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« Right-Hooked: Almost | Main | What’s wrong with this picture? »

The Times they are a Changin’

In 1963 Bob Dylan wrote “The Times they are a Changin’.” I see the times a changin’ for cycling, I see it here in the US. Suddenly bicycles and cyclists are newsworthy.

Recently there have been a spate of cycling related articles in major newspapers. The LA Times did a story on July 21st, about cyclists and road rage.

The Wall Street Journal, no less, then ran with a story on the plight of the bicycle commuter in Los Angeles. Yet another article in The Economist, on cycling in the US, and then there was the piece in the New York Times that I mentioned in my last post.

Some of these stories dwell on negative aspects, increase in bicycle/car accidents, road rage, etc. But the media always dwells on the negative, it seems they can’t report a story any other way.

Placing this aspect aside, the main benefit I see in all this is that people are being made aware of bicycles and bike riders. Imagine the combined readership of these major publications, and how many people these stories reached.

People who otherwise may never have considered riding a bicycle to work, or for short errands; on seeing images of others doing just that, may think, “If they can do it, so can I.”

A recent story from Austin, Texas of cyclists being ticketed for running red lights, and for riding on the sidewalk, would appear at first glance to be anti-cyclist.

One of the main complaints used against cyclists, is that we don’t obey the rules of the road. It has become a cliché, one that will automatically be recited whenever someone mentions cyclists.

Enforcing the law for cyclists and being seen enforcing the law, will take away one very strong argument used against us by those who would rather we not be on the road. Enforcing the sidewalk law, takes away the argument that cyclist belong there.

I would much rather see bike riders voluntarily observe traffic lights, and not ride on the sidewalk. Let’s face it, if cyclists did just that, the action by police in Austin would be unnecessary.

In the accompanying video that runs with this story, is a shot of a bike commuter whining about motorists running red lights. Pointing the finger at other lawbreakers is always a feeble excuse for breaking the law.

Some may view the Austin story as another one of police anti-cyclist bias. Maybe so, maybe not; the question I ask myself is, in the long run will this be good for cycling. I believe the answer is yes, and it is already a good thing that stories like this get media attention.

The images on the video of what appears to be experienced cyclists, riding exactly as they should in traffic, I think leaves a good impression. Nowhere in the video do I see cars being inconvenienced by cyclists, and every bicycle on the road means one less car, actually easing congestion.

There are other signs of changing times. In Pittsburg, the City has announced plans to become bicycle friendly. They have started by appointing a cycling and pedestrian czar to oversee, and coordinate efforts to improve the lot of those who choose an alternative means of transport.

Could any of us imagined a few years ago that major US Cities would be even be thinking of accommodating bicycles, let alone making serious efforts, and spending money to do just that. We know that given time, other cities will follow.

Finally, I recently came across a blog by Tom Cassidy, who is a Chief of Police, in Lincoln, Nebraska.  He posted a piece on cyclists titled Share the Road, in which he wrote:

Sharing the road is not just polite, it's the law. Bicycles essentially enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicles on the public streets. Motorists need to accord bicycles the same right of way, following distance, and passing protocol that they would another automobile.

Refreshing indeed coming from a police chief. Tom Cassidy was once a cyclist and triathlete. He also commuted to work by bike for a decade.

Be happy that bicycles have become newsworthy. Bicycle related stories are the hot ticket right now, it won't last and bicycles will soon be "old news."

However, the media shapes public opinion and it may become cool and trendy to ride a bicycle, and it could become un-cool to harass or behave in an impolite manner towards a cyclist.
In the last verse of his song, Dylan wrote:  
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.

Reader Comments (9)

As a former cop it angers me to see bicycle riders exhibiting blatant disregard for traffic laws. It's so bad (San Francisco Bay Area) that I cannot ride in groups, being the only cyclist who follows the rules of the road.

Riders take offense whenever I bring up the subject. "Do you drive your car the same way you ride a bicycle?" I ask when the issue of stop signs comes up. The reaction is usually vicious.

In Portola Valley the police have begun issuing tickets for stop sign violations. The fine (in California) is $100 for the first offense within twelve months (with a 170 percent court fee tacked on).

Bicycles ARE vehicles and we (riders) are going to continue to take heat until (if) we accept that and behave accordingly.

August 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJames Thurber

Per your comment about the media's propensity for negative reporting. In the scene near the end of the movie Ratatouille, Anton Ego says a lot. "...Negative reviews are fun to write, and fun to read..."

August 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRob Hildebrand

You are so right on the mark.

August 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMarla

So all publicity is good publicity? That isn't what you were saying in your comments about Critical Mass, I seem to remember.

August 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNick

I just wanted to chime in as a new reader of your blog.
I think you make valid points, don't attack any group, and overall are helping more than hurting (not the same I can say of many folks in the "scene" now.)

thanks for writing on this subject with intelligence and common sense.

August 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHailey

FYI, Pittsburgh has an "h".

And they are doing great things for biking in the city. Many new bike paths, new bike-pedestrian bridges, the new city bike coordinator...

August 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRobbie

...it's about time that "the times, they are a-changin' "...

...the old cliche "to get respect, you need to give respect" applies here & we as cyclists do need to pay attention to the traffic laws if we want motorists to consider us as more than a ragged band of scofflaws on bikes...

...that being said, it's somewhat of a bitter pill to swallow when you consider that in any accidental confrontation between bicycles & motor vehicles, the cyclist is the most vulnerable in each & every case, no matter who is at fault...that, & the fact that cyclists are the one's who regularly die due to the physical inequality...

...so while i would have to agree in a sense that "any publicity is 'good' publicity", it's been my contention for a while now that the television & print media could go a long way towards raising the consciousness of the general public towards safety on our roads...

...imagine a scenario wherein your local tv newscaster ended the broadcast several times a week by imploring viewers to "please keep an eye out for the safety of those of us who use a bicycle to get to & from our jobs, folks...we're commuters, just like you"...

...eventually, it might sink in but unfortunately, television & newspapers are more concerned w/ "headline news" stories, so confrontations are a better news scenario...that & we, as cyclists continue to darken our own image, while at the same time we demand our rights...

...ride safely & ride intelligently...your ass is on the line...

August 19, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterbikesgonewild

How many DUI's to bikers get as opposed to motorized cars? The number one problem in my town are drunk drivers.

August 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel


Critical Mass rallies have bicycles owning the road and motorists held up. Dave is trying to spread the message to his readers that everyone should share and respect their fellow road users. Critical Mass rallies will only enrage motorists, which is good for no-one.

There are some people on both sides which loathe one another however you may treat them you may never change their opinion, but most people will be persuaded to be more careful and show more respect if everyone is a little nicer.

In England, there has been a lot of press about our success in the olympic cycling and everyone is a little more interested, than they were. Coupled with the high fuel prices and it takes me less time to get to work than my co-workers I have seen half the office, convert to cycling to work (in the fair weather though).

August 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLuke Robbins
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