Archive forSeptember, 2015

Response to Mr. Jacoby’s Opinion

This morning an email came from a colleague with a link to this opinion piece by Mr. Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe.  I wrote up this reply (and cleaned it up later) before I got on my bike to get to work because I knew it’d be a distraction in my mind if I didn’t get my thoughts out.


Dear Mr. Jacoby,

I’d like to share some facts around the opinion you shared on Boston Globe. While this might not change your opinion, I hope that it does some more light around urban bicycling for you.

From the top:

… 13th cyclist killed in collisions with motor vehicles on city streets since 2010. That number is sure to rise if Boston keeps encouraging people to ride bicycles where bicycles don’t belong.

Or it won’t, if Boston keeps supporting building of infrastructure and education of motorists AND cyclists to facilitate travel by bicycling.

Busy thoroughfares aren’t meant for cyclists.”

You’re right! Specifically in Boston, where roads were meant for cows and horses and carriages! And somewhere in there bicycles shared the roads with the cows and horses and carriages before the cars and buses showed up. Yea, bikes were here first.

They are meant for the cars, trucks, and buses that transport the vast majority of people moving through the nation’s cities.”

Except cars, trucks and buses cannot move the vast majority of people through streets. They just do, now, because it isn’t safe for cyclists. We are in agreement on the point of safety.

Those vehicles weigh thousands of pounds, operate at 300-plus horsepower, and are indispensable to the economic and social well-being of virtually every American community.

Anybody operating vehicles that size has the responsibility to share space safely, if they do care so much about the well-being of those people they serve. That is why current laws have them get special licenses to drive those types of vehicles.

Adding any of them to the flow of motorized traffic on roads that already tend to be too clogged, however, is irresponsible and dangerous.

Not if safer infrastructure is in place. Also, that helps eliminate the ‘too clogged’ symptom. Studies have shown that making more room for cars doesn’t not reduce congestion: It just makes more cars show up.

According to the latest Census Bureau data, more than 122 million people commute each day by car, truck, or van. Fewer than 900,000 bike to work.

According to the Census Bureau data for WHERE? (Check your scope!) Are we still talking about Boston urban bicycling?

Do the math: For every cyclist pedaling to or from work, there are 136 drivers. Add the passengers who commute by bus and streetcar, and that ratio is even more lopsided. When it comes to urban transportation, bike riders play a trifling role — literally less than a rounding error. Far more people walk to work.

I’m afraid this math is irrelevant to your point because your original scope doesn’t apply to the discussion. If we humor your stats choice, the alternative is 900,000 more cars on the road, because why shouldn’t those cyclists drive as an option? Driving is another Point A -> Point B mode of travel that covers great distances. Are your advocating for 900,000 more cars on the road? How does THAT make other drivers feel? If the response is “Well, those 900K people can take public transit,” then why can’t some of the existing 122 million people take public transit?

But that doesn’t deter the bicycle lobby, which could give lessons in brass to Donald Trump.

That’s just picking a fight. Never insult the other party during a real discussion. Let’s be adults here, which I assume you are, by your photo on the Boston Globe website.

Advocates demand more and more access to city streets, no matter how frustrating to the vast majority of drivers for whom those streets are designed.

I think you meant “no matter how frustrating to me.” but I speculate. Again, the streets were not designed for the cars. The cars just took over, because, hey, lobbyists!

“Share the Road” signs pointedly admonish drivers, as though sound traffic management calls for treating flimsy, slow, and distracting bikes as the equal of faster, more powerful motor vehicles.”

For “sound traffic management,” encouraging cycling is actually a real solution, because it is faster and removes cars from the road. Anecdotally: last winter (2015) my daily commute went from 45 minute to 1 hour and 15 minutes per way on the worst days. It’s a lot by percentage but I’m willing to guarantee it was the shortest amount of increase across all the commuting options, short of walking to nearby distances.

And “sharing” the road, increasingly, isn’t enough: Signs now decree “Bicycles May Use Full Lane,”

Yes, that is current MA law, because bicycles are regarded as vehicles and are entitled to use the full lane. If a thing can’t be cut in half like a sandwich or a peanut butter cup, sharing means both parties can use the whole thing. In this case that whole thing is a lane. I’m wondering where that concept got skewed for you.

And if there’s only one lane of traffic in each direction, so that traffic on a city street is effectively reduced to the speed of a lone cyclist? Too bad.”

Again, you can fit more cyclists on the road than you can cars. That same amount of road space can move more cyclists.

All of which might be marginally more tolerable if bikers operated under the same restrictions that drivers do. But cyclists pay no taxes,

Myth #1! This is the biggest complaint and it is not backed up with facts. Please check your facts.

don’t have to be insured,

In a wreck, cyclists get physically hurt and we have mandatory health insurance for that.

undergo no safety inspections, and needn’t register their vehicles. They don’t have to carry an operator’s license, and aren’t required to pass a written or a road test in order to pedal in the streets.

