Category: Infrastructure

bicyclist…road warrior…even if you’re not

bicyclist…road warrior…even if you’re not

“For the city bike to catch on we need a revolution in our society’s infrastructure. Right now a city rider needs to be a road warrior, and the bike needs to be cheap and ugly so it won’t get stolen. That’s not a bike-friendly culture.”

Gary Fisher

Yeah. That, and that. 

New Orleans is trying to be bike-friendly. There are over 100 miles of bicycle lanes in the city. The Lafitte Greenway now offers a way to get from downtown out to Bayou St John. There’s a sidepath on Wisner Boulevard for traveling out to Lake Pontchartrain. Crescent Park offers great riding.


Many of the bicycle lanes are in the door zone, and/or end abruptly with few connections between them. The end of the Lafitte Greenway is tantalizingly close to City Park – but not quite close enough. The Wisner sidepath connects to a bike lane on the I-610 overpass – on one side, and there is no easy/safe way to cross over to reach it if you going the other way. Crescent Park has great riding – but you can only get in at one end.

So you need to be a road warrior. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you can’t ride in the city. My bike was my transportation in the city when I was in college, long before anybody thought that bikes were any more than a toy for kids. I rode the pothole-ridden streets of the city, and, yes, the Wisner overpass daily in my trip to school. And there was no sidepath, no bike lane, no protected lane on the overpass. I just rode. I was, and am, in that group that is now known as the “strong and fearless.” I rode, and still ride, anywhere, regardless. But now I feel like I need to think about motorists way more than I did then.

Most motorists are incredibly considerate of bicyclists. In my experience, it’s rare that anyone acts with anything other than respect for me as a road user. And if they’re just being idiots, I can deal with that, too.

But what IS a concern is distracted drivers. No one claims to drive and text – everyone ELSE does that…Looking down at the phone while driving, even for a few seconds, means that a metal box is hurtling down the road UNDER NO CONTROL for those few seconds. If anyone or anything – a person, another motor vehicle, whatever – is in front of that projectile, bad things may happen.

In the protection of another big metal box (motor vehicle) a person may fall victim to a crash, but without that protection (a bicyclist or a pedestrian) there is a much greater chance of injury or death. At a “modest” 40mph, a crash involving a pedestrian is likely to result in the death of the pedestrian over one-half of the time.

…moving on. Bikes just seem to be a really tempting target of theft. A decent-looking bike (not even talking about high-end purchases) must be locked very securely, or else it will be stolen. In too many places, there is nowhere to store a bike safely. Bike parking, or even a bike rack, is simply unavailable in many places. And too many folks are unaware of how to lock a bike to minimize the possibility of theft, and too many others are eager to take a bike from its rightful owner.

The culture needs to change. On both fronts. We need to talk about moving people, not vehicle “throughput.” We need to relook at our streets to make them places that all road users can use, regardless of their mode of transportation. We need to provide space for parking bicycles in a safe way.

That’s the start.



“It’s the first machine we master as children and the one we abandon when the seductions of the automobile take over.”
Colman McCarthy, journalist

The feeling of joy. Of confidence. Of freedom. Mastery of the bicycle is a watershed moment for many. It’s the means by which we can explore the world beyond the boundaries of our homes – without our parents! Of course, they set the new boundaries. But it’s..ahem…”a whole new world” (my movie-loving daughters will appreciate the quote). At that moment we first had the opportunity to experience the world in our own way, in our own time, at least until dinner time!

And then, a few years later, it changes. “…when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Cor 13:11). The lure of the automobile. We put away the “toy” and get a car. Now we expand our boundaries even further, with greater speed. But did it really give us more freedom? Or did it take us prisoner? OK, perhaps a bit of hyperbole, but didn’t it, in some way, take away something, and didn’t we lose just a little bit in the process?

