I’m sure you’ve seen or heard about the anti-bike comments coming out of an idiotic low-level politician from West Islip, NY. If you haven’t seen it:
Here’s the summary: “Your mom was hit by a car because she had the audacity to ride upon our car-roads. Reality: bikes don’t belong on roads. Hope she doesn’t die, but if she does, it’s because she rode a bike.”
The cycling world’s reaction to this is predictably dire. People for Bikes is encouraging people to send letters, en masse, to Barraga. The blogosphere is frothing at the mouth. A friend of mine encouraged me to write an Open Letter to Barraga (in the style of past Open Letters), sharing with him my perspective on his commentary. I’m not going to do that. Here’s why:
Thomas Barraga is an idiot, and so are you.
Sure. Focus media attention on what he’s saying. Force him to make some form of capitulation and apology. That’ll show him, right?
What you see here is a secret glimpse into the mind of a politician. You know what? There’s probably a surprising amount of people in his district, maybe even a majority of people, who agree with him. There are undoubtedly people who think that cyclists don’t belong on the road, and that those who are hit or killed by cars had it coming to them. I’ve personally heard other humans react to car vs. bike accidents in that fashion: “he shouldn’t have been riding on the road.” The only reason we got this secret glimpse is because this politician is low-level enough to not have a handler or staffer there to censor his letter. His viewpoint is shocking because he put it into a letter (to a kid whose mom was injured by a car, nonetheless), but it isn’t shocking overall–it represents the consensus of a significant number of people in this country. Clearly, between us folks that read this blog, he’s an idiot–and demonstrably wrong. So what do we do about it?
There are a lot of people and organizations out there telling us that what we should do about it is start writing letters to Thomas Barraga. Maybe we should have some public gatherings. Maybe we should do a critical mass ride and piss off every motorist in the community. Maybe we should “take the lane!” Maybe we should get a pro-bike politician to come out and chastise Barraga.
And that, my friends, is why you’re an idiot. (No, not you. I mean, if you read this blog, you’re clearly not an idiot. I’m talking to the Royal You.)
The approach that the cycling community has taken for the past…forever…is not working. What Barraga wrote is what a lot of people think (but are too smart to put down on paper). And even if you force him to apologize, you probably won’t change his mind. Sure, I could write a letter to Barraga and criticize his insensitivity to a child’s concern for his mother. I could talk about the positive economic benefits of cycling. I could remind him that when he talks about motorists ignoring street signs, he’s defending people who are violating the law. But that’s not going to accomplish anything.
So what do we do? If the tried and true methods have failed, how do we move forward?
My answer is pretty simple. My answer is Axletree. My answer is starting locally to undertake actions that make cycling safer. My answer is to work towards actions that improve the public perception of cyclists. My answer is to create group rides are fun and enjoyable, and that have responsible routing–and to have expectations of the cyclists participating that we will ride responsibly and predictably, and minimize adverse interactions with motorists. My answer is to go back to that old saying of “Share the Road”, and to actually adhere to that. Share the road, not take the road.
My answer is a lot lower profile. It isn’t nearly as sexy to publicize. It doesn’t grab headlines as well. It involves things like signing (and then living up to) a Rider Pledge. If the old way of doing things was working, I’d be completely in support of it. But it isn’t working. We have to try something new.
And do we let Mr. Barraga off the hook? Of course not. He needs to be talked to. But who should talk to him? A special interest bike lobby that tells fifty thousand people to send him angry emails? Or should it be the Axletree of West Islip, that comes in and shows him that local business owners depend on cyclists, and shows him the myriad of reasons why he needs to change his perspective?
Axletree is working to ensure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen in our community–we’re putting into place anti-harassment ordinances to protect cyclists, and we’re meeting with our local community leaders proactively.
So am I going to write a letter to Thomas Barraga? No. He’s an idiot, and I’m sure he’s getting, and summarily ignoring, a lot of mail these days. What am I going to do? I’m going to talk to my local politicians and ensure that they don’t share his views. And then I’m going to go for a bike ride, and try my hardest to ensure that I’m building a positive perception of cyclists. Firing off an Open Letter to Barraga would be a lot easier. But it’s not working…if you think it is, then you’re a part of the problem just like Barraga.