — this is the exact wrong way to deal with the malignant design of our road system — instead of giving people a real option to go by bike, we scold them and tell them ‘not to drive for short trips’ — as if exhorting them to save the polar bears or keep their kids from having to learn to swim in the streets is going to change their behavior. If the streets are not comfortable for biking, people won’t bike — simple. You don’t need a degree to know this, but maybe you need to be a member of the ASLA to not know this?

At 2:06, we get a picture of our first bike lane — and I’m not even gonna bother to tear it apart — it’s perfectly sadistic the way it is — I love it. This is how ‘professionals’ want to fix our towns — after they fixed them the first time around. How many more times can we afford to let them get it wrong?

At 2:23, we get what could be our first well-designed bike lane — it’s not in the door zone — but if the road is so gargantuan, then why can’t cyclists have a cycletrack, separated from motor vehicles — you know, the kind of separation that is required if we want to allow people to bike? But that’s not the only problem here — notice that the bike lanes only appear to be on one side of the street — what possible explanation could there be for this? Are these massive uphills going in both directions? And what about those center yellow lines — are they really necessary? On the street going out to the right, is there really a landscape architect in America who thinks that that tiny little bike lane, sandwiched between parked cars and moving cars, is going to be comfortable for anyone other than the most extreme cyclists?

The sad truth is that very few professionals working in the planning-related fields have knowledge of how to allow bikes into the public realm. I don’t much care if they ‘care’ or not — I just want them to do a good job — I just want them to allow people to get around by bike.

It is possible that some of them mean well, but by continually pumping out this hollow, jingoistic, anti-bike propaganda, they are hurting our efforts to make the world a safer, healthier, and happier place. Ignorance is not acceptable. We have to start getting it right — we have to start prioritizing walking and biking, in that priority order, according to the Livable Streets Transportation Hierarchy. We have examples of ‘active living’ all over the world, including now in the United States — there are no more excuses.

If we can’t start getting this stuff right, I’m thinking we just need to shut down the entire American Planning/Architecture/Development/Landscape educational and certification systems, along with all corresponding ‘professional’ associations. If someone really shows a strong desire to not damage America even further, then we can send them to planning school in The Netherlands. Yeah?