I suggest that the answer is “yes” to all the above. Yes, we had even more freedom to explore the world in our own way, in our own time. We could go further and see more in less time. And the building of even more, wider, faster roads allowed us to explore and learn and live further and further away from each other. Yes, and at the same time, we were saddled with so much more. The cost of the vehicle. Paying for gas. Insurance. On the grander scale, road-building. Repairing bad streets. Designing bigger, wider roads to move motorists faster and more easily through to their destinations. Yes, at ever-increasing cost: in dollars; in lives; in lost neighborhoods; lost towns! Cost in marginalizing all road users, except the motorist.

You may be thinking, “well, aren’t the roads for motorists?” Yes, but they are also for bicyclists, pedestrians, wheelchair users…and on it goes. But do we design them to be used by all who need or want to get from one place to another?

No. We design them to get more motor vehicles through, faster. All other users are pushed aside. Not pushed to the side, but pushed out of the way! And we sit in our cars and get irritated when the bicyclist won’t move over so we can pass. [News flash: the law gives bicyclists the SAME rights as motorists] And we blow past the pedestrian standing in the crosswalk trying to reach the other side of the road. [News flash: pedestrians have the right-of-way at EVERY intersection, unless there is a traffic light and it is red] And we can’t get traffic patterns changed or signals installed at a known dangerous intersection until someone dies there. And towns can’t lower speed limits without state approval.

So the new boundaries are those we’ve allowed by subservience to the “freedom” of the automobile. Yes, it seduces us. And, once in a while, we see the true cost.

Look at the constellations…

Look at the constellations…

“If the constellations had been named in the twentieth century, I suppose we would see bicycles.”
Carl Sagan

It’s all a matter of perspective. And life experience.

The ancients named the constellations, those ephemeral collections of stars that happen to be just in the right place when they looked. They’ll all go away, you know. The stars that make up constellations are light-years away from each other, and traveling in different directions. We see the same thing the ancients saw, only because our time frame is too short. Give them a million years or so, and they won’t look like a dog, or a bear, or a hunter, or…

Enter the bicycle.

First, an observation about roads. Remember, it’s all a matter of perspective. Roads are for cars, right? Nope. Roads were built for bicycles. Yep. Google it. The League of American Wheelmen (that later became the League of American Bicyclists) advocated for paved roads because the ruts caused by the horse-drawn carriages were a problem for them.

And you I know the rest of the story. Along came cars, and the roads became the province of the motorist. Bit by bit, bicycle drivers were relegated to the side of the road or to sidewalks. Car-makers lobbied for rules (like no jaywalking) to make sure those pesky pedestrians didn’t keep motorists from getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible with little interference from bicyclists or walkers. It’s all a matter of perspective.

And now, here we are in the 21st century. Nobody knows the history. Roads are for cars. Bikes should be on the sidewalks. And yes, pedestrian, I DO see you in the crosswalk, but you should wait for me to pass. I can’t be inconvenienced by having to stop for you to cross… It’s all a matter of perspective.

Civil engineers design roads that are designed to get motorists from point A to point B as rapidly as possible, regardless of the human cost. Complete Streets documents are prepared, and even enacted by ordinance in some places. Complete Streets programs are designed to ensure that planners and engineers take into account the needs of ALL road users. Who are the road users? Motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians, transit users, and yes, even equestrians, rollerbladers, skateboarders, scooter riders… It’s all a matter of perspective.

…and what happens? In all too many cases, engineers say we’ve looked at accommodating everyone (as required by the ordinances) but we can’t do it. Or it’s too expensive. Or there’s not enough space to accommodate a bike lane. Or they paint a line next to the parking lane and say, “Look, we’ve put in a bike lane” (in the most dangerous position possible!). It’s all a matter of perspective.

Meanwhile, many people, especially young adults, are deciding not to get drivers’ licenses. And moving back to the cities. And not buying cars. We need to rethink this whole paradigm. More to come in another post…Let’s look at our perspective…

Theme: Elation by Kaira.