This is a moderately edited and refined version of a reply I wrote on Reddit to a user claiming to be an involved member of the Twin Cities cycling advocacy community. Unfortunately, that user deleted their comment before I could copy-paste it. The general thrust of their comment was that MPLS Bike Wrath in general and my assertive and sometimes angry advocacy style in particular are counter-productive in the effort to protect cyclists and pedestrians. Despite now lacking the specific context of that initial comment, what I wrote ended up capturing many of my thoughts on the subject of cycling safety and cycling safety advocacy pretty well, so I decided to turn it into a blog post.
This post contains a bit of cussing, so cover your eyes for those parts.
I've long wondered why tone policing is so prevalent and tolerated in the cycling advocacy community when it's so immediately and consistently called out in every other justice community of which I've been a part. What you've written is, unfortunately, a textbook example of it.
It is a completely rational and appropriate response to get very angry at someone who, for no other reason than momentary irritation, takes deliberate and reckless action that puts a human life in danger.
Telling someone who has just had their life intentionally endangered by a driver - for no other reason than to express that driver's momentary irritation - that they, and their completely normal, totally appropriate, absolutely healthy anger response to such a behavior are the problem - that they should instead stuff their feelings and move along quietly - is insanely asinine and ultimately serves only to reinforce a culture that teaches most drivers to treat us with casual disregard and encourages far too many drivers to treat us as convenient targets for their frustrations.
You're shaming me (or, more accurately, attempting to shame me) for having a panic/adrenaline/anger reaction to almost being struck and injured by a vehicle - by a driver - for the thirteenth time since I started riding my bike in the Twin Cities nearly ten years ago.
As an aside, I haven't been injured (by a car, at least - my tendency to gravitate towards wet leaves in the fall and icy corners in the winter is another matter) in the last three and a half years, ever since I started riding busier roads, taking more of the lane, and being more assertive with drivers.
All twelve of my prior crashes were at the hands of drivers who didn't know I was there, because I was on sleepier side streets and they weren't paying as much attention as they would’ve on a busier route, or because I was hugging the right curb and my existence didn’t register for them, or because I was too timid in my maneuvers.
We would all love to live in the utopia wherein everyone gives as much as they take and there are never any accidents and nothing bad ever happens, but that's not reality. Not by a long shot.
Sure, and we'd all love to live in the utopia where homophobia is dead, but as a queer person I can assure you that telling queers to tone down the swishy shit and stop being so fucking gay all the time is not an ethically acceptable response to the reality of a homophobic culture that is alive and well. Neither is telling cyclists they shouldn't be pissed as hell about the danger we're put in by drivers an ethically acceptable response to the very-much-alive culture of car violence.
it just makes everyone see you as a whiny bitch.
Your casual misogyny is pretty disturbing.
If you want to make a difference, work towards getting better infrastructure.
Why is infrastructure the only answer that most cycling advocates are willing to entertain to the problem of car violence?
The root of car violence is a culture that dictates that roads are first for cars, and perhaps we'll squeeze in stuff for other road users if it doesn't slow us down too much and it doesn't cost too much money. The root of car violence is a culture that treats cars like appliances instead of deadly machines - that treats driving as a boring chore from which we need to be distracted rather than a grave responsibility, one that deserves our undivided attention.
Our ultimate goal should not be to remove ourselves entirely from roads and give up even more of our city to an unjust system that puts our lives in danger. Our ultimate goal should be to dismantle that system - to kill the culture of car violence.
Infrastructure's great, don't get me wrong, but it's like giving a painkiller to someone with a broken leg - the underlying problem remains even if we feel it less sharply. We need the painkiller, because that will save many of the lives that need saving and it'll give the cycling community more physical space in which to grow, but we will never be Copenhagen. It's just not possible in most cities in the U.S., including the Twin Cities. Transportation cyclists will, for at least several decades to come, have to use regular traffic lanes some or much of the time, depending on where in the metro they live, work, eat, play, and find community. When they do have to use regular traffic lanes, they will be intimidated, injured, and killed by the culture of car violence.
