Your Ride is Your Perspective

A ticket trap for sidewalk bicyclists along West Houston Street between Washington and West Streets last month elicited some depressing comments on Streetsblog today. What I should realize is that nobody has any idea whatsoever of what it is like to bicycle outside of their own experience. It’s completely foreign to them. So Streetsblog ends up as a litany of first-world problems, complete with first-world solutions.

The most obvious first-world solution is the limited application of infrastructure upgrades (or in this case, downgrades, as it’s not clear to me that crossing West Street on the northern side of Houston is actually a very safe idea). Folks recommend fixes to the places they know best, which turn out to be in areas that Streetsblog readers are likely to travel. So on a social and environmental justice level, greasing the squeaky wheel makes little sense as the squeaky wheels are in the places that the folks with the most privilege and the most opportunities are cycling.

This being said, it is also self-evident that providing better, safer access to a cheap means of transportation like bicycling will do more for poor people than rich people. Rich people not only have more resources to address the quality of their transportation, but they have a wider diversity of transportation needs. The trap is of course that bicycling is often portrayed as something rich people do, instead of something that poor people might do.

This bugs me as I don’t buy into Roger Geller of Portland’s theory that convincing “interested but concerned” people to get into the saddle and pushing the pedals is the way to make new bicyclists. If bicycling is a reasonable option for people, poor people or rich people, they will do it. Make it more reasonable, on a time-spent level, on a safety level, on an infrastructure level, on a comfort level, on a trip-chaining level, and they will do it. Often times, I see fellow advocates get wrapped around the axle about making small improvements to peripheral routes (like fixing the sinkhole on the Hudson River Greenway north of the GWB). I doubt these are going to make anybody’s trips more reasonable. But they will surely make the trips of the complainers more enjoyable.