Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bicycle "Rights"

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?

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

You said "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."

Sometime you might compare annual vehicle related fatalities to those of bicycles. Cars kill, and so can bicycles when the rider fails to wear a helmet. But the difference in numbers is staggering. We should pay for the right to drive the gas guzzling death machines we are so addicted to. They can kill indiscriminately, they pollute the environment, and the addiciton to the internal combustion engine is the single largest threat to national security. Now what harm has the bicycle ever done? It doesn't pollute, generally only kills the rider not wearing a helmet, is no threat to national security as riding a bike requires no army to protect it's right to consume natural resources, and the more you ride, the healthier you get. The bicycle should get preferential treatment. A little critical mass is certainly less of an inconvenience than the daily commute.

Banger said...

This is much closer to the kind of unsupportable spewing that I generally expect from Critical Mass. First off, it is impossible to compare the statistics you speak of because records of bicycle accidents are not kept unless they involved a vehicle. Second, while motor vehicles are registered and we can keep a fairly accurate count of how many there are out there on the road, it is also impossible to do this for bicycles. Without that type of information, any numbers you may come up with are statistically meaningless.

Second your ravings about the evils of cars are only close to the truth and not actually truth itself. Less than half of the crude oil that the US consumes gets turned into gasoline. Second we gets lots of our crude from Canada and Mexico, who quite frankly we haven’t had any problems with that demanded a standing army. Most of these figures are available on the DOE’s website, but somehow I think that may not be good enough for you. Can you tell me the figures for how much of that crude goes into constructing the bicycles that you falsely believe are 100% green? Are your frames naked, painted or powder coated? Where do you think the waste from those processes goes?

Lastly I’ll point out that you posted anonymously, which is kind of how you ride in Critical Mass. It is easy enough to show up for a group ride once an month and yell and scream when you are surround by your fellow cyclists, but I’ll be more impressed when I see you riding to work on a Monday in January.

Don’t get me wrong. Bicycles are the best invention of the 18th century. I love them. There would be less pollution, better general health and less reliance on foreign energy sources if everyone had one and used it. But that doesn’t give us the right as cyclists to force our beliefs on others and break the law. If you have the moral high ground, hang onto it. Don’t start rolling around in the mud when your opponent starts slinging it. You’ll just end up looking like another one of the pigs.

Cezar said...

"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."

Where I live this is not true. There are very few paths in the city and sidewalk riding is very illegal.

"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."

In Illinois, if I'm not mistaken, I'm pretty sure an infraction while riding one's bike can affect their license. I do know for a fact that bikes must legally be in working order with working brakes and lights. What they do not have to do is be registered.

Interestingly, in Portland, where it is arguably the best cycling city in the nation, Critical Mass doesn't exist. Is this because they got the infrastructure and laws they wanted? I don't know.

I'm afraid that if mass stopped, cyclist would stop being as visible as a political force (in Chicago). Being off the radar, we could lose the right to be on the road. I doubt that will happen because I'm pretty sure global warming and peak oil will bring bicycling more to the foreground.

Though it is very arguable that today is much different than when many masses started, rights wise.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you sure get pissy when someone disagrees with you. Statistics can be used to support any position when misused properly. I was only referring to total fatalities. Has nothing to do with the number of cars or bikes per capita, and also was purely death stats. Bike stats may include bike vs vehicle and they may not. Eitherway, let me say this. I post anonymously only because I don't need some other additional internet account to have to keep track of. And really who are you, never shown your face, maybe your buds in the frozen north know you, but nobody else does. But I have no problem with that, we are just having a discussion here, and I respect your opinions. Also I have never participated in nor do I ever intend to participate in a critical mass bike ride. I hate large groups of people, and I suspect you might as well, or you would live somewhere more populated. I do however support a little civil disobediance on occasion to prove a point. In every protest, there are those committed, and there are those just there to be there. So you can question the motive, just don't flame me because I disagree. You might find we agree on more than we disagree.

Banger said...

Cezar, it sounds like the laws in Chicago must suck. I would apologize for that, but it isn’t really my fault. I have only been there once and I never left the hotel I was staying at. It shows a complete lack or foresight on someone’s part that they won’t provide the infrastructure to support a cycling community, but they are ok with you guys blocking traffic occasionally. I guess they have to give you something. I’ll wish you good luck in your cause, but will throw out another idea. It sounds like Critical Mass of Chicago is pushing, and the local authorities have simply taken a step back to allow Mass rides, but haven’t actually done anything to improve the situation for riders. Let me stir the pot. If they allow you to break traffic laws so they don’t have to deal with you, why not take over the sidewalks and foot traffic ways?

To the anonymous poster, I am pissy. Not when people disagree with me, but when they support their differing opinions with faulty logic or bad numbers. “Statistics can be used to support any position when misused properly.” This is especially true of numbers not taken in context. If we looked at the total deaths in Alaska for a given year (I am not talking for any particular reason here) we might find that 6,000 white people died in the state and 3,000 Pacific Islanders died. Those numbers are essentially meaningless unless you take them in context of the percent of population that each of those separate ethnic groups make up. Seeing as though white people make up nearly 70% of the state’s population of 600,000 plus, that might be reasonable. However, Pacific Islanders make up roughly one-half of one percent of the state’s population. 3000 would be nearly every Pacific Islander living in Alaska. My point being that the percentage population is very important, just as it is with bicycles and motor vehicles. Any numbers without that context are meaningless.
As to not posting any face shots, you’ll notice this blog was started in the middle of winter. It’s actually quite cold here and all of the pictures you see were taken at below freezing temperatures. Many were taken well below zero. Keep reading and when it gets warmer, you’ll see some face shots. Although I will admit if they are downhill pictures, there will probably be a full face helmet involved. You’ll have to search for posts about XC rides, or if I am feeling really slow, a road ride.
Lastly you’ve given me a wonderful gift, thank you. I just realized another reason that Critical Mass strikes me wrong. It’s the Mass part. You are completely right; I don’t like large crowds of people. I hate traffic and city congestion in general. I can think of no good reason to add to that problem. Certainly not bicycle advocacy. Making the problem worse isn’t going to magically make it better.