Saturday, March 15, 2008

Toward a More Bike-Friendly Cleveland?

Years ago, my wife and I were enjoying dinner at Luchita's on a night slow enough for leisurely conversation with our Mexican-American server.

Somehow -- I don't remember how --the topic turned to the local "Hispanic community" or, as she put it, the myth of an Hispanic community. Cleveland's Hispanics are many communities, and generally don't have a heck of a lot in common, she said. Nor do they necessarily hold one another in equal regard, or in high esteem. They're fractured and fragmented, and sharply divided politically.

A Puerto Rican co-worker later said pretty much the same thing.

That's not exactly surprising, I guess (although the slurs and stereotypes they used toward one another were). People -- just about all people -- are innately tribal.

But that fragmentation and disdain does help to explain why, after all these years, Hispanics have no collective voice and disproportionately little political clout here in Cleveland.
Which brings me around to cyclists.

It's pretty safe to say that anyone who believes in the myth of a "cycling community" isn't a cyclist. Cyclists, too, are fractured into many different groups: roadie racers, fast recreational riders, tourists, mountain bikers, the fixie sect, the strident car-haters, the every-third-weekend bike-path pedalers, etc.

There certainly is some overlap among them: Some roadies commute, and MTB riders ride road bikes, and I've heard rumors that there is at least one bike messenger who actually doesn't sneer in contempt at the rest of the cycling "establishment."

But the only time I'm aware of that representatives of most of those groups get together is for the annual MS-150 Pedal to the Point.

That's because these subsets generally have little in common beyond our affinity for bikes. And the truth is, there's a lot of eye-rolling and even downright hostility toward one another. I certainly plead guilty.

Nonetheless, lot of devoted and well-intended cycling activists are celebrating NOACA's decree on Friday that it promises to work toward a more bike-friendly region.

NOACA is the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, which is a planning board that is supposed to prioritize federal transportation funding. Theoretically, if it wants to, NOACA can put some serious muscle behind the push for more funding for bike lanes, bike paths and more by pressuring, or even compelling, communities to build them if they want money for roads.

And in another symbolic development, a bunch of local cycling advocates under the leadership of Cleveland Bikes is planning a week of bike-focused events in May, which is National Bike Month. Among them: Bike to Work Week, a "Discover Mountain Biking" day at the new Metroparks Canal Corridor Reservation, a "Bike to the Movies" event, "Celebration of Bikes" at Cleveland City Hall, etc.

Both are great in their intended symbolism, and any sign of growth in bike-riding locally is a good thing.

But both the NOACA document and the ClevelandBikes plans underscore the divisions among cyclists at least as much as they nurture some sort of bike community.

For instance, a whole lot of cyclists would argue that the more the region encourages bike paths and bike lanes, the worse it is for cyclists. Right now, with that kind of infrastructure in preciously short supply, newbies are afraid to saddle up and share the road, which is understandable. But if we want to build a cycling-friendly community, we need to be very careful about building it on the needs and priorities of people who ride only occasionally.

Consider this: The closer a cyclist is to a bike path, the greater the likelihood of motorists being assholes. Drivers willingly share the road on Chester or Detroit avenues (at least during non-peak times), usually without so much as a honk. But try riding through the Rocky River reservation on the road; it is all but certain that a cyclist will get honked at or cut off about 90% of the time by people yelling, "Use the bike path!"

That, I'm sure, is what those of us who ride downtown from the East Side can expect more of when the bike lanes open on Euclid. That will be great for anyone who wants to wobble along on her hybrid or his beach cruiser once a month. Not so great for the rest of us: Bike lanes and bike paths doom us to bike ghettos -- unswept, debris-covered, low-speed alleyways, and when we have the audacity to leave them, we get cursed.

That's no way to create a bike community.

Neither is pretending to be one in spirit and body with people who ride bikes like asses. I do not want to embrace reckless riders who cut in and out of traffic, jump from sidewalk to street and zip up between cars or on their right when there's a line of traffic at a stoplight.

I'd rather take the millions of dollars that stand to be spent on fatuousness such as those two silly towpath-trail bridges and use it for practical things: a prolonged, intense multimedia campaign promoting the "Share the Road" message; training for novice cyclists and commuters; training for POLICE and prosecutors; and maybe even a program to pay bike-commute leaders. And I'd use some of it for a concerted enforcement campaign -- cracking down on hostile motorists AND on bike anarchists who give all the rest of us a really, really bad image.

That would accomplish more in a short period of time than all of the resolutions and events and bike ghettos could.

- JN

1 comment:

Mike N. said...

Great post, Jim. I can't tell you how many times I've been cut off/sworn at/etc on the Valley Parkway. I've called the rangers on several drivers and they have always responded promptly, but that doesn't help with the drivers who drive away before the rangers arrive.

Is there any chance you could get some coverage of the NOACA or Cleveland Bikes stuff in the PD? Or would that constitute a conflict of interest?