Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Classist Arguments Against Cycling

Perhaps classist is the wrong word, well its not even a word. I mean to say any prejudice people have against something, based on their socioeconomic status. When it comes to cycling, I think we are all familiar with the arguments against it--It costs too much money, no one will bike when its hot, people don't want to stink at work, cyclists break too many rules. What many people do not realize, and what is rarely brought up in the comments, is these arguments come from a certain worldview, specifically the middle-class, where it is hard to imagine people living any other way, and the assumption is most people want to live like them, but are too poor or unrefined to do it.

It is understandable. Many Americans come from and consider themselves middle-class, where cars are an integral part of our experience from birth. Mom's toting their kids around in spacious SUVs, a first kiss stolen in the backseat, the feeling of freedom when you finally get our own car--its hard to imagine living any other way.

But some of us do. Not all of us live in the suburbs. Some of us have made the decision, whether out of poverty or something else, to live in place where walking, biking, and transit are available and acceptable. When you are in our neighborhood, you should respect the streetscape we built. I don't go to the suburbs and make a snit about the lack of bike lanes, and complaining about the lack of parking in my neighborhood or downtown is real rich, especially if you live outside of ACL.

Many people argue spending money on bicycle infrastructure is a waste, because people won't want to show up to work stinky. Many cycle advocacy groups try to get around this with showering at work at packing clothes, as if making it more complicated will entice people. The false assumption is that everyone has a job where you must look business professional, smell like Axe, and have perfectly coiffed hair. The fact is, a lot of people go to work knowing they will leave dirtier than when the arrived. Construction workers, cooks, lifeguards and so on are just a few people who do not have to give a shit how they look at work. Not to mention, you can take your bike on the bus like I do and avoid getting overly sweaty. Work retail at Nordstroms? A pharm rep who must look like she walked out an Ann Taylor catalog? Fine, drive to work. Don't assume everyone else has to as well.

Others say it costs too much money. The amount of money spent on cycle tracks by the City of Austin is no where near the amount needed to keep a highway like I-35 operational, but sure, complain about the relative pennies given to help those who can't afford a 45 minute commute each way every day. I don't complain about the miles of road in Austin suburbs that serve a select few.

As for no one bikes when its hot, well my own experience says that is false. I see more people out and about now than in December. Being Texans, I think we are suited to the hot weather and are better at dealing with it than cold or rain. Really, it is pretty arrogant to think just because you don't like something, or can't do something, no one else can either. Not to mention there are people out there who bike in the summer not because they are some uber-environmentalist, but because they can't afford a car and it's their sole means of transportation.

As long as the majority of alternate transportation advocates are also middle-class, we probably won't see a rebuttal of these arguments from a class point of view. It is easy to dismiss the concerns of the poor, or not consider them at all. Your local bicycle peddler ice cream man isn't posting on the Statesman user forums or reading Streetsblog. (I'll take a picture of one of these guys some day-they pedal around on modified mountain bikes selling paletas or Mexican popsicles) So, when considering the merits of cycling, lets remember for some the benefits go beyond lost pounds and less gas money.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Fox News Is On the Case

Austin PD conducted a "sting" of sorts in downtown hoping to nab drivers who do not abide by the 3 foot rule. Designed to put the responsibility of safety on the driver, it is probably not well known outside of those it is meant to protect.

Now they monitored Cesar Chavez, which in terms of bicycle infrastructure and safety, is probably the worst street you can think of to cycle down. Fast traffic moves to I-35 and S. Congress, with no shoulder and several intersections. I avoid that area. On the one hand, I guess it could make sense to go for the most dangerous situations first. On the other hand, wouldn't it make more sense to go to the places people bike the most and make sure those are as safe as possible?

Now to BE FAIR, APD says they will conduct bicycle rider stings in the summer. Hmm, I better watch my Idaho stops and riding on the sidewalk ooohh I could kill someone! No but really, they are going on about how likely it is you will die in a traffic accident, and I can't remember the last time a cyclist ran over and killed someone. Anyone, anyone? Waste of time.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mr. Wear Bikes to Work

Ben Wear, Statesman's transportation columnist decided to bike to work in honor of Bike Month. In the past he has been lukewarm on bicycle improvements, so I believe this was a big step for him. By his own admission he was "woefully unprepared", and indeed I think he was--just not in the same way.

Ben and his companions started from his home in Rollingwood, an affluent part of Austin with little bicycle infrastructure. They then crossed Mopac (a highway) right behind a shopping mall, which should tell you they were in a very car-centric part of town. Then they proceeded to Congress Ave. and Statesman headquarters, making for about a 5-mile trip. Wear noted the danger in crossing the highway and other parts of his journey, which brings me to a very important and little talked about point in all of this Bike to Work nonsense---PLAN YOUR ROUTE FOR A BIKE, NOT A CAR.

Ben had a hard time, but not because he didn't have a backpack, or a proper helmet, or even his own bike, it was because he didn't plan his route. He took his default car route, and paid for it in dangerous crossings and an uphill ride. If you decide to bike anywhere, make sure you are familiar with the area, and realize the safest way may not be the most obvious way. If I was trying to get out of Rollingwood, I would probably try and see if there was a bus or neighborhood route to get me through this infrastructure-poor part of town. In my own commute, I ride through the Bike/Ped bridge and down S. 5th to get home, although I could also take Lamar. I choose the other route because there is less traffic and lights. The tradeoff is that it is an uphill ride. Planning your route can save you a lot of headache, possibly your life, and make your daily commute enjoyable.