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Thursday, March 10, 2016

It's time that we embrace the idea that the streets belong to all people

It’s time that we embrace the idea that the streets belong to all people
By:  Michael Lander

This is another take on the word - Coexist -
that was created to promote the continuing
efforts to include cyclists and pedestrians
on our streets.

“The streets belong to the people.”

In the
representative democracy that we live in, there seems to be something that is quite appealing about the idea that all people have an equal right to certain things, like our streets, which have been constructed for the good of us all and, in many ways, belong to us all.

This statement that “the streets belong to the people,” though, actually began as a
rallying cry in 1912 when suffragettes were wanting to march on New York City streets in their fight for a woman’s right to vote.

In the ensuing decades that followed, and long after women finally secured the
right to vote in 1920, this rallying cry could have easily taken on a new meaning as a growing number of community activists, and bicycling advocates, sought to make the streets much more accessible for all people, and not just those who were in motor vehicles.

Throughout most of the Twentieth Century, cars and trucks, in the U.S., for the most part, ruled the roads, and a lot less consideration, or accommodations, were rarely ever made with cyclists and pedestrians in mind.

By the late Twentieth Century, however, this began to slowly change in dozens of cities across the U.S. and, today, most now see the value of having streets that are safe and much more accessible to all people.

Click here to read the
history of bikes and American society by the League of American Bicyclists and see the role that cycling advocates played in making U.S. city streets better for everyone.

Even though much progress has been made in making the roads much more accessible, and more bike and pedestrian-friendly, not all motorists have gotten on board with the idea.

This is a promotional banner to remind motor vehicle
operators to share the road because they belong to

Attitudes can sometimes be the last thing to change and the attitudes of some motorists haven’t necessarily changed with the times.

As roads have become a lot more congested with vehicles, and as more and more cyclists have also begin to hit the roads, too, there can be an intensifying competition for a limited amount of road space, and any inconveniences, momentary delays, or any real or perceived failures of cyclists to observe the rules of the road, etc., have occasionally led to greater problems, dangers, and even road rage against cyclists.

It might seem difficult to know how to mitigate any of the us-(cyclists)-verses-them-(motorists)-mentality, but the best place to start might begin with education. 
In spite of all of the efforts that have been made, to this point in time, there are still some out there who are blissfully unaware of the fact that
cyclists have every right to be on the road and simply telling these folks that the streets belong to people and not cars would likely do very little to sell them on the idea or to get them to change their minds one iota.

The only hope for cyclists is that people will become better educated prior to being issued a driver’s license and that they will be periodically reminded, (be it public service announcements, etc.), that cyclists do have every legal right to be on the roadway, too.

In addition to that, motorists should also know that, by Tennessee State law,
vehicle operators should have three feet of separation between their car and the cyclist and that they should view a cyclist no different than any other vehicle operator on the road.

Cyclists, for their part, must be willing to do what they can to help minimize some of the problems and they can do this by observing the rules of the road, being considerate and conscientious, and by becoming public advocates who are willing to regularly get their message out to the public.

This image is a reminder that our streets belong
to everybody and not just for motorists.

Cyclists should also be politically active and to support those who support them.  Vote for those who are willing and able to promote a bicycle-friendly environment with an infrastructure that benefits all people that includes both cyclists and pedestrians.

Sometimes, it would seem that our local, state, and federal legislatures will take steps backwards on issues that might negatively impact cyclists and pedestrians so it is always important for cyclists to remain vigilant, to voice their objection, and to take action whenever this occurs.

Recently, a Tennessee State bill has been proposed that would restrict the use of funding (from a possible future gas tax) on any bicycle and pedestrian projects throughout the state. 

Click on this link to let your voice be heard on this issue:

Cyclists and pedestrians should attempt to stop any legislation that might minimize or thwart any spending on future cycling and pedestrian projects. 

Since most cyclists and pedestrians have cars, and they pay the very same sales and property taxes as motorists do, which are used to help build and repair the very same roads that we all walk or ride on, they should not be excluded in how those tax dollars are then spent.

One possible solution, that would come at a cost, but would be a potentially safer alternative for cyclists, is one that would get the cyclists off of the road and would eliminate the need for them to share the same lanes with cars.

This alternative could come with
protected bike lanes that would physically separate cars from cyclists and would give the cyclists their own lanes, instead.

As good as this idea might seem, however, there are some who have serious reservations about pursuing this.

John Forester, who is a bicycling engineer from Lemon Grove in San Diego County, is one of them.

This image is a way to promote the
benefits of cycling.  As more people
begin to see the value of cycling, and
more people begin riding, more will
be done to better accommodate them.

Christine Aschwanden in her article,
“Bikes and Cars:  Can we share the Road?,” describes Forester as being the father of the “vehicular cycling movement,” which she says “is a philosophy that views the bicycle as a form of transportation on the streets alongside cars.”

Forester, and others like him, she says, believe that efforts to push bikes into separate lanes or bike paths only help to reinforce the notion that bicycles don’t belong on the street in the first place and that it relegates them into a separate and not-quite-as-equal status.

If the protected bike lanes are not the panacea that they would seem to be, they could at least be an option in certain circumstances, especially on highly trafficked roadways or where it might enhance the flow of traffic and safety for vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists.

Ultimately, most cities will eventually have to grapple with these issues, if they haven’t already.  Times are changing and they need to.  It has already taken too long to get where we are and we can’t afford to go backwards now.

We must all learn that we can and must coexist and be willing to share the road and every person, city, and the entire nation needs to become more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly.

The roads were not just built for cars and people don’t get the sense of community until they get out of their cars, and begin to walk or ride their bikes around in and around their neighborhoods. 

As soon as we all realize this, and embrace that, we will finally get where we need to be in this country.

The streets truly belong to the people and all people have the right to be on the streets.

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