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The State of Cycling in the U.S.

by Melanie Colavito

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We have all seen it, a cyclist riding down a one way street going the wrong direction, blowing a stop sign, or just not obeying the rules of the road and riding all over the place with out any where with all, acting as if because they are on two wheels the have the right to ride how and where ever they want. These acts seemingly small are at the heart of bike/motorist interaction, bicycle advocacy and how bikes are seen in the US in general.

bicycle-safety-lookIn general there is a feeling among the majority of motorists that cyclists should not be on the road and that for the most part they just get in the way of auto traffic. This has created some strong animosity between drivers and cyclist, sometimes ending very unfortunately for both parties. I have seen the trends my self, motorists see a small number of cyclist breaking what they consider equal road laws that both cars and cyclist are required to follow and become disgruntled towards such cyclist. But Americans love their stereotypes and cyclist are just as susceptible. Motorists seeing a deviant cyclist then assume all cyclist share the same deviance and the assumption that they can do what ever they want turns into an unfortunate and dangerous assumption.

But on the flip side, cyclist are forced to abide to laws that were written by motorist, I wonder how many cycling laws in this country were written by someone who rode their bike to work that morning. Were cycling laws truly written with the idea of integrating cyclist into American transportation and for safety, or were they written with the approach of keeping cyclist out of the way of motorist as much as possible? Is it right to apply the same laws that govern a solid metal mass weighing a half ton or more, to a small non-motorized entity that moves and behaves under a completely different set of physics? Most cars require tens of feet to suddenly stop traveling at reasonable speed, most cyclist traveling at a reasonable speed can stop in six inches or so. The type of cyclomcy that cyclist use when riding has greater implications then we realize.

motorist-vs-courierAmerica is a driving culture, this is not the Netherlands or Denmark and it never will be, it is part of our society to travel long distances by auto, the great American road trip is an inherent part of our culture and most of our towns and urban structures are designed solely with auto transportation in mind. But as gas prices rise and environmental awareness grows, more and more people are turning to their bikes for transportation and fun. Is it the increase in the numbers of recreational cyclist and cyclist commuters on the roads that will force a revaluation of cycling legislature or will a change in legislature promote more people to take to using their bikes, feeling that the transportation environment is now safer. It could almost be a chicken or egg argument. When there are 100 cars and 5 cyclist it is easy to disregard the cyclist presence, but if there are 100 cars and 50 cycles things might be very different.

critical-mass-budapest-20-april-2008The future of cycling in the U.S. is bound to continue to be a controversial one, more and more people are riding everyday and motorist certainly aren’t going any where anytime soon. I hope that the future holds greater understanding and patience on both sides. Motorists need to realize that most cyclist are law abiding citizens that are at an extreme and very dangerous disadvantage, just remember, it is someones son, mother, father, or daughter on that bike that you feel is in your way. And cyclist although the laws we adhere to were not written with our best interests in-mind, we still have an obligation to lesson the animosity between us and motorist and to increase our legislative presence. I know it is not fair out there and we usually get the short end of the stick, but disregard and spite has never accomplished anything.

 
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3 Responses to “The State of Cycling in the U.S.”

  1. JIm Nariel says:

    Great blogg – some good stuff in here

    • josh says:

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  2. William Lowe says:

    A sensible perspective. I’m fortunate to live and work in a bike-friendly area slightly north of Chicago; its not the Netherlands, but its not bad. The question I’ve often asked myself is how approaches that have worked effectively in my area at relatively little cost (e.g., designating certain streets as well-marked bike routes; expanding and maintaining bike/pedestrian paths; prohibiting bikes from high-traffic thoroughfares; adding bike racks in downtowns; and many other steps that have led to generally peaceful bike/car coexistence) can be replicated. It all sounds simple enough, but the current design of cities and towns makes it much more difficult than it seems. AAny thoughts on smart approaches going forward?

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