Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Economist Talks Bicycles and Cars

There is local and national evidence of more bicyclists and bicycling lately.

Anecdotally, the three bicycle racks where I work have been full most days this summer, and the greasy old perennial bicycle commuters at the DEP seem impressed with the number of commuting riders this year. I bet there are plenty of other workplaces where the old dogs have noticed an increase in commuters.

We also have circumstantial citywide evidence of more bicycling lately. The inaugural Discover Hartford Bicycle Tour was a smashing success last fall, and there has been a push to get more bicycle racks on city buses.

Word of similar events and trends are wafting out of other cities across the country, but it's good every once in a while to get corroboration from a mainstream source like The Economist. Not surprisingly, this is a concise high-level summary of the current surge in bicycling as transportation in the US. The crux of the article is a few anecdotes about motorist-bicyclist altercations and a relay of statements from bicycling advocates saying "cycling deaths are sharply up" to assert that automobile vs. bicycle conflicts are a problem. Their solution? Better manners from drivers and cyclists.

Is the recent increase in incidents of bad manners and cycling deaths proportional to the recent increase in bicycling, or are motorists and bicyclists getting angrier?

As I've said before, bicyclists must accept the responsibility that comes with power reclamation on the roads. At the same time, I wonder how big this problem actually is, and is it really a problem of manners? I think The Economist falls short of their usual level of insight by offering a solution of minding manners. Better manners could improve a lot of problems, not just bicycle-automobile conflict. This is a political and economic problem with political and economic solutions, no different from other topics tackled by one of my favorite publications.


Karma said...

Speaking to the issue of increasing bike-car hostilities I think that the matter does in fact largely deal with the issue of manners but it also relates to education. As bikes become increasingly common on the roads drivers who consider themselves entitled to the control of this domain or who see bikes as recreational toys or vehicles of the underclasses increasingly lash out, intimidate, and endanger cyclists. Conversely, these behaviors receive sharp retorts from cyclists concerned for their physical well-being and determined to make a social statement by standing their ground in an environment that they see themselves as equally entitled to. In the United States cars have received few spacial challenges from alternative modes of transport and the roads themselves cater to this mode of travel. As such, there will be a continued escalation of hostilities until drivers and cyclists are educated as to their rights and responsibilities and both choose to act in a polite and equitable manner when on the road.

Caitlynne said...

I agree with karma, except that I'm not so sure it's "entitled drivers" that are to blame for these accidents. With our economy the way it is- and I don't mean failing miserably, I mean full-steam capitalist- industry dictates pretty heavily how we (as a society, not individuals) live our lives. So right now we rely pretty heavily on personal cars for transportation, which may not have been the case had the auto industry decided greater profits lay elsewhere. I think the old story of General Motors buying up the mass transit lines- trains and railcars- in the forties really speaks to the difference between 'manners' or 'education' being the problem versus industry controlling these systems. Mass transit was being used, it was working effectively, it was widely accepted as a legitimate means of transport...all the things we want for bicyclists...but at the end of the day big business calls the shots. Maybe it's time people started getting even more not-polite, and maybe all these accidents are a sign of increasing resistance to corporate control.

Caitlynne said...

I forgot the punchline: GM bought all the mass-transit lines in the forties and destroyed them in order to lock in a strong market for their personal cars.

Karma said...

Im saying driver THINK they are entitled due to all of the aforementioned political and economic policies. Motorists have been catered to for the past 70 years and while I would love to lead all cyclists in a political charge of the Light Brigade against automobiles I do fear the repercussions when they run us all over. Our system failed us when they allowed the motor monopolies to take over and I doubt anyone other than the general public has the will or power to pull us back up again. It will take a general strength and will on the part of cyclists to take back the roads. We will need to take the lane and be brave as cars honk, swerve, and try to run us down. However, we don't need to get to the point of throwing rocks or kicking in windshields (yet). The gas crisis may be enough to crumble the Big Three. Chrysler is in shambles, GM is a mess and Ford's head is ready to roll. They may have spelled their own doom. We may just have to watch and enjoy. Get out the popcorn.

Karma said...

In the meantime, cyclists should take the lane, be confident, and talk down any motorist that challenges their right to the road. The auto companies and Satan himself, Robert Moses (may he burn eternally in hell or its equivalent), created a system that caters to cars and it is our right, responsibility, and duty to take it back!!! Take the lane!!!

Ben B. said...

Be sure to check out courant.com today. A similar debate is in the works:


I'm not big on making posts on courant.com but I've already chimed in on this one using el prez's legal knowledge in attempt to educate the driver.

Caitlynne said...

I wish the decline of the Big Three were going to help- but it'll just be another industry short-term solution once they go down the tubes- like "hybrids" and "electric cars"- not systemic change like bike paths, bike allowances and making the auto industry illegal. I get your point about not times not being right for throwing stones and kicking in windshields- I tend to think the people who do that stuff aren't that serious about change anyway- they're just really into constructing their image.

chillwill said...

I might post this as a post some slow day in the future:

The Myth of the Scofflaw Cycylist


Karma said...

From the website:

"My point is that it's hypocritical to call your neighbor rude, because his loud stereo makes it difficult for you to focus on your backyard chainsaw sculpting."


chillwill said...


Rich said...

Well, karma stole my planned damnation of Robert Moses, and I'm late to the party here, so just a few thoughts.

Education is crucial. Not just for motorists, but for cyclists as well. I commute in E. Hartford, and find the majority of all people on bicycles I encounter riding in the sidewalk, weaving in and out of parked cars, or most maddening, riding the wrong way in lanes. I do my best to shout out "wrong side!" as I narrowly miss bike-on-bike accidents, but it's obvious that they don't know. Fear is a helluva motivator for wrong behaviors.

The problem is that most of these people doing things improperly both in cars and on bikes have no desire for education in this matter. Whether it's the neighborhood punks pedaling around, the crusty old can-guy scrapping his life together, or the "I drive my car fast and hard, get the fuck out of the way" people...they're not going to show up to bike education events. I don't want to wait for a biking death to force the driver as part of his sentence to attend mandatory bike-awareness training.

Few drivers really know the rules. And all it takes is a few poor cyclists to piss off the courant-comment crowd so ALL cyclists are generalized as being bad.

DMV licensing courses...how much do they really spend teaching about this? That's unlikely to change too.

It's a sad quandary.