Getting in Gear on Bikes


With close to 150,000 Angelenos basking in the afterglow of bicycle fest CicLAvia, it is easy to forget that all too many other Angelenos are assiduously sharpening their tongues to continue the vicious spite campaign against any support whatsoever of practical cycling.

A cursory exploration of blogs and newspaper article comment sections clearly shows this. The ubiquitous Mr. Anonymous is ever ready to drop his cluster bombs of accusations, slurs and imaginary factoids in a relentless campaign to prevent even the most minor cession of a smidgen of road space to cycling in a city whose roads are choked, not by bicyclists, but by drivers.

Yet more and more middle-class Americans are taking to bicycles for transportation. They are tired of having their lives dominated by their cars, and since 40 percent of trips made in this country are less than two miles, why not make sense once in a while?

So, let us review the four fallacies of antibike vituperation, and see how they stand up against reality:

• The “scofflaw cyclists” argument

I find it grimly amusing that motorists are so affronted by cyclists who roll through stop signs and even red lights. Not because I approve of running stop signs, but because motorists are so thoroughly addicted to the practice themselves – and so much more dangerous when they do it, outweighing cyclists 200 to one. For laughs, I once spent a month counting the motorists who actually came to a full stop at a stop sign. Answer: two. In New York, where a Draconian crackdown on “scofflaw cyclists” is underway, Department of Transportation and Police Department data for the five years ending in 1999 show the following:

Pedestrians killed by bicyclists: 1 annually.

Pedestrians killed by motor vehicles: 250 annually.

This is in a city where few drive. It does indicate where any crackdowns should be focused, though.

• The “cyclists don’t pay road taxes” argument

This is particularly rich in hypocrisy. As a matter of fact, according to numerous studies (my favorite being one by the Transportation Department in good ol’ conservative Texas), car and fuel fees and taxes never pay for more than half the cost of building and maintaining roads for motorists. In fact, since 1947, the shortfall in user fees for these asphalt handouts has been $600 billion, making private driving the most socialistic program the United States has ever seen. Those who drive less or not at all are overtaxed in every other aspect of their lives to pay for “free” roads, “free” ways and “free” public parking for motorists. Cyclists just want the right to use a little of that road space that they have paid and paid for over the years, but keep getting shoved out of by self-righteous drivers.

• The “bike lanes cost too much” argument

I’ll quote but one figure, from Portland, Ore., famous for “coddling” bicyclists: All of the last 20 years’ worth of bicycle infrastructure put into place in Portland – including 300 miles of bike lanes, paths, and boulevards – cost no more than one mile of four-lane urban freeway, and now accommodates nearly 7 percent of all commuter travel in the city.

• The “reducing driving kills business” argument

This is just another knee-jerk reaction to the unfamiliar. An examination of past implementations shows otherwise: For most businesses, the addition of bike lanes and bicycle parking means better cash flow. Cyclists move slower than cars, can window shop as they ride, and can stop and shop on a whim. You can park 12 bicycles where only one car would fit. Shop owners in Portland clamor for more bike infrastructure, so that they can grab some of cyclists’ loot. There’s a waiting list for bike corrals in front of shops there since merchants have seen the effects of the first efforts.

Los Angeles is a backwards city in regards to support of cycling. Not only are New York, Portland, San Francisco and Minneapolis ahead of us, so are local towns such as Santa Monica and Long Beach.

Instead of endlessly repeating past errors that have led to an inefficient, endlessly congested, tax-draining autos-only road system, let’s give the city a chance to be fiscally and socially responsible and make room for cyclists on some of that asphalt they have been taxed for all these years.

Even if you don’t care about the environment, you can’t argue with lower taxes, less congestion, livelier retail, and a healthier and happier work force – especially in a city finding it hard to compete with its more progressive fellows for business and for businesses.

Richard Risemberg is co-editor of the urban sustainability Webzine the New Colonist, publisher and editor of a bike commuter Webzine named Bicycle Fixation, and owner of a small business that designs and manufactures clothing for bicycle commuters. He lives and works in Los Angeles.

No posts to display