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Posted by on Jun 30, 2010 in Uncategorized | 28 comments

Promote a healthy community, or pander to the sentiments which destroy community?

Here is the latest installment of the Orlando Sentinel’s editorial disdain for the rights of bicycle drivers to influence their own safety without the onus of discriminatory laws. This cartoon ran over the weekend.

Aside from demonstrating a lack of understanding of the issue, the inflammatory nature of this cartoon is irresponsible. This is hate-mongering against people in our community who are exposed and vulnerable to attack. How would this be received if they substituted a person from another unpopular minority and attributed a completely fallacious stereotype to him? It would be equally mean-spirited and unfunny, but probably draw significant outrage.

Let’s get real

Motorists can back up traffic for miles all by themselves.

I don’t know any bicycle drivers who enjoy holding up traffic or would do so if there was a safe alternative. Fortunately, in my experience, it is rare to cause significant delay and nearly impossible to cause delay that would affect a motorist’s total trip time. Hundreds of car drivers pass me every week without so much as a second of delay. Perhaps a dozen or so have to wait 10 seconds. Occasionally, someone might have to wait 30 or 40 seconds because all the other car traffic makes it hard for them to change lanes (this usually happens after a traffic light where they’ve queued up behind me).

I once held up traffic for a little over 1/2 mile (almost 3,000ft) because I had no safe alternative. I found it uncomfortable even though no one honked. I took the very first driveway that came up on my right and turned off to allow the cars to pass. I waited for a long gap, then went back onto the road. I eventually caught up to all those cars at the next traffic light, just as they had caught up to the ones ahead of us.

We suffer from impatience and lack of perspective on the road. People in cars inch along in traffic on I-4 for hours. They sit through multiple light cycles at major intersections every day, cumulatively losing hours of their lives. Why? Because most people choose to drive single-occupant vehicles. Then they decrease their gas mileage by 30% accelerating to the next traffic light so they can wait some more.

On the other hand, a person pedaling a bicycle might cause a person reclining comfortably in a car to slow momentarily in order to pass safely (i.e. not hurt anyone!). Yet that warrants a political cartoon characterizing people who use bicycles as selfish for not wanting to be mandated to a door zone, conflict-zone or debris-filled gutter lane for the illusory convenience of people who use cars.

Imagine a healthy community

Imagine how much more civil our roads would be if we could restore proper perspective to this! Imagine what a beautiful, livable community we would have if more people felt comfortable choosing a bicycle for transportation because they didn’t fear hostility from people who choose a car. Imagine if choosing a bicycle didn’t make you a barely-tolerated, second-class citizen in the mind of our traffic culture — reducing the worth of your safety to less than the tender, momentary convenience of the people choosing cars.

Fortunately, the vast majority of the car-driving citizens I encounter in the urban core of Orlando are courteous. Their behavior does not reflect the ugly sentiment behind the Sentinel’s cartoon. I reward them for that every day with smiles and friendly waves, because the environment they help create makes the choice to drive my bike a superior experience to driving my car. I want to extend the quality of life I have here out to the larger metro area. It’s easy to be nice. If people in Orlando can do it, people in Altamonte Springs can, too. Civility benefits everyone in the community, no matter what form of transportation they choose.

Positive leadership from the media sure would go a long way to help raise awareness and foster understanding and civility.

28 Comments

  1. If they wanted realism, the cartoon would show a cyclist lying on the ground with the motorist claiming he always drifts to the side and never thought to look anywhere but straight ahead for other vehicles.

  2. This reminds me again how of how 94% of drivers will tolerate the minimal delay caused by cyclists. It easy to lose site of the fact that most people don’t want trouble-if for no other reason that it might delay them if they caused an accident.

    I went for 3 weeks without a honk or rude behavior until yesterday when I got 3 in one day. Then, today, along come a guy to compliment me on my attempt at a track stand at a traffic light.

    Still. we don’t need this kind of garbage from the Slantinel!

    Still, we don’t need this kind of garbage from the Slantinel.

