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which way is the right way? one answer.

Posted Mar 03 2009 3:13pm
This happened earlier today, about the time I had arrived at work:

A bicyclist was seriously injured when a car driver made a right-hand turn into her and pinned her under his car in the process. The report of the accident itself is sad and scary. More telling are the dozens of responses from BikePortland readers. There was lots of talk about bike lanes and green boxes and rights-of-way. A great deal of indignance was being flung about.

I am astonished at the number of folks who say that bike lanes are stupid and that all bike riders should just take the [car] lane. You'll read my response there, too; because I am sick and tired of faster riders telling me to take the lane.

If my taxes help to pay for bike lanes, green boxes and other amenities that are designed to keep bike riders safe, and those amenities fail to achieve that goal, then not only is money being wasted, but the spotlight glares more brightly on what is, in my humble opinion, the One True Reality:

The roads we have today -- indeed, our entire national transportation infrastructure -- were designed for motor vehicles. They were not designed for bike riders or pedestrians. Motor vehicles and bikes simply do not belong on many of the the same roads. They cannot share those roads without more bike riders or pedestrians getting hurt or killed by motor vehicles. Trying to change the rules so that we can all "Share The Road" is becoming a bad joke.

But instead of just lying down and rolling over, I advocate another approach:

Ride your bike anyway. Ride everywhere. Ride in the face of a car culture in its slow, painful demise. (It may not happen in our lifetime, but believe me it will happen.) And thumb your nose at the people who still wonder why you ride everywhere. They may never get it, and you may not be able to help them.

If at all possible, change your life -- even incrementally -- so that you CAN ride everywhere. If possible, sell your car. Live your life on a more local and intimate scale. Use (and support) public transit when you can't ride or walk. Get to know your neighbors better. Participate in and help shape the life of your community. Send your kids to their neighborhood public school; if the school is lacking in resources then step up and volunteer in it or advocate for it. Shop locally and if possible grow some of your own produce, at home or in a community/neighborhood garden. Eat a little bit lower on the food chain to save money and resources. If you travel out of town, try to take the train instead of flying (rail travel is often cheaper and always more sustainable). Consider simplifiying your material needs to a point where you can work fewer hours a week if possible. (Hint: sell the car, renogotiate the rent or mortgage, take on housemates, get a job that doesn't require a fancy wardrobe, line-dry your laundry, turn down the heat and wear a sweater; above all, use your imagination.) Those freed-up hours will give you time to promote the vision of a more sustainable, more meaningful life. For those equipped with the personality to do it well, consider creating an intentional community with a few other people; get a house together and share expenses, tools, childcare and meals.

And, if you're still with me so far, if you haven't deleted the link to my blog from your list because you think I'm some kind of wacko, then I invite you to join me in doing everything possible to hasten the demise of the car culture. Because in the long run that is really what needs to happen, and it's the only thing that will bring about truly safe roadways and pathways for people. Slow things down, live on a smaller, more local scale, and stop trying to get everywhere at 60 miles an hour all the time. There are far better ways to make a life, and if enough people choose to make those changes, however long it takes, eventually there may be enough of us to slow life down to a more human -- and humane -- pace for everyone.
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