Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"Operation Wheel Harmony" part 4: Why condoms are different to bikes lanes and a beat poem by a scared cyclist

This is part 4 of a something-part series.  You should read part 1: Diary of an angry driver, part 2: Diary of an angry and sanctimonious cyclist and part 3: Diary of a scared driver and a new name for the operation first.

Roger Geller is a man who works in Portland (that's in the U.S. of A).  He is responsible for increasing the popularity of cycling in said city.  His official title is Bicycle Coordinator.  He has done amazing things in in his city.

One of his mantras is "Build it and they will come".  In 1980, there were a total of 10 kilometres of bike lane in Portland.  Now, there are over 500 kilometres.  They built.  They came:

I think this photo might exaggerate the amount of bicycle traffic in Portland but you get the idea.  In the last twenty years, bicycle use has boomed in Portland.

While having more designated cycle paths is great, I think it's important to realise that not all bike lanes are created equal.  There's a big difference between this:

And this:

The "bike lane" above is shit and dangerous.  This is in Chapel St., which is a very busy shopping strip.  People are getting in and out of their cars all the time, often without looking for bikes.  There is not enough room to ride wide of the parked cars so the probability of getting doored is not insignificant.  Super thin bike lanes like this are not good.  Riding should be a pleasure but it is not on these.  This is one way that bikes lanes and condoms differ:

Super thin is good for condoms.  It is not good for bike lanes.

This brings me to the main point of this post.  Geller describes four types of transportation cyclists (although, I think this term is erroneous; "types of commuters" would be better, the reason for which I'll explain later).

Group 1: "Strong and Fearless"; this group will ride in all conditions.  They are not concerned by traffic and don't care about bike lanes.  They ride everywhere.  This group represents a small proportion of the population.

Group 2: "Enthused and Confident"; this group is comfortable riding in traffic but enjoy bike paths too.  They generally make shorter trips on their bikes.  They represent a larger proportion of the population (about 10% although this obviously varies from city to city).

Group 3: "Interested but Concerned"; this is THE group.  These are the "scared cyclists" for want of a better term.  They would like to ride but don't feel comfortable.  This group represents about 50% of the population (again, this statistic varies.  I don't know what the actual number is in Melbourne, or any other city, but I know it's significant).  Clearly, if we develop infrastructure that makes these cyclists feel safe, then we are going to have a huge increase in the number of people cycling.

Group 4: "No Way No How"; the remaining third or so are, according to Geller, a lost cause.  They won't ride no matter what.  Maybe they've been bred to hate bicycles.  I'm sure with a concerted effort their offspring could have this feeling bred out of them.  Since this group won't ride, I think "types of commuters" is a more accurate term than "types of transportation cyclists".

So, how do we get more of our group 3 cycling?  Well, let's hear from a beat poet who is a scared cyclist (a member of group 3).

Group 3

Group 3 cyclist,
Riding on a cloud, with fairy-floss in my socks,
Invincible, no trucks, no coal machine, no crazy metal crane,

Oh wait, this is not real, this is a dream, dream of scared cyclist,
I am scared cyclist, too scared to ride,
Bike lanes super thin, make me scared, take away the pleasure,
Not like super thin condom for maximum pleasure,

Car doors opening, decapitating my confidence,
Tram tracks like giant dragons consuming my wheels,
Cars coming so close I can smell the paint,
What if I want to change lane?  No way, no how.

Life of scared cyclist is like life of a prisoner,
I want to roll, I want to spin, but the road is not welcoming,
I am confined inside my fear,

Give me super wide bike lanes for maximum pleasure,
And drivers who love me like their own children,
And calmness and harmony,
Wheel harmony, wheely...

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