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?