Last week, the Mankato Free Press announced that the city was diving headfirst into bringing their cycling infrastructure into the 21st century. Predictably, comments on their Facebook page ranged from the ignorant to the willfully obtuse. Let’s take a look at a couple of the “best” offerings, shall we?
Hopefully the bicyclist [sic] start obeying traffic laws as well
This is a loaded-ass statement, and we’ll whittle it down to its essence in a few grafs. But for now, let’s take it at face value.
In bigger cities, a comment like this is typically in reference to bike messengers, a breed somehow mythologized as counter-cultural gods by the cycling community, despite a job description consisting of shuttling documents and food to usurious leeches. (I guess risking life and limb for the white-collar elite is the upper echelon of non-doping cycling careers.)
But in a town like Mankato, door-handle skitchers and reckless lane-splitters are as rare as nuanced opinions on institutionalized racism. More common? Cyclists that are forced to shift between vehicular rules and pedestrian rules on the fly. Despite what some may think, this annoys cyclists as much as it annoys drivers.
Without proper infrastructure, there are two ways to minimize this dance of duality:
1) Ride your bike on the sidewalk
This is not recommended, because a) it’s WAY more dangerous than you realize, b) it’s a dick move to pedestrians, c) it’s actually illegal in most business districts according to Minnesota state law, and d) it makes you look like you either have eight DUIs or are celebrating your eighth birthday. Please, please, please don’t do this.
2) Ride on the street, with traffic, at all times
This is recommended. But what about those instances where designated, off-street paved paths for pedestrians and cyclists are available for use? Why wouldn’t you want to use those? (I mean, aside from the fact[s] that the pavement is poorly-maintained and peppered with earbudded power-walkers, tiny dogs, and curious toddlers.) Any respite you can get from boorish, speeding drivers is welcome, right?
Trouble is, if you’re going to use these paths in Mankato, you’ll also have utilize that reviled vehicle law / pedestrian law juke.
Example: On my commute home from work in upper North Mankato, there’s a paved path on Carlson Drive that runs adjacent to Benson Park. I can ride it against traffic, until I get to my right turn on Lor Ray. Then, I’ll have to acknowledge the stop sign on the opposite side of the street and pretend I’m a pedestrian while using the crosswalk, only to ride that path on Lor Ray for a mere two blocks before I have to jump over the curb and get back into the street when the path comes to a halt.
If your eyes just glazed over, that’s fine. All you need to know is that in the span of six blocks, I’ve just annoyed both myself and anyone operating a vehicle around me while attempting to use a path that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars per mile. (And don’t get me started on trying to jump onto the Lee Boulevard bike path from the left-turn lane on Lor Ray. Just try it yourself sometime. But watch out for those SUVs that reeeeeeeally don’t want to come to a complete stop at the top of the hill when they get spanked with that red light.)
The point is this: Put the proper infrastructure in place, and people will obey the laws and proceed in an orderly fashion. In this spirit, the commenter is correct; with painted bike lanes in place, cyclists will be more likely to obey traffic laws, because the traffic laws are actually taking them into account.
Now, as I alluded above, that’s not the true context of this comment. Thinly veiled, this comment is basically “get on the sidewalk, idiot! If you can’t obey the rules, get off the road!”
This sentiment ignores the fact(s) that, honestly, everyone sucks at following traffic laws to the letter. But when people in 2,000-pound steel death machines break ’em, the consequences are a little more dire. Let’s check these stats from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, shall we?
Minnesota Motor Vehicle Crash Facts 2013 Highlights:
The state’s 2013 fatality rate is .68 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.
The 387 fatalities involve motorists (269); motorcyclists (60); pedestrians (35); bicyclists (6); ATV riders (7); farm equipment occupants (5); snowmobile riders (2) and three unknown vehicle types.
Of the 387 fatalities, 81 (21%) were known to be drunk-driving related.
Of the 387 fatalities, 76 (20%) were known to be speed related.
Of the 387 fatalities, 68 (18%) were known to be distracted driving related.
In 2013, there were 30,653 people injured in traffic crashes, of which 1,216 were severe and life altering.
If you’re really concerned with people obeying traffic laws, cyclists shouldn’t be of primary concern. Drunk driving, texting behind the wheel, and negligence of speed limits are far more damaging to public health, so maybe start with your fellow motorists before throwing shade at the commuters that barely break 12 mph.
Instead of holding motor vehicle operators more accountable, some commenters had other ideas:
I wonder how the bikers are going to pay their fair share of taxes for these lanes? Maybe a fee on bike licenses may help pay the bill?
Okay, setting aside the obvious hypocrisy in this statement–as it’s usually lobbed by small-government conservatives that loathe public projects and taxation in general–there’s only one point you need to make in arguing against bike licenses:
Riding a bike on pavement is not an inherently dangerous activity, and a bicycle does not require a specialized set of skills to operate.
License requirements are rooted in public safety. While an 80-year-old grandma probably shouldn’t get getting behind the wheel of her Buick crossover, she can do it. However, there’s no way in hell she’ll pass a test to operate a cube van or an 18-wheeler.
Anyone can get a job at a warehouse, but the weird kid that wears Jeff Hardy arm-warmers and eats cat food probably isn’t going to be allowed on a forklift.
And any anti-intellectual jackwagon can comment on a news article via Facebook, but they don’t just let any asshole have their own blog. (Wait…)
But you get what I’m chasing after, right? The more skill and risk involved in operating a certain piece of equipment, the more stringent the regulations for operation.
This commenter doesn’t want to license cyclists due to safety concerns, but as a way to generate revenue, a floodgate that was opened by politicians too cowardly to raise taxes.
See, the “logic” is, cars pay their way on the roads through gas taxes, registration fees, and license renewals…
So anyone that thinks that bicycles should have to “pay for bike lanes”–the way safer, way cheaper alternative to off-road pathways–should chill out and be thankful that there’s one less car on the road that will create potholes, burn gas, and delay your trip to Taco John’s for 3.5 seconds.
And, you know, realize that cyclists pay sales taxes, income taxes, and property taxes just like everyone else. Most of them even own cars. They’re people. Just like you.
But probably in better shape.