Recently I posted a rant on why I don’t like Critical Mass. It can be found here. It started a civil and interesting enough course of comment with a masser from Chicago that I thought it deserved its own post.
We have two areas to look at when we consider “bicycle rights”. One is what privileges (or rights as some people call them) are afforded to us by the laws. The second is what responsibilities fall to us as a result of those privileges.
The first area of privileges afforded to us by the laws is generally very similar to what privileges motorists are afforded. We are allowed use of roadways and expected to follow applicable traffic laws and traffic control devices. Our major drawback is that we must defer the roadway to motorists since they are generally the faster moving form of transportation. In other words, we should try to stay out of their way and the roads are primarily intended for them. The trade off for this is that if we choose, bicyclists may conduct themselves as a pedestrian, using pedestrian byways, routes and areas illegal for motorists to drive. I would say that overall we are pretty equal with motorists in this respect, however, I prefer the flexibility that being a bicyclist provides me. I can ride the shoulder of the road or choose to take walking paths or bicycle paths that motorists are not allowed. This type of flexibility actually reduces my morning commute by a considerable amount.
When we look at the area of responsibilities, we find that our situation is very different from that of motorist. You must pass a test and maintain your license to drive a car. There are all kinds of things that you can do that can result in the loss of your “right” to drive. Your vehicle must be maintained to a certain standard to travel the roadways, you must have working lights, pass emissions tests and register your transportation. In almost all states (I am so not a lawyer) you must have insurance on your vehicle to drive. All of these things mean that motorists are contributing financially to the system. It also makes driving more expensive than riding. That being the case I understand when someone who has passed a test to prove they can drive and know the laws, paid to get a license, paid to register a vehicle and paid to make sure that vehicle carries insurance gets preferential treatment over someone on a bicycle after an accident. I am not saying it is right, just that is understandable; they are looked at to be the responsible party.
It sucks but the last time I got hit by a motorist and provided with fake insurance information, the authorities did very little to investigate. Why? Luckily for me I wasn’t seriously injured, I didn’t have to pay to get my bike fixed. There wasn’t anything for me to recover, so they probably didn’t feel the need to investigate further. If I had been in a vehicle, I am sure several hundred dollars worth of damage (body work and paint!) would have needed to be done and I would have stood significant financial loss had the person hadn’t been found.
So my question to you cyclists out there is this: For those of you that claim to want more privileges are also prepared to deal with the additional responsibilities that will come with them? I am not. I don’t want to register my bicycles. I don’t want to have to pay more money into the pot of funds wasted yearly by unnecessary bureaucracy. I don’t want someone somewhere who doesn’t own a bike to decide for me what the adequate amount of lighting on my downhill rig should be. When you get everything you want and you either get arrested at your next Critical Mass ride because you are riding without a license, or you get ticketed for not wearing your helmet, or even because you failed to yield to a traffic control device, will you feel that you have finally succeeded?