Because in a wreck cyclists get physically hurt. Cars kill people in a wreck so it makes sense to have to pass test to operate it (see earlier note re: driving large vehicles). Just as we shouldn’t hand a gun to a person who hasn’t learned how to use it, we shouldn’t hand a large chunk of metal capable of moving at great speed to an untrained person without setting up some ways to make them accountable in the event if things go wrong. Also, cyclists are often also licensed to drive. Since bicycles are viewed as vehicles in the eyes of the law, our car insurance sure do get impacted if we drive our bikes irresponsibly.

And have you ever seen a cop ticket a cyclist who ran a red light, weaved recklessly among lanes, or made an illegal turn? Me neither.

Yes, I have. Don’t believe me, here was a warning that went out to cyclists when it was taking place and there have been many more since then. I think it’s fine for cops to ticket red light running cyclists, for the record. You can see my plea here for them to do more of it here. A more accurate question, then, is “Have you seen cops ticket ALL cyclists who ran a red light…” to which my ask: I wonder if you have seen ALL driver get ticketed when they run a red light, weave recklessly among lanes, or made illegal turns? Me neither.

Bikes aren’t treated like cars for a very good reason: Bikes aren’t like cars. Which is exactly why they don’t belong on busy city streets. Cyclists and traffic don’t mix. It’s not just foolish to pretend otherwise. It’s deadly.

Bikes are treated like cars in the eyes of the current law, but not by road sharers. I agree that bikes SHOULDN’T be treated like cars. There must be vastly improved infrastructure to support cyclists instead mixing them in with the cars. Those ‘Sharrows’ are complete jokes. I make a point about that in this video.

Finally, because you claim to have written an opinion piece, I’d like to direct your attention here: It’s Not Your Opinion if You’re Just Wrong. Your opinions were based on your feelings, in MY opinion. It is meant to be incendiary, biased and, mostly likely, for getting web traffic to your writing? Is it notoriety you seek? I can’t speculate on that either, but my opinion – based on your lack of research as demonstrated in this piece – is that you have done a disservice to all Boston Globe readers. This is very poor journalism, indeed. I think you can do better. Please try.

Daily Greater Boston Bicycle Commuter since 2003


Update: One of my trash talk heroes wrote up a reply, too! More opinions, this time local!

Comments (1)

Oregon 1, Massachusetts 0

Last week I came across this article with a video on unsafe passing of a vehicle around a cyclist. Notably:

Portland police announced today that, on Thursday, they cited the Kia driver for his recklessness in the video. That’s more than a month after the incident occurred, but just three days after the videographer, Tony Tapay, reported it to cops.

In reviewing that video and comparing to my own incident of near passing, it’s clear that the vehicle in my video was much, much closer. When I shared my video with Arlington PD back in May, however, they gave me this as their final response:

Thank you and again, from what I viewed on the video and your statement that the car was traveling at 25 mph [note: I wrote “at least 25 mph” in my video, which is not the same as what he wrote here] I don’t see a violation. Further, before the government (I. E. The police) tracks down citizens for enforcement purposes there must be a clear violation of the law. We go to extraordinary measures to ensure the constitutional rights  of our citizenry.

Your reply has caused me to review the tape again and I see no need for our traffic unit to follow up.  Please further any further comment/complaint to the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles.

I appreciated the prompt and polite response, for sure, but this didn’t make a bit of difference in helping to make the roads safer. I then sent this to Senator Brownsberger*, who is a bicycle commuter himself, to find out what is latest the status on our safe passing law. He kindly offered the latest updates and it’s true that MA’s current law is ambiguous and difficult to enforce. I looked up Oregon’s passing law. It’s still a moving target (ie. not a set distance) but I prefer it:

The law, which went into effect on January 1, 2008, defines “safe distance” as “sufficient to prevent contact with the person operating the bicycle if the person were to fall into the driver’s lane of traffic.” While a number of states have legislated specific passing distances, the most common of which is three feet, the Oregon law uses the bicyclist’s “fall over” height as a distance measure, a useful gauge to protect from a side swipe.**

I object to the Arlington PD Chief’s response on the basis of pure logic: That distance at that speed is NOT safe, period. His response did not say anything about safe passing, only mentioned the speed, which is the minimum guess that I made, not any actual fact of the incident. By the video you can see that the passing clearance was mere inches. Even if MA’s current law doesn’t specifically define what that safe distance should be, I’d like to see him experience a car passing him at – let’s say 25mph – with inches to spare and then have him tell me that it is totally safe.

Anyway, the road to making real change is to help support laws that are clear and enforceable. So I ride, record, gather data, and share with leaders like Senator Brownsberger to make way.

*A shout out to the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee: When I shared my video, they were extremely supportive and invited me to a meeting to review/discuss this incident, at which I had the attention of another Arlington police officer. ABAC offered suggestions on potential next steps, including contacting our representatives/senators.

** Summary thanks to this law firm here.