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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.

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