Wednesday, April 20, 2011

To be or not to be...

A few weeks back I had to get to a morning meeting by 8:00. It was right off of University and Indian School. Now, I had a few choices...I could ride straight up University Ave on the road - a "car;" I could ride straight up University Ave. on the sidewalk - a "pedestrian;" or I could ride through UNM across Lomas Blvd. onto the North Diversion Channel trail to Indian School then down the bike lane that's on the road - a "biker."

Little did I know that this has been discussed for years by those who are much more embedded in the biking community. I further realize that the more one delves into many communities, the more one witnesses the hard, yet thoughtful, discussions. There are decisions that most of us "casual community members" might never consider, or, if we did, we usually have not delved into the many (and often challenging) ways in which those decisions are being considered.

For example, I was thinking about the decision within the community of homeless service providers in regards to the work toward ending homelessness. There is a desire to get folks into housing as soon as possible, a concept called "Housing First." It's a great and obvious way to deal with the repercussions of being on the streets...get people housed and then help work on the other challenges that either led to the them being homeless and/or the challenges caused by the homelessness in the first place. A great idea, but, there is usually long waiting lists to get into Section 8 Housing (sometimes an 18 month wait) or Supportive Housing or transitional housing programs and most importantly, not enough affordable housing as most individuals are not paid a living wage (but, that is another blog!).

In the meantime, there are shelters within the city, which are limited, but at least gives folks a break from the street. So, the discussion within the community: do we use available money and energy to push toward more affordable housing, but, in doing so, risk taking money from shelters and short term "fixes" or do we keep building more shelters - despite the fact that long term shelter life can create significant challenges especially health outcomes in children- instead of focusing on the long term stability of a permanent home, since the reality of housing a significant amount of people is a slow, challenging, and a lengthy process?

Just as the discussion between permanently housing folks (long term solution) vs. efforts toward building shelters (short term solution) is a reality for the homelessness advocates, the discussion between seeing the road as the rightful place for bikers vs. efforts for alternate routes so folks at least get on their bikes is a discussion within the biking community.

Just as homelessness advocates want to end homelessness, bike advocates want to encourage more biking. In fact, the more bikes that are visible, the more safe it can be for those who bike. This is part of the discussion I am witnessing on biking-centered blogs. Discussions, that, much like those within the community of homeless service providers, are having to weigh the short and long term repercussions. More specifically, when it comes to advocating riding, safety is a huge issue.

As I stated before, the more folks visibly biking on the roads, the more automobiles will have to learn how to "play well" and "share the road." Some people within the biking community want to focus on training people to be aggressive bikers, to not let the cars push them around and push them to the side. Others want to focus on enhancing biking infrastructure, both on the roads but also by creating alternative routes for bikes only. Those who advocate for those to stay on the road criticize the "alternate route" as, in a sense, pushing the bikes off the road, a place they feel they have a right to inhabit. By pushing the biking to alternate routes or by doing a half-ass job at thin and barely visible bike lanes, they are limiting the visibility of the bikers and thus, making it less safe for bikers since there will be fewer on the actual roads or, if they are on the roads, they may have a false sense of security on the skimpy bike lanes. They also see the push toward alternate routes as a push toward marking bike riding as a recreational activity more than a viable transportation alternative. In either way, the advocates of biking on the road (in one article, called Vehicular Cyclist or VC), see those alternates as more dangerous in the long run. Others in the community do not agree with the strict VC advocates because they feel by not putting money and energy into alternates to roads or improving the bike lanes on the road, children, elders and those of who are not as adept on busy roads and those cities that have not developed the proper infrastructure, will then opt out of biking altogether. In other words, those who are not yet ready to join the cars on the road are at least able to get the benefits of cycling.

In regards to housing, I am a big Housing First Advocate and would like to see the will on all the Federal, State and Local authorities to move people into permanent housing asap...but, as someone who also works within that world, I know that is not always an immediate possibility. I am glad, even if it is not my first choice, that I have something to offer someone in the short term.

In the same way, I appreciate the discussion being held regarding riding on the roads vs. building a biking infrastructure. I agree, that, especially for those who use biking as their transportation, there are not accessible alternate routes or appropriate bike lanes to get me to where I need to go. In reality, until we become much more of a biking culture, the cars will not recognize us as equals and "share the road," and although many of us do not have a choice, there are others who will either choose not to use biking as a major form of transportation at all or only bike for recreation on designated bike trails. I think we take the middle road, as we should learn how to be the best bike on the road when necessary- basically, own our right to be on the road and do it responsibly and yet, enjoy the option of alternatives, especially when you have visitors who are elders or not familiar or comfortable on our ABQ roads.

In either case, if we use the argument of less bikers results in less safety for bikers, either solution alone can be detrimental for the long term push toward biker visibility and thus, bike safety.

There are some good discussions regarding this issue being held amongst those in the biking community. I especially like the comments made below in this particular article on VC.

"Please don´t get me wrong, of course I would prefer a good cycling infrastructure (I grew up in Kiel, there is a good infrastructure, so there most cyclist use the bicycle lane), but if there is no good infrastructure being a vehicular cyclist is the safest way to move in the city"

"I think that a city has to decide, which way they want the cyclists to move in the city. Either on the road or on a separated bicycle Infrastructure. The worst case is making no decision at all. You are right that many people prefer a separated bicycle infrastructure, but it is also important to show these people that it is safe to ride a bicycle on the road, that cycling is not something dangerous"

"Being radical by saying "Only moving on a bicycle lane will push cycling culture forward" or "Only moving on the road will push cycling culture forward" is exactly the wrong way, to motivate people using the bicycle."

So, while heading toward my 8 o'clock meeting that morning, I see now that all of the choices had their pro's and con's. On University, the best decision may have been to be a pedestrian -of course, this is not very wise on my part or safe for pedestrians, but off the road-, or to take the long way- the alternate route that took me out of the sight of cars, on the designated trail and on the bike lane (a long and somewhat convoluted way to reach my destination, but off of University- or take the riskier short term road and risk being run off the road by the mad morning rush of drivers on a street that has neither a lane nor a hospitable driving community, but, that will get me to my destination in a straight shot. In the end, either choice could represent a safe or risky choice, it is just a matter of a short term or long term look at safety.

Ultimately, the best choice was to simply make one choice. I needed to either leave earlier if I wanted to take the bike path, stay on the sidewalk and off the road or stay on the road and own my right to be there.

Instead, I started as a vehicular cyclist but lost my confidence while crossing Lomas Blvd. and switched to a pedestrian, but, too late. My hop to the curb, from vehicular cyclist to pedestrian, turned me into a tumbler... and left me wondering if I should have taken the long route instead.

There is obviously lots to consider in regards to route options, for both the short term (getting to our destination) and the long term (creating a bike friendly, livable city). For the short term, I recommend planning ahead- and, when making a choice, stick with that choice - as a split second change can be the most detrimental to your immediate safety. For the long term safety of bike riding, we need to get more of us out there. If we are visible, whether on the roads, bike paths or bike lanes, the more the cars will learn that we are not going away.

In addition, our city planners need to make a choice as well. Although I appreciate the efforts toward bike lanes, designated bike roads and bike trails, we can do more to make this a livable, bike friendly community.

1 comment:

  1. Mindy,
    I remember you from Art Street. I wrote about this issue from the standpoint of a homeless person for my senior honors thesis.