1974: Forced to Ride Bikes to School, Now What?

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by Byron on Jul 27, 2013 at 7:38 AM

Forced to ride to school

Forced to ride to school, photo: Doug Wilson/NARA

How times have changed, in 74 the gas crisis led to desperate measures

20 School children were forced to use their bicycles on field trips during the fuel crisis in the winter of 1974. There was not enough gasoline for school buses to be used for extracurricular activities, even during dark and rainy weather. (David Falconer/NARA)

Recalling the crisis, Gary Fisher told me once containers of bikes would arrive from Japan, get opened, bikes drug out, and sold right there on the street. Those bikes showed up in bike shops for repairs when gas prices went up in this decade and now there are so many of us riding, activist David Suzuki is wagging his finger, telling cyclists to behave better.

There’s really no doubt: anything that increases bicycle use, from separated lanes to bike-sharing programs, makes cities more livable and citizens healthier. Cyclists must do their part to build support for initiatives that make cycling easier, safer, and more popular.

He’s right, the bike backlash is our PR problem to manage and it’ll take cyclists on the street to do it, to behave better, and make cities more livable. You know the complaints and likely have felt the hate.

Don’t expect the activists, advocates, and academics that got us here with lanes and infrastructure, to handle it either. Responding to bad PR isn’t their thing. They’re still celebrating increased ridership by setting up bike counters so we can admire how awesome we are.

Bike Counter

Spokane Street Bike Counter, photo: S Gluckman

A few hundred yards from those self-praising counters, are some of the most dangerous intersections in Seattle, punctuated by potholes, wrapped by broken-glass sprinkled shoulders, and flourished with sharrows. As I said on Twitter, responding to another serious cyclist injury

Maybe one of those fuel-crisis, desperate kids from 74 is riding now, enjoying the best way to get around the city, liberated from a car.

The behavior of some cyclists riding in the city with that 74 kid doesn’t help make it more livable or the drivers less angry at us. They’re not looking at that bike counter, just at us riding past them.

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Comments: 3

I don’t get it. Why is it anybody’s responsibility to run pro bike PR? The auto industry spends billions of dollars on promoting car lifestyle and nobody chastises bad drivers for “making us all look bad”. People usually are self centered. That’s nothing new. Why should cyclist would be any different? Expecting every person who rides a bike to be a model citizen is not only wildly unrealistic, its also totally unfair. A cyclist’s number one priority should be self preservation. In a car vs. bicycle collision the consequences for a cyclist will always be greater, regardless of who is technically at fault. The only way to protect vulnerable road users is to hold motorists accountable for the damage their vehicles inflict. Most cyclist in this country currently live with the precedent that they need to look out for themselves, because they can’t expect any police or judicial protection. 100 percent of the liability should be with the road user who’s vehicle has the greater capacity to inflict damage. Since that isn’t the reality, we should expect the wild west.

Well articulated, self-preservation statement and I don’t disagree with the sentiment. It’s prevalent and I’d expect any cyclist has shook their head at another after seeing them riding somewhere they wouldn’t or weaving through traffic or whatever and continued their ride. I also advocate for aggressive riding in traffic, not on the side of the road, but owning the lane. However, if you’re engaged in the lifestyle of the city and think cyclists are getting a bad rep or subject to hate, then it’s on you to do something about it. Those that care will, others will ride as they do. The lobbyists are busy inside city hall securing bike lane money. To sum this opinion up and it’s not a new one from me, hey you got all these cyclists out on the street and just left them there…hanging.

What I’m doing is publishing a blog and mag about the bike, organizing large social rides at tech events, and an occasional bike show…I didn’t prescribe any particular behavior or lecture anyone on what they need to do. I’m doing it cause I think it’s the right thing to do. I’m also privy likely to way more anti-bike sentiment than others, as I watch the media about it. The morning of this post, a car plowed through Critical Mass, the media reporting it took an anti- Critical Mass point of view with it and you can imagine what the comment threads were like.

So, this isn’t a call to action, but a statement from me and thanks for your comment. It well represented the other side of the argument.

I think it’s fair to say that most people’s (non cyclists) perception of cyclists is formed primarily by the media (Movies, commercials, tv shows ect). In the US at least, these entities are funded by advertising, and the auto industry is one of the largest sources of revenue. So it should be no surprise that cyclist would be portrayed in a less than respectable light. You’re either the racer hogging the road to act out spandex fueled delusions of grandeur, weirdos who ride a bike because we have some kind social disorder, or who are too poor to afford a car and should be pitied. If this surprises anyone then I suspect they may be living in a coastal economic bubble or they just don’t watch tv. It makes perfect sense. You have an industry that’s struggling to remain relevant to a generation of people whose need for physical transportation is being negated by increasing digital connectivity. This has lead to a confirmation bias that would be nearly impossible to combat, especially if your strategy is shut up and pedal quietly on the side of the road. I’m not saying that bombing hills on brakeless track bikes is necessarily a wise choice, but the culture of aggressive urban bike messenger gave many younger people their first glimpse that it was even possible to become empowered to ride a bike in lieu of driving. For me, and I think for many other people my age, our only awareness of bicycles were fringe disciplines like BMX and downhill mountain biking, because that’s what we were shown. If you want to change “normal” people’s perceptions you’re going to have to do it with your wallet, and the entrenched interests will outspend you 1000000 to one.

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