It's also not an either/or decision. I can, and do, work towards improving infrastructure, and I can, and do, get abusive and dangerous professional drivers fired and disciplined, report incidents to the Close Call Database, provide accountability by publishing the license plates, faces, and vehicle information of drivers who break the law, call out companies whose policies neglect cyclist safety, push for better enforcement of traffic law, and provide immediate education and pushback to drivers who put me in danger on the road.
It may be a surprise to many that I have quite a lot of very positive interactions with drivers. I just don't publish that footage very often because I feel compelled to blur out the identifying information and faces of such folks in the footage, and that takes a lot of time and energy.
To help kill the culture of car violence, our Cities need a traffic enforcement plan, one that specifically commits to the protection of vulnerable road users and holds drivers to standards commensurate with the standards to which we hold people granted the privilege of possessing and using any other type of deadly machines in public spaces. We need an enforcement plan that targets offenses in a methodical and data-driven way, rather than leaving decisions about traffic enforcement to the whims and biases of individual officers. We need to aggressively prosecute drivers who behave recklessly while behind the wheel.
The fact that a driver can strike and kill an elderly pedestrian because they were distracted by checking their text messages and receive as punishment four days in jail is one of the most gut-wrenching symptoms of our current lack of adequate enforcement.
This should make all of us very, very angry.
Traveling down Lyndale at rush hour, waiting for someone to pass you at 2 feet 10 inches because you stopped abruptly for someone who almost thought about stepping off the curb isn't going to accomplish anything, except for maybe turning you into a bloodstain on the road.
So you're suggesting I break the law? Pedestrians have right of way at unsignalized intersections, full stop, 100% of the time. You've got the chutzpah to dress me down for being unhelpful while advocating for the perpetuation of a status quo that kills and injures pedestrians and makes walking in this city terribly unsafe and intimidating for so, so many people?
Pedestrian and cyclist safety is very important, but your vigilante methods are more harmful than beneficial.
I've yet to see anyone who's made this assertion provide any reason to believe it to be true. In no other justice movement has "being quiet, looking small, and hoping nobody steps on us too hard" been an effective strategy. Why are we so sure that it's the golden ticket to ending car violence?
Traveling down Lyndale at rush hour
The reason I ride busy roads is because studies show that the more cyclists we have riding on dangerous roads, the safer they become for all cyclists. Cyclists live on Lake Street and cyclists live on Lyndale. We live on Franklin and we live on Hennepin. Real actual human beings have to ride on these streets. Suggesting that cyclists have any less of a right to ride, or be safe, on Lyndale than they do on Bryant is to simply go belly up in the fight against car violence - to cede more and more of our city every day to the exclusive domain of cars.
The reason I ride those roads at rush hour is because, like most drivers, that's when I happen to be coming home from work.
This means acknowledging that not everyone is actively trying to kill you.
Under no circumstances have I said anything that could be construed by a reasonable person to suggest that everyone is actively trying to kill me. In fact, I've consistently maintained that the much bigger dangers to all of us are casual neglect, ignorance, and complacency. As I said above, all of my crashes have been at the hands of drivers who simply didn't see me or never considered the possibility of of my presence on the road, or who had no idea that they owed cyclists specific duties beyond those owed to other cars.
In summary and conclusion, my own recommendations to the original commenter
12/16/2016 05:27:41 am
A well written response Ward. I still have concerns one issue, the larger thru streets often times 4 lanes. If I understand this, anytime a pedestrian is at any intersection, that intersection becomes becomes a 4 way stop? that brings other dangers on the wider thru streets. but ultimately we must all be more careful and be very clear on our intentions.
12/16/2016 06:25:16 am
Hey Leif, thanks for the question.
4/20/2017 01:00:43 pm
First, I dig all of your posts and videos. Especially, when you get to the points made in this blog post. I wanted to add that your post reminded me of another blog post I read a while back that related driver privilege to white privilege. I don't necessarily think that the analogy is perfect but its often on my mind when choose how to interact with drivers... and yes, I tend to be confrontational when it seems useful/necessary.
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