There’s a fight going on between the ‘vehicularists’ and the ‘facilitators’.
These are not like the crips and the bloods,
or even the sharks and the jets.
The ‘vehicularists‘ reckon bikes are vehicles, and should have every right the same as cars. They say bike lanes make cyclists look feeble, submissive and inferior. They are the ones boasting about how they stop at every red light, and how they ‘take the lane’ at every opportunity.
The ‘facilitators‘ reckon that bikes are a different breed. They take all the advantages they can get: cruising in the bike lane, splitting lanes of traffic and running red lights. They point out that before the car was invented, there was no such thing as a stop sign. They demand as much separate infrastructure as possible
Vehicularists are channeling Rosa Parks, the Reverend Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. They ask: Can separate ever be equal?
Facilitators reckon the vehicularists are in denial. Bikes go slower than cars. People feel unsafe being passed by traffic. Let’s not insist on rights that aren’t in our interest. Bike lanes are popular, especially with female cyclists. Let’s go with what people want, not what we think they should want.
It makes for a dramatic set-up, but is this a fair dichotomy?
Unless we move all the buildings back, bike lanes can only be added at the expense of cars or pedestrians. IT’s a zero-sum game. In the end, this means that cyclists and cars will have to share many roads.
So, are these categories helping or hindering thinking about these issues? I’m not sure, but if not, I can think of two other ways of looking at the issue:
1. Asking whether cycling is more like driving or walking.
Society agrees driving is a privilege, not a right. Being a pedestrian, though is a right not a privilege.
Now obviously a bike is a vehicle. But unlike a family sedan or b-double rig, it can also be a piece of luggage. Like a transformer, the cyclist can morph into a pedestrian with a large item in tow. To me, this matters. It means the cyclist approaches the road more like a pedestrian approaches a footpath. They try to fit in the gaps, they’d rather not queue at lights, they are disinclined to stop unless there is something coming. The perceived ‘right to ride’ causes marginal road rules to be ignored.
2. The economist in me has something to say about it too.
We make cars stop at red lights because the cost of their accidents don’t just fall on them. There are external costs. If a car breaks the law, others may be seriously hurt. But if a bike breaks the law and its 80 kg gross mass hits a one-tonne car, the cyclist is likely to sustain far greater damage.
By this logic, the bike should not be as tightly regulated. (However, bikes can still hurt pedestrians, and other cyclists.)
I think the readers of this blog can be the wisdom of Solomon in this debate. I reckon we can synthesise a bill of rights and responsibilities that protects cyclists, and promotes cycling, while acknowledging their differences from cars, and the impact that cyclists have on drivers.
Here are some problem areas (or, if you will, areas rich in potential for change!) for road rules / infrastructure / bike culture:
Riding on the footpath?
Stop signs and pedestrian crossings
Turning left on red at intersections
Freeways and major roads that bikes are excluded from
Lights, bells, an agreed way of communicating with cars (and not just smacking them on the side panel when they nearly kill you)
One way streets and going the wrong way in bike lanes.
And here are some scenarios to spark some ideas:
1. bike is in lane, cars need to go around but can’t.
2. bike goes past cars stopped at light. Cars then overtake bike. repeat.
3. bike breaks traffic rule. noone is hurt but car drivers get cranky.
Put your suggestions for a bill of rights below.