Monday, August 18, 2014

Origins of hostility to cycling

Over the last couple of months, a number of articles in online magazines and web logs have appeared, dealing with incidents in which online commenters or media personalities have derided cyclists, expressed hostility towards cyclists, even condoned violence against cyclists. Many of the articles that try to explain the hostility shown cyclists, as well as the comments on these articles, refer to logic errors and psychology as explanations. While these claims probably have some merit, they avoid the elephant in the room: money. Buying and maintaining a car costs at least thirty times as much as a bicycle; bikes cost essentially nothing to insure and only the food (which people eat anyway) for the cyclist. That money supports a lot of jobs. It supports a lot of advertising. Most media outlets religiously report any mention of their parent companies, many columnists disclose personal relationships with their subjects, but newspapers and radio stations never seem to disclose the share of their advertising revenue that comes from motor vehicle manufacturers and dealers when they publish stories about road issues, crashes involving pedestrians and bicycles, or criminal acts by motorists.

Hostility expressed against cyclists and cycling often falls into one of three categories: objection to change, hostility to non-conformity, personal investment in car culture,  and objections to cyclist behaviour.

People concerned about the changes bicycles bring tend to focus their objections on the construction of bicycle infrastructure and the accompanying reduction in provision for the automobile. Hostility to non-conformity finds its classic expression in the sumptuary law police who object to cyclists who wear spandex. Neither of these arguments represent any kind of rational objection to cycling, cyclist behaviour, or public policy in relation to cycling, and cyclists cannot do anything to change them. In addition, many  comments deploring cyclist behaviour register objections to actions that don't actually break any laws.

That leaves people who feel genuinely concerned about safety and the effect of misbehaviour by cyclists. Many of these people actually cycle and advocate cycling; members of the cycling community do not usually hesitate to criticize each other. If you want a good way to distinguish between people who object to cyclist misbehaviour on real safety grounds, and those who invoke safety concerns as a cover for bias against cycling, notice which commentators take the time to disown the dud arguments, the rants against spandex or cycling infrastructure.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Thoughts on Walking in the World Pride March

Last Sunday, Toronto wrapped up a successful week hosting the World Pride celebrations with a huge Pride parade. The annual Gay Pride celebrations in Toronto traditionally kick off the summer season. This year, the whole world came to celebrate with our city. Under the sun, under a rain shower, under a rainbow that appeared in the sky above the rainbow city, we marched Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and straight together.

Allison and I belong to an affirming church, and when we walk in the parade, we marched with the Proud Anglicans, a group of affirming churches in the Toronto area.

When Allison and I march, we march first and foremost as allies. Gay Pride is an expression of Gay and Lesbian culture: we go to support our gay friends and neighbours, the people we work, worship and learn with. But as with many things, it isn't quite that simple. Yes, in one sense, for us Gay Pride is someone else's parade. But in another sense, it is ours, too.

I started high school in 1970. A high school in a small Ontario city in 1970 was not an outstandingly friendly place for anyone. For my Gay and Lesbian friends at the time, it took spectacular courage go to school at all. As someone on the autism spectrum, I did not have a very easy ride either. My school mates did not have a sophisticated analysis of gender. I can attest that some had on the vaguest idea what "Gay" or "Lesbian" entailed. They used homophobic slurs to cope with any nonconformity, and I didn't conform. I remember more than a few occasions when I walked home from school with "Freddy F-----" ringing in my ears.

It's important to remember who Pride is primarily for, and why. Whatever the difficulties people on the autism spectrum have to deal with, no country has a "anti-autism" bill with penalties for family members who don't turn in people with autism. But the Pride celebrations have a larger message: everyone has the right to celebrate the way they are made. Each one of us is a magnificent, awesome creation, each one of us was made to love and be loved. And in this larger sense, as an affirmation of the dignity of each of us, the Pride Parade is my parade as well.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

And now for something completely different...

intersectionality and the carceral state. A post about what's wrong with the current furor over Woody Allen.

In the Nation, Jessica Valenti wrote:
I also believe that deep down people know that once we start to believe victims en masse—once we take their pain and experience seriously—that everything will have to change.
Jessica Luther writes:
When people buy tickets for the next Woody Allen film or they purchase his latest on DVD, when another Hollywood group decides to honor his decades of work, when an actor chooses to work with him and says how nice he is in the interviews as they promote their movie.... those actions, all of that acceptance of Allen silence his victim.
A lot of silencing has taken place in this situation. The defence of Woody Allen by Robert B. Weide in the Daily Beast suggests we shouldn't believe what Dylan Farrow has to say. He doesn't accuse her of lying, not exactly, but he does claim people he does not name have somehow engaged in "swiftboating" Woody Allen. He writes:
I know Dylan/Malone believes these events took place, and I know Ronan believes so too. I am not in a position to say they didn’t, any more than all the people on the internet calling for Woody’s head can say they did. 
Nobody should have to say this, but: if Dylan Farrow and Ronan Farrow believe Woody Allen committed a heinous crime against her, why should they keep silent? Neither his talent, nor his body of work, should excuse Woody Allen from somehow reckoning with some serious accusations he has evidently not come to terms with.