    I wonder if this was on the same page as their “Share the Road” little CSA that they throw in every now and then?

  3. “Sorry mate, I didn’t see you” with a cell phone to his ear!

    I saw that “cartoon” too and had such a rush of internal reactions. I could not accurately phrase all the thoughts that went through my alleged mind after viewing it. The Orlando Sentinel, often called the Orlando Slantinel, has already admitted to having an anti-bike, pro-car bias. There’s isn’t much one could do in rebuttal when the paper is aiming at us, is there?

    We are aware that a large part of this “problem” is the lack of education and skill of drivers as much as with the cyclists. I was followed for a few miles on a recent trip by a motorcyclist. The road was two-lane, eight-foot wide lanes and had frequent open stretches of no oncoming traffic.

    He remained behind me until reaching a dotted center line, and shouted something at me when he passed. At the next stop sign, he told me I should share the road. I returned with “I’m sharing the road, but I won’t share the lane”. He countered that he rides with motorcycles all the time. Good for him. He told me there were seven other drivers behind him. I checked the video and counted him and one other. What part of that would make it to the cartoon, the seven or the two?

    I ended our “conversation” with the advisory that drivers can pass bicycles on a double yellow line when it’s safe. He didn’t have any answer other than “Share the road”.

    Right.

    • Your motorcycle operator was ignorant of the laws that pertain to him. Motorcycles are explicitly not allowed to share a lane while passing any other vehicle. It would not have mattered if you were hugging the curb, it would have been illegal for him to pass you within the same lane.

      BTW, I saw the cartoon this weekend, too. It took me this long to construct something productive rather than just a rant.

      • It is total hypocrisy that motorists force themselves into the same lane as bicycle drivers but are forbidden to share the lane when it’s two motorists.

        • Good luck to any car driver trying to force his way into here:

          http://www.flickr.com/photos/masachiba/2537322527/

          This is the remains of what was to be a “cars only” elevated highway which was converted into a bicycle road.

  4. Rick, I think if you’d check in more detail, you’d find that the percentage of drivers that will tolerate some delay is MUCH higher than 94%. Not all are thrilled about it, but I don’t have any data on the mental state of all the drivers that tolerate some delay.

  5. It is not that hard to pass a cyclist. It does not require the steady nerves and lightning-fast reflexes of a formula one race car driver.

    Mode of travel on the public street does not grant preferential status, nor does the importance of one’s business. If your trip were so important, we would’ve outfitted your automobile with red lights and a siren.

  6. The office building where I work overlooks I-4 through the heart of downtown (Livingston & Garland). Throughout most of the day traffic is free flowing. I live downtown and with the exception of daily peak hour, traffic is a breeze. In fact, getting around our downtown burg is far easier than when we lived in suburbia where we only had one way in and one way out (in later years there was more access as roads were finally connected/extended).

    Our leaders talk a good game about focusing on transit for the future, particularly rail transit – streetcar, light rail, etc. However, so much of our focus on transportation is to build roads for peak hour volumes, rather than 24 hr volumes. Is it any wonder that other modes take up such a small percentage.

    There is a LOT of excess roadway capacity in Central Florida and there are plans for billions of dollars more in so-called capacity improvements. All to handle peak hour volumes.

    One nice thing about a bike lane is that it would provide a way to bypass queued up cars during rush hour, however, that has other major flaws/consequences. But damn, that would be one helluva way to make cycling for transportation more attractive to the masses. It’s the same idea as Bus only lanes. Transit will not attract choice riders if the alternative is slower than the automobile especially if they’re stuck in the same congestion.

    • I like the idea of bus and bike preferential lanes on the arterial roads. Gives the same priority without the debris and turning conflicts since it’s a full lane that would allow right turns.

      I’ve found that alternative bike routes on some corridors provide faster travel than the adjacent arterials. For example, I once beat a car driver by 15 minutes to Maitland because I used the Mead Garden trail and Denning while she was stuck in traffic on 17-92.

