Bicyclists: United we stand, divided . . .

Sigh.  I write this with a heavy heart.  What should have been a simple decision to attend a fun bicycle-related event has become much more complicated.

I first heard about Dinner and Bikes over two months ago.  It looked like a great event, uniting my two most-beloved blog subjects with its goal to “bring people together to eat delicious food and get inspired about bicycle transportation.”

However, I assumed that with the need to find care for Sir, attending would be too much of a hassle, something I could have easily done a year ago, but not so much now.  Fast-forward several weeks, and all the cards fell into place for us to have a fun evening, biking to and from the event, and sharing dinner and conversation with fellow bicycling enthusiasts.

Instead of simply buying tickets for the dinner, though, I did a little research to make sure the event was worth our time and money.  Beyond a great goal, and a list of event dates and locations, the information given on the Dinner and Bikes blog was a little sparse, so I followed some of the links for more information on the creators.

One blog in particular, Taking the Lane, seemed promising and interesting, given the title.  Unfortunately, what I found there cast a bit of a shadow on my enthusiasm:

“The great thing about Austin,” commented Joshua, not a bicyclist himself, “is that from the most in-shape to the least fearful, anyone can ride right down the middle of the lane.” He cackled and added, “That doesn’t leave anybody out, right?”

I’ve tweaked Joshua’s slogan slightly for alliteration — “From the most fit to the least fearful.” The anti-bike lane movement is welcome to take it on as its new motto.

While I love biking in St. Louis, I’m already cringing after reading this and Elly’s reviews of other cities, wondering what she’ll say about bicycling here.

Further, if this language, written by one of Dinner and Bike’s coordinators, was representative of what I would find at the event, did I really want to take part?  Would I feel unwelcome and out of place because I think bicyclists should operate their vehicles like other road users?  Would I spend the evening listening to presentations perpetuating the myth that only very fit and very brave people can use bicycles for transportation in places where there is little formal bicycle infrastructure, which goes against my beliefs and experiences and what I teach in Cycling Savvy?

In an attempt to get a bit more information, I consulted my fellow Cycling Savvy instructors — turns out I was opening a real can of worms with my digging, and not my friendly red wigglers, either.

Though I was aware that there are two differing views of cycling advocacy, one that sees infrastructure as the solution and another that encourages bicyclists to become part of traffic and work with the existing road system, my queries revealed this to be not just a friendly debate, but a loaded topic, subject of more than a few hateful and vitriolic blog posts that left me with a heavy heart and a very bad taste in my mouth.

I pose this question to you, my fellow bicyclists and bike advocates: Can we afford this kind of hateful talk?  If no, then why do we allow it to continue?

In the United States, people who use bicycles for transportation are already in the minority (in many places making up less than 1%) of all road users.  If we want to increase the number of people bicycling, make bicycling safe and approachable for all, and [although it is already a pretty darn safe activity] continue to make it safER, we must stand together.

This is not to say that there is not room for debate about various ways to achieve our goals.   I have read and understood the arguments on both sides of this debate, and, like many questions in life, there is probably no one right answer. In order to make any progress we must be at the same table, which means we need to eliminate hostile and divisive discourse and labels and categories such as “anti-bike lane movement,” “vehicularist,” and “infrastructurist.”  Only then can we move forward and find progressive solutions that address the barriers to more people bicycling.

I am a bicyclist.  I am a Cycling Savvy instructor.  I have advocated for Complete Streets policies.  I have drooled (from afar) over the bicycle accommodations and huge bicyclist mode share in places like Copenhagen.  I should not have to question whether there is space for me and my beliefs at a bicycling event.

WE ARE BICYCLISTS — united we ride, divided we fall.

Note: In the spirit of uniting with others, I just purchased our tickets for the St. Louis stop of the Dinner and Bikes 2012 Tour.  Anyone want to plan on biking with us to the event?


  1. donolmt says:

    Dinner and bikes will be in Chattanooga tomorrow and I plan to go. I don’t know much about them but was looking forward to finding out more.

    I agree with you about the divide. When I first was taught how to be a vehicular cyclist, I was convinced bike structure was unnecessary. I would get frustrated when talking to non and lite cyclists,they all would express a desire for infrastructure. It slowly dawned on me that infrastructure was the way to get

    people out there. The more people riding, the safer it is for all.

  2. donolmt says:

    Dinner and bikes will be in Chattanooga tomorrow and I plan to go. I don’t know much about them but was looking forward to finding out more.

