A comms person at the city stirred things up a bit with this ill-advised tweet over the weekend:
The condescending and accusatory tone was unwelcome and potentially damage to a city that wants to build a healthy, thriving city. There are layers to the inappropriateness of this tweet. As a friend noted, “Can we also discuss how they identify people with bikes as “cyclists” but cars have no agency?”
But, today, the city admitted its mistake (well, sorta-not-really). It deleted the tweet and acknowledged the ill-will they’d generated, so I don’t want to pick on this one tweet or this one ignorant comms person. I do, however, want to use it as a jumping off point.
And to do that, I’m going to have to make a bit of a pedantic point. Okay, a really pedantic point, one at which you could rightfully roll your eyes. But bear with me, you’ll see where I’m going. Here it is:
Aside from being inappropriate, this tweet was factually incorrect. “Cyclists” do not stop “Just. Like. Cars.”. Bicyclists or people on bikes stop in a much different manner.
In a car, the driver takes his foot off the gas, disengages (but doesn’t stop) the engine and presses down on the brake pedal.
A bicyclists, stops pedalling (stopping the “engine”) then uses her own strength to apply the brakes*, stopping the momentum that was created by her own physical exertion. When she starts up, again, she’s not just re-engaging a running motor. Hell, it’s not even akin to merely starting your car again. She’s starting from absolutely nothing, with no assistance. It’s like a driver having to get out and turn the crank to get the motor running before driving away.
So, you might say these are minor differences. The braking systems work in a similar way regardless how they’re engaged or how the vehicle is powered.
Now, you’re being too pedantic!
Bicycles are not cars. And more importantly, bicyclists, people on bikes aren’t cars. Sure, there are people who want to turn us into cars. They want us to always have helmets, always have lights, have mirrors, have reflective tape all over our bikes, wear reflective clothing, have reflective spray paint…there are even people who think we should have turn signals.
(Sadly, there are a bunch of, shall we say, Stockhom Cyclists who have been snowed into believing all this crap.)
But regardless, bicycles don’t operate like cars. They are nimble. They stop quickly. They are social vehicles.
Riding a bike isn’t like driving a car. Bicyclists are engaged with their surroundings. Bicyclists can easily interact with other bicyclists and pedestrians. Bicyclists can integrate with pedestrians and other bicyclists.
And bicyclists aren’t cars. We don’t have motor oil; we have blood. We don’t have steel or plastic; we have flesh. We don’t get dinged; we break bones. We don’t have fender benders; drivers kill us.
So, no, the rules of the road are not appropriate for bicyclists. No, equating a living human being to your stupid car; your stupid consumerist, pollution-spewing, anti-social two-tonne death machine is beyond inappropriate. It is insulting. It is contemptuous (and contemptible). It is inhuman.
The bulk of our laws and our infrastructure are geared towards cars, and towards treating bicyclists as cars. They ignore they was bicycles function and the way bicyclists function. They ignore the needs of bicyclists. They ignore the safety of bicyclists. They create conflicts between bicyclists and cars. They create conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians.
Our laws and our infrastructure do not meet the needs of people–residents–on bicycles. And, to protect themselves and their children, bicyclists break rules. We break rules that actively endanger us. We break rules that are intended to endanger us.
It’s self-preservation. And it’s totally unnecessary…if only city planners, politicians and residents would learn a very simple concept: a person on a bike is not a car, and no one who has respect for the lives of people on bikes would treat them as such.
Go somewhere where it’s just bicyclists and pedestrians. Anytime there’s enough room, the two can co-exist (of course, Ottawa gives neither enough room, let alone both). There’s no need for stop lights or stop signs. There’s no need for intricate rules about right-of-way or proper lanes. People–people not vehicles–can co-exist. We can get along. We can make room for each other.
Yes, there have to be certain responsibilities because there are assholes out there. Bicyclists have to show concern for pedestrians, and they have to take care of them. Similarly, those without mobility issues must accommodate those with mobility issues. Adults must accommodate children. Everyone needs to look out for more vulnerable users.
And, by and large, it works. It works because bicyclists are much more like pedestrians than they are cars. Cars (and drivers, via automotive osmosis) are the disruptor. Cars are the entity that can’t co-exist peacefully. Cars are the entity that push others off the road.
Cars and drivers are the ones who threaten everyone else’s life…well, cars and drivers, and city planners and politicians.
So, yes, of course bicyclists should stop for pedestrians when they cross (though, why it’s not a stop sign, I don’t know) (and maybe the bike shouldn’t always be on the road with cars…). And, sure, remind bicyclists of this new (possibly ill-advised) type of pedestrian intersection.
But they are not Just. Like. Cars.
*Yeah, yeah fixies are different. Whatever.