But I’m just a soul who’s intentions are good; oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood. — Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, The Animals
It’s not just Los Angeles.
All around the country — around the world, in fact — cyclists and biking organizations are fighting for better biking infrastructure. Some insist on separated bikeways where cyclists are safe from careless, distracted or uncaring drivers, and envy those who enjoy a planned, functional system where biking is considered an integral part of the overall transportation plan.
Most of us, though, would gladly settle for a few feet of roadway set off from buzzing traffic by nothing more than a thin strip of paint, on the assumption that something dedicated to cycling is better than nothing.
And nothing is pretty much what we’ve gotten here in Los Angeles.
In fact, since the 1996 bike plan was implemented — the one the currently debated plan is supposed to replace, even though many cyclists consider it a significant step backwards — the city has added an average of just 4.5 miles of bike lanes a year. Not counting the ones frustrated cyclists have painted themselves, of course.
Compare that to New York, which recently added 200 miles of new bike lanes in just three years.
Of course, the excuse reason we’re given is that Los Angeles is too built out and there’s not enough room to add more lanes. Especially not compared to a spacious, low-density and bike friendly community such as New York.
But it’s not enough to simply build bike lanes.
As we learned here over this past summer, we have to defend the ones that have already been built, a lesson New York cyclists have recently learned, as well.
As you may be aware, the city’s cyclists have been up in arms — or off with their tops — over the removal of a bike lane in New York’s Williamsburg neighborhood, reputedly because the local Hassidic community was offended by the scantily clad cyclists who used it.
Which leads us to this. One of the most astounding demonstrations of sheer, unadulterated ignorance in the guise of offering insight that I’ve ever encountered.
Raanan Geberer, a writer for a local Brooklyn newspaper, lumps those protesting the removal of the bike lane together as “hipsters,” explaining, with some justification, that they were “described in the media as such.” Then after addressing why the Hassidic community was offended — without evidently bothering to talk to any actual Hassidim — he goes on to say this:
One can also understand the anger of the hipsters. By and large, these are people who grew up in unhappy home situations and who have moved to Williamsburg from other parts of the city or the country to “be with their own kind” and live their own unconventional lifestyle. Many, if not most, were teased during their childhood because they were “different,” and fiercely want to defend their hard-fought right to live their lifestyle without interference.
So let me get this straight.
If you’re upset that the bike lane was removed, or that a religious group was apparently allowed to use their influence to dictate the dress and behavior of those outside their group, in violation of the U.S. constitution, you are undoubtedly motivated by an unhappy childhood. Not to mention the desire to be with your own kind and live an “unconventional” lifestyle.
You know, like an irrational desire to conduct radical counter-cultural activities — like riding a bike, for instance — as well as an unreasonable, revolutionary refusal to transport yourself by motor vehicle at all times.
Never mind that many, if not most, of those protesting the lane’s removal may live outside of Williamsburg and use the bike lane, not to get around the neighborhood, but to pass safely through it. Or that it is used — or rather, was — by all kinds of cyclists, some of whom may actually shop at Macy’s and vote Republican on occasion.
Of course, while it’s tempting to dismissed this as the isolated ravings of an idiot, the same sort of lazy, biased reporting is found even when writers attempt to dig a little deeper in the story. But it brings up a larger problem, both in terms of infrastructure and acceptance by the larger public.
Too many people see cyclists as a single, homogenous — and often, in their eyes, law-breaking —mass, defined more by their own perceptions than anything remotely grounded in reality. When we’re actually nothing more than a loose collection of individuals trying to get from here to there, each of whom has his or her own reasons for riding and own way of doing it.
Sort of like the great multitude of those behind the wheel, in other words.
And unless we can change those perceptions, we’re going to have a hard time changing things on the streets. Because it’s easy to refuse — or remove — something that only benefits a small group of hipsters, lycra louts, critical massholes or Lance Armstrong wannabees.
But much harder to say no to the guy next door, or the woman who works next to you.
LACBC sponsors their Mid-Winter Merriment tomorrow from 11:30 am to 11 pm at the Library Alehouse, 2911 Main Street in Santa Monica; bike valet available after 5 pm. Stephen Box analyzes why 2009 was the Year of the Bike in Los Angeles. Photos from the successful St. Anne’s Toy Ride. Burbank’s newspaper notes that local bicycling is moving into a new age, and encourages cyclists and pedestrians to keep the pressure on. As of January 1st, seatless bikes will be legal in California, even if Bakfiets break the law in the City of Angels. Presenting the possible Algonquin of Bay Area biking. In New Jersey, a step back for bike parking, cleverly disguised as a step forward. New York considers a three-foot passing law, while Mississippi considers laws requiring safe passing and banning harassment, and Baltimore considers simple solutions like changing the direction of storm grates. Do women owe their emancipation to their bikes? Once again, the Tour of Georgia bites the dust, while the French again investigate Lance Armstrong’s former team. Flashing bike lights are now legal in Ireland; legal passing on the inside is still to come. Refurbished bikes are donated to Liverpool churches. A rally for a bike-friendly Bangladesh. Israeli cyclists fight the mandatory helmet law. New Years celebrants in Adelaide could be saved by cycling paramedics. Finally, poof that not all crime-fighting superheroes wear a cape; some ride a bike, then bravely run away.