      Also when Brian DeSousa did video with Ellen out on the west side of town, I only beat them by 2 minutes in my car. They went from LB McLeod to Clarcona Ocoee & Apopka Vineland. The use of some bike trails and then smart filtering (at left turns where one lane of cars turned to a road with 2 or 3 same-direction lanes), gave them an advantage over me sitting in traffic jams.

      • I swear there was a comment about potential light rail corridors on here…but now can’t find it.

        At any rate, LYNX and Metroplan are undertaking a transit master plan to look at the potential for future transit corridors – street car/BRT/Light Rail – in the region. There are a number of corridors that have been identified, SR50 and 436 among them. 17-92 as well. I do think that people are finally coming to the realization that we can’t build our way out of congestion, however, the switch to transit is not an easy one and it’s certainly not cheap.

        It will also require a major paradigm shift in attitude. Most people living here simply can’t conceive of using a travel mode other than the automobile. They also can’t conceive of the types and scale of the land uses that are needed to support that kind of transit.

        • “I swear there was a comment about potential light rail corridors on here…but now can’t find it.”

          Carlos said that on Retrofitting Suburbia

      • Re: Bike and Bus preferences on roads…. I’m not sure what you’re talking about exactly, but they are proposing designating lanes in downtown Fort Worth as bike and bus only. This, frankly, scares the wits out of me because if I had to pick one and only type of vehicle that is most likely to give me a hard time, it’s buses. Putting bicycles in the middle of their busiest routes is just not a good idea.

        • It’s been done successfully in a few places. Like anything, success depends upon context, lane width, configuration/frequency of bus stops and education (of both cyclists and bus drivers). In this case, the bus drivers are the easier to reach as they are a captive audience that can be educated through their employer.

          Considering how a 6-lane arterial works right now, it’s not a lot different except for removing thru car traffic. Currently the expectation on a 6-lane is that there are going to be buses and cars turning on and off the road, so faster thru traffic tends to keep to the inside lanes. That’s what makes 6 lane roads even nicer for lane-control cycling than 4 lane roads, even with high traffic speeds.

    • Laura, your statement about transit not attracting choice riders if the alternative is slower than an automobile is so true! I’ve looked into riding our (Atlanta’s) version of transit to get to work just 6.5 miles away. You’d think it shouldn’t be so bad since it’s not far. Well, it involves a combination of two buses and a train (first going in the OPPOSITE direction of my work) and about 1.5 hours if I’m lucky (assuming I don’t have to wait for any and no glitches with service – yeah, right). I can walk 1/2 mile to a local shuttle (goes only between 2 hospitals), ride the shuttle approx. 5 miles, walk 1.5 miles, get on a second shuttle at the university where I work, then walk another few blocks and still be at work in less than an hour (about 20-30 min if I drive and approx. 45 biking). Now why in the world would I consider taking public transportation if it’s going to take at least 3-4 hours from my day??? It would only be a last resort if I had no other options. Transit options in the US in general are going to have to get much better than that if even a small percentage of people are going to get on board – no pun intended! :)

      • Traci,

        “I’ve looked into riding our (Atlanta’s) version of transit to get to work just 6.5 miles away. ”

        What you found out is similar to what I experienced in the early ’80′s in Atlanta.

        I actually tried riding the trains and buses and in Atlanta I found out the hard way that riding a bike was easier and quicker. Six and a half miles is really not that far on a bike and would take maybe 45 minutes. Taking the buses and trains took twice as long.

        Too bad things haven’t improved much in the last 30 years.

        • Eric,
          Scary that Atlanta has changed so little in 30 years – at least as far as public transportation is concerned! Of course, traffic has dramatically changed, so you’d think people would be more than ready to embrace alternative transit, but still not the case for the most part.

          I can’t wait until Fall to see how riding the bike goes. Right now, it seems to be the season of tearing up roads for major sewer/water projects, so I’m hoping most of that will be over by Fall. Although the main road I need to get to my office (without using another really busy, crazy street) is currently closed and from the looks of it, may not be open again anytime soon – the joys of road work! :)

          • >Of course, traffic has dramatically changed,<

            In town? Last time I was there, the Edge City around the perimeter was all jammed up, but the traffic in Midtown, Little Five Points and other places NE and NW was about the same to me.