Defining justice as punishment and exclusion, on the other hand, silences many other people. Jessica Valenti, Jessica Luther, and others write as though some even-handed judge of impeccable integrity will arbitrate their call to exclude and punish Woody Allen and those like him, but in fact calls for harsh retribution lead to laws interpreted and enforced by the American state, with all its historical faults. Millions of Americans, mostly impoverished and racialized, face literal silencing by cell walls, and once released, when laws turn them away from the polls.

By a coincidence, on the day I looked up Jessica Valenti's comment, the Nation also published the following story in the "this just in" box on the same page:
The US government hid an egregious clerical error that placed a Malaysian Stanford University student on the TSA’s no-fly list and prompted a nine-year effort to clear her name, according to a federal ruling released to the public Thursday.
In other words, on the same page that Jessica Valenti inveighs against any acceptance, not for convicted malefactors but for the accused as well, a link appears to another incident in the ongoing story of the American national security and carceral state. Pace Ms. Valenti, that United States has long believed victims "en masse". The results include laws, many named for individual victims, which specify harsher and harsher penalties, ceding more and more unchecked discretion to police and prosecutors, and narrowing the legal rights of suspects, offenders, and the general public alike. Americans have already decided to reject the argument that the life of a person, any person, amounts to more than the worst thing they ever did, or the worst thing anyone accused them of doing. They have instead embraced laws that have led to mass incarceration, mass punishment, at a rate that not only eclipses Russia, China, and Iran, but also has serious effects on American democracy, from the racial imbalance in the denial of voting rights to outright public corruption.

Our society engages in extravagant celebrations of talent and achievement in the performing arts and sports. We do a poor job of separating the celebration of achievement from an affirmation of the ethical qualities of the people we celebrate, so that we make performers, people who excel at sports and other performances, into heroes. We have no vocabulary for saying that Woody Allen has great talent but also great flaws. Indisputably, he has family members in deep pain that he has never succeeded in reconciling with. Clearly, we cannot dismiss the memories of Dylan Farrow. Equally clearly, after three decades of American public policy has excluded and demonized offenders, we can see that road does not lead to a good place. As difficult as it seems, I see no realistic choice but to treat the good in people, in everyone, with celebration, and the bad as something to heal.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Safe Cycling II: Lighting the way

I have said before that I think cyclists have two obligations: not to harm another vulnerable road user, and not to die on a ride ourselves if we can avoid it. One practical and legal consequence: we ought not to ride on sidewalks. Another: we ought to ride with lights at night.

Any light beats no light at all. When I ride, I carry a couple of spares that I can offer to cyclists I encounter who don't have lights on. I personally carry two lights on my front handlebars, and a tail light. I also carry a small bag under my saddle with spare batteries. I have one flashing light on my handlebars, and one steady light. I cycle this way because I believe
strobing lights make it difficult to track and predict my speed. My flashing front light indicates my presence very clearly, but I think having only a flashing light would make it harder for other road users to see where I'm going or how quickly.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

What a close pass feels like

As the title on the video says: this video is not about blame. It's about what a close pass feels like on a bicycle. It's a plea for motorists to allow at least a meter when passing a cyclist. I think it may help to make a case for legislation, proposed in Ontario and enacted in a number of American states and elsewhere, to require motorists to give cyclists a meter, more or less, of space.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Safe Cycling part I: Sidewalks

In the introduction to this series, I wrote that I believe cyclists have a moral obligation to the vulnerable users we share the roads with and to ourselves and the people we love: do no harm. Do not hurt or kill a pedestrian or another cyclist, and do not die on a ride if you can by any means avoid it. That means I have one top ethical and practical rule: do not ride on sidewalks. Riding on sidewalks endangers pedestrians, as two fatal collisions between sidewalk cyclists and pedestrians in Toronto over the past five years make tragically clear. But sidewalk cycling also endangers the cyclists who do it. Cyclists who come off the sidewalks at speed run a far greater risk of colliding with cars than cyclists on the road. Even a relatively slow cyclists moves at twice to three times the speed of the average pedestrian; motorists at intersections have to look farther or more frequently to see cyclists riding into the road. Not all motorists look far enough, and cyclists riding from the sidewalk to the street risk turning directly into the blind spot of a right turning driver. Over even a short ride, a sidewalk cyclist will ride through many intersections. It only takes one misjudgment with a single pedestrian, one driver failing to look far enough up the sidewalk, to turn a ride into a tragedy. 

Don't do it. If the road frightens you, and Toronto has plenty of frightening roads, then find a safe route. Ride on a side street, through a park, on a shared use trail, use the bus to skip over a dangerous stretch of road. Riding on the sidewalk won't solve your problem.