    I agree with you about the divide. When I first was taught how to be a vehicular cyclist, I was convinced bike structure was unnecessary. I would get frustrated when talking to non and lite cyclists,they all would express a desire for infrastructure. It slowly dawned on me that infrastructure was the way to get more people on bikes. And even I much prefer to be on a street that seems to invite onto the street. As long as some of us believe that it somehow confers honor and superiority to fighting for a place , an united front in asking for what we ALL need, even the unfit and most fearful, will be impossible to achieve.

    people out there. The more people riding, the safer it is for all.

    1. Melissa @ HerGreenLife says:

      Hope you enjoyed the Chattanooga edition of Dinner and Bikes! Looking forward to some good food here tomorrow night 🙂

  3. donolmt says:

    Sorry about the multi posting and misediting. I can’t get my smart phone to stop acting stupid.

  4. EcoCatLady says:

    I was completely shocked when I first learned that there was such a divide in the cycling community. I really couldn’t believe that there were cyclists lobbying AGAINST building bike infrastructure!

    I admire people who are brave enough to do “vehicular cycling.” CatMan and I have both been hit by cars while crossing busy streets, and I have to admit that the experience pretty much turned me off from wanting to ride in the streets. Both of us were hit by distracted drivers… the woman who hit me even stopped and waved me on before she got distracted and forgot that I was there!

    I know that statistically speaking it’s a safe activity, but somehow statistics don’t seem to hold a candle to the memory of a several ton vehicle barreling right at me.

    The other thing that just kills me is that the laws are all different depending on which municipality you’re in. I got hit in the middle of the street between Denver and Lakewood (the next suburb over). So both police departments responded and a very lengthy discussion ensued over where exactly I was in the intersection when I got hit, and whose jurisdiction it was. It turned out that on one the Lakewood side I was required to be in the crosswalk, but on the Denver side I was prohibited from being in it. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?

    Anyhow, I pretty much stick to the bike path now, and only use my bike for recreation or small trips within my neighborhood. It’s sort of a bummer, but I can’t help it… once bitten, twice shy.

    When CatMan got hit, the police told him that it was his fault because he was on the right shoulder of the street instead of “taking the lane.” So after that he decided he’d try it, and nearly got killed the first time out of the shoot. A car swerved and barely missed him, then the driver got pissed and started following him yelling threats out the window!

    So I don’t know what the answer is. Can’t we just get rid of all the cars? 🙂

    1. Melissa @ HerGreenLife says:

      Sorry to hear about the scary experiences.

      With almost any kind of infrastructure, bicyclists will still interact with motorists in some places, namely intersections, which are the most common locations for motor vehicle and bicycle collisions (by far the most common overall bicycle crash involves JUST the bicycle and a stationary object, road debris, pothole, etc.).

      There are some places where well-designed, progressive infrastructure is the solution — I would love to have “bicycle interstates” running parallel to all of the interstates that cut through St. Louis, for example — but since there will always be some interaction with other road users, and since infrastructure solutions often require funds that are very hard to come by, quality bicycle education that deconstructs common fears and gives the skills, knowledge, and confidence to help anyone get out there and ride more can and must be A PART of the solution.

      Cycling Savvy does not currently have a presence in Colorado (that I know of), but if that changes and you and CatMan get the chance, I would HIGHLY recommend the course. In the meantime, you could check out some of the videos and student testimonials on their website — definitely not a replacement for the course, but lots of great info nonetheless.

      1. EcoCatLady says:

        I totally agree that education is key, and I will check out the Cycling Savvy site. I just wish that there were uniform laws, and that the DRIVERS were actually educated about the laws and best practices. I seriously can’t count the number of times that I’ve seen someone taking a lane, only to be honked at, yelled at, fists waved at them… people just don’t understand that it’s a legal activity!

        I’m actually seriously considering contacting the local TV news and asking them to do a story about it. Recently the news has been covering a story from Boulder (a neighboring town) that just passed a new law requiring cyclists to cross in the crosswalk but no faster than 15mph (I think that’s it anyhow.) This only adds to the confusion because here in Denver it’s illegal to be in the crosswalk.

        Heavy Sigh.

        I have a dream, that one day the bikes will vastly outnumber the cars… I have a dream that one day cars will only be used when really, REALLY necessary. I have a dream that cycling will be the norm and every driver will know to look for cyclists, because they’ll always be there… I have a dream that one day my 4 little kitties will be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their fur… oh wait… 🙂

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