            In fact, if I hit ATL on 75 during rush hour on my way to "all points north", I use the connector and usually get through with some minor delays, whereas if I try the long way around, it is really awful with major delays.

            I mean it is kind of scary on the connector, much like the Jersey Turnpike where everything is bumper-to-bumper doing 60 and you can't change lanes, but I always get through.

  7. Check out page A2 in today’s paper. I can’t find it on their website, but today they are advocating, of all things, riding your bike to lose weight…just not on the road please. Give me a break!

  8. Forester: “we haven’t a hope in Hell of changing American public opinion away from opposing bicycle driving. Don’t waste effort on what has to be futile; concentrate the effort where it is most necessary, preserving our right to operate as drivers of vehicles.”

    The debate continues: http://www.copenhagenize.com/2010/07/vehicular-cyclists-secret-sect.html

    • Most of the construction here was made after 1950 and to “modern standards” meaning built around the automobile.

      Half the area would have to be bulldozed and reconstructed to “Copenhagenize” this area.

      If you think that VC is hopeless, than try to get rid of the 8 lane roads that MUST be used by significant parts of the population to get to work, to shop at the modern supermarkets (butchers, bakers and green grocers are rare).

    • That’s the second article I’ve seen in the last month that argued against a strawman VC boogyman. No culture or subculture is monolithic. These Fox-news style mischaracterizations of supposedly-irrelevant advocates for integrated cycling (education, empowerment and civility) makes me wonder why they feel so threatened.

      I disagree with Forester on two counts.

      1) I think we can change the culture… and make it better for everyone. He’s hopeless because he’s been frustrated and unsuccessful for so many decades. That’s partly the challenge of an entrenched car-centric culture (which has been on the upswing for most of his tenure) and partly the fault of his methods and personality.

      2) There is no hope of preserving our right to the road if we fall back to a position of “go ahead and build any damned thing you want.” If we don’t work to fix the root causes of our problems, but instead stand by and allow them to be reinforced by get-out-of-the-way infrastructure, we will also stand by and watch a nightmare scenario of more and more mandatory use laws. There is no way the majority taxpayers in a car-centric culture are going to permit bicyclists to choose not to use expensive segregated facilities. Meanwhile evidence is overwhelming that said culture is going to create marginal facilities: narrow, conflict-ridden bike lanes, crappy sidepaths with stop signs at every driveway, path bridges you have to walk your bike over and tunnels that close at sunset.

  9. Keri, this should be a Sentinel guest editorial! Surely you or Mighk have some contacts there?

  10. Are there any technical articles out there on delays due to bicycles?

    • If you can find a copy of John Forester’s Bicycle Transportation, there is a chapter in it where he looks at delay on two lane roads. He doesn’t look at any actual roads, but rather uses some probability curves to estimate average delay at different speeds and traffic flow.

      • Forester’s Bicycle Transportation can be read online at Google Books.

        Chapter 8: the Effect of Cyclists on Traffic

  11. “I took the very first driveway that came up on my right and turned off to allow the cars to pass. I waited for a long gap, then went back onto the road.”

    I’ve been experimenting with doing this *in* the intersection. When the light turns green, I merge into the empty space between the through lane and the crosswalk, and pause past the centerline of the cross street. That puts me out of the way of both through and turning traffic.

    When the platoon is past (or the last car crosses the intersection on yellow) I merge back into the through lane and finish crossing the intersection. At this point, the platoon is vanishing in the distance, and I have pretty much the whole road to myself.

    This is the opposite of what a “bike box” (advanced stop line) does. I don’t want to be the first through the green light. I want to be the last through the green light.

    • I’ve done this a number of times with a gas station parking lot on the other side of an intersection. Go thru the light, pull in, by the time I get turned around the platoon is gone and I have the road to myself. I trade 10 seconds for a stress-free ride—a bargain!