urban biking: a critique

So in my previous blog, I shared just how much I love urban biking.  Here, in part two of my writing sample, I share some of the concerns I and others have concerning bikes being on the road.  It’s good now, but how much better it could be!

Urban biking does, however, have its share of detractors who complain about those who choose a bicycle to fit their transportation needs.  It is not surprising, though, that a society both figuratively and literally constructed around the automobile would take issue with those who don’t follow the norm.  Major cities construct roads and direct traffic patterns with respect to the masses of cars driven during rush hour, while those who would take to the streets on a bicycle are lucky to find a bike lane or trail that comes anywhere close to approximating their commuting route home.  However, the urban biker must also take responsibility when at fault for certain complaints.  Because everyone deserves to be heard when it comes to urban biking, I want to address some of the critiques and concerns that surround the issue.

Perhaps the most widely voiced complaint about bikes sharing the road with cars and other vehicles is that bikers regularly fail to observe applicable traffic laws.  I must confess that I have in my life biked through a red light or breezed through a stop sign without stopping, but if bikers are to earn the respect of automobile drivers, they need to begin to obey the rules of the road or face the same consequences to which vehicular drivers are subjected.  By law, bicycles are given equal privileges to motor vehicle traffic on most roadways, and with equal privilege comes equal responsibility.  This means respecting all traffic on the road by obeying the laws required.  Automobile drivers must also recognize that bikes have equal privileges and respect those with whom they are sharing the roadway.  However, it’s understandable that drivers look down on those who continually disobey the law, and for this reason, bikers must be implored to obey the rules of the road and call upon other bikers to do the same.

Another critique of bikers and biking is that bicycles clog up the road for cars and cause traffic to become even more congested that it already is.  However, it must be noted that bikes obeying traffic laws have just as much right to use urban roadways as cars do, and much urban traffic on roads where bikes are present, especially during peak hours, travels at such speeds as to not be affected a bicycle’s presence.  Cars and bikes certainly have different sizes and abilities, but that doesn’t mean bikes need to leave the roadways.  Instead, the use of bikes should be encouraged through the creation of bike and shared lanes that make it safer and easier for all traffic.  Bicycles actually reduce congestion and pollution by removing automobiles from the road, creating a better environment for all involved.

A third critique not widely held but still of concern is that cyclists pay nothing toward the improvement or upkeep of roads in the way automobile drivers do through licenses, car registrations, or taxes on gasoline.  While some might desire the registration of bicycles or cyclists for a small fee, since bicycles have such a small impact on roadways, minimal taxes on the general population should be all that is needed to procure the necessary funds for any roadway upkeep due to bicycle traffic.  This, too, would work as an incentive to get drivers out of their cars and onto a bike, knowing that they are already paying for services of which they are otherwise not taking advantage.

Finally, I have a personal critique, which I know is shared by others, regarding the use, or extreme lack of use, of bike helmets.  I know there is the “cool factor” we all have to worry about, but there is no good reason why one should bike, especially in an urban setting, without a helmet.  Even when all on the road are abiding by the law and attempting to drive safely, accidents can and do happen, and just as someone in a car is required to buckle up, a biker needs to wear a helmet.  If bikers are to be respected on the road, not only will they have to abide by traffic laws, but they must also show others that they take safety seriously by wearing a helmet.

The sharing of the road by automobile drivers and cyclists is a sensitive issue for both constituencies, and all parties need to recognize the concerns of others involved.  Compromises may have to be made by all, but there is no reason why cyclists shouldn’t be able to ride safely side by side with those who drive by choice or necessity.  Indeed, I have no doubt that through organizing and promotion, the streets of and cities around the world can become safer and more efficient for all to enjoy.

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