Every so often someone — always a car driver — gets on the neighborhood app called Next Door to bitch about bicyclists or biking infrastructure the City of Austin has installed. The latest is about some plastic bollards that make a semi-protected bike lane, narrower car lanes and additional concrete that is meant to be traffic-calming. It’s in what was designed to be a high-density, pedestrian and bike-friendly neighborhood. Named Mueller, after the former airport upon which it sits, it’s generally a safe area to bike. Except when you read what the aggressively bike-hating people are posting in Next Door. I wrote a previous post on this in January 2018. Now the haters are back, so of course I have a few choice words. (Of love – tough love.)
Bike Safety Trumps Car Convenience Every Single Time
The main (and I would say very specious) argument raised by the original poster is that the plastic bollards are unsightly and the narrow lanes are dangerous for car drivers. Here’s the original post:
New stupid street nonsense in your neighborhood
Let’s put little white poles obstructing turns at the intersection! Come see what nonsense our idiot city planners have added to Threadgill and Zach Scott. Now it’s impossible to turn onto Zach Scott from the side street. And it’s an eyesore as well. Stay tuned as the city ruins our streets, one block at a time. NOTE***BICYCLE LANES ARE NOT THE PROBLEM HERE…we have had safe lanes on our street for many years.. this is about implementing A BAD SOLUTION TO A NON-EXISTENT PROBLEM***–Copyright NextDoor
So far, there are 200 replies — which is quite a lot. Most are thankfully in favor of bike lanes. Many question why the poster has such a hard time driving in the lane. Others lambaste him for complaining that the plastic bollards are not aesthetically pleasing. Another complaint of his seems to be he wasn’t included in the process, but there definitely was one. But there are a number of people who take the poster’s side and say vile things about cyclists.
Dealing with Angry, Bad Car Drivers (ABCD’s)
I haven’t commented in Next Door yet, but I have thanked everyone who has made a bike-friendly comment and made sad faces for the haters. Most of what I would have to say has been covered by some sane neighbors :
- Bikes have a legal right to the road and car drivers shouldn’t hit them
- Protected bike lanes are better for both cyclists and car drivers
- Traffic calming measures are important to save lives
- Encouraging more people ride bikes (especially kids) reduces traffic (kids eventually drive cars), increases health and reduces pollution
- If the complainer wants, he can contact the City to suggest widening the lanes somehow (unlikely unless a majority of neighbors agree)
- If he doesn’t like it, he can move to an area with no bike lanes
I went and had a look at the intersection and lanes, and found them to be a big improvement. You see, without the added road furniture (as the Brits call concrete pedestrian pads and the like), cars can make a hard left or right turn, which makes it far easier to hit bicyclists in the adjacent lanes. There are protected lanes on the main road with very wide, solid but movable curbs, too. So bikes coming down the perpendicular bike lane (that they don’t have to stop in) at high rate of speed don’t mix with impatient, distracted car drivers who run the stop sign could easily cause crashes with cyclists. A Dude don’t like crashes. The changes reduce the chance of crashes, so what’s the big deal?
What gets me about the comments supporting the poster is the ignorance and lack of compassion. Did these people never ride a bike? What about their kids? Can they not imagine what it’s like to have no bike lanes and cars buzzing by at high speed and one mistake changes or ends a life?
“Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.”–George Carlin, as found on HumanCyclist
The Reasonable Cyclist’s View
On the other end of the spectrum is this post from a well-known bike advocate who lives in the neighborhood, mostly about the other end but also the lanes and traffic calming:
Zach Scott and Airport intersection
The Transportation and Urban Planning Committee of the Mueller Neighborhood Association has been working hard with the City of Austin to ensure that the changes to Zach Scott are completed in a way that enhances the neighborhood. Doing a couple of things, slowing traffic, adding a protected bicycle lane, and adding safer intersection. The started striping the intersection of Zach Scott and Airport today as well as adding some much needed striping at Zach Scott and Berkman. The Airport intersection has a full three lanes, we still have our right turn lane, and each is at least 11 feet wide. Yes, people turning off of Airport will have to slow down but that is a good thing. Really looking forward to riding and walking this intersection when they are finished.
What happens with Next Door, and I gather much social media, is that without the social norms, body language and much more three-dimensional communication that happens in person, people find it easy to be mean. They stake out their positions, deride the others who don’t agree, and attack them personally. There’s little to no consequence, even though Next Door does require you to verify your name and address. You can report and mute people, but that doesn’t win hearts and minds. In the end, it comes down to basic civility, respect and realizing we’re all neighbors and we have to coexist. That seems unlikely in the age of rage and Trump.
There’s not much changing of minds going on, but at least it’s conversation and not shooting. But it does make me fearful that car drivers who hate bicyclists will take it out on us. We are taking away their precious ability to speed, sometimes a car lane, and so on. But you know what? Many cyclists also drive cars. We also walk. The larger issue is retrofitting a city that has 35 people moving to it every single day. That’s almost 13,000 a year, and that doesn’t include surrounding cities. As the 11th largest city in the US, with a booming economy, no state income tax, progressive culture (sort of) and so on, it will continue to be an issue.
At what point do people stuck in traffic get sick of it and decide they might try commuting to work by carpool, bus or bike? Many can’t, but many never try. Why? Because they’re too afraid of getting hit by cars. And with the lack of completed bicycle lanes, most of them not being protected, and a recent study showing that drivers actually drive CLOSER to bikes when it’s just a painted white line, they have a point. Even though it’s still safer to bike than walk or drive. I’m not against cars. Someday soon I may have to use them for work, or maybe one day I won’t be physically able to bike. I’m against pollution, waste and getter heavier than I already am as a fathlete who bikes 75-100 miles a week. Point is, biking should be safer.
We Must Do Better as Drivers and Cyclists
Austin may be a “Gold”-rated Bicycle Friendly City, but the reality on the road is we have disconnected bike lanes, miles and miles of no lanes at all, and the ones we do have are mostly unprotected and poorly maintained. So we have a very long way to go until we deserve that rating, in my view. We should stop hurting our shoulders patting ourselves on the back over how bike friendly we are. Every bike rider should take every precaution to protect their lives like using rear view mirrors or be looking over your shoulder often, using sidewalks and residential streets when necessary, getting bike cameras if you can afford them, and so on. You should also tell your elected City Councilmember why we can’t keep waiting for more studies and about problem areas that need fixing now.
In my humble opinion but considered opinion, Austin needs an active, powerful and effective bike advocacy organization. It should demand every new bike lane is a protected bike lane and that the City expedite building those lanes now that they do have the money. It’s two and a half years on from the 2016 mobility bond, and I can only think of a few places that are significantly better. These are great, but it’s not enough. Currently, we don’t have such a group with the resources to pay staff or sufficient numbers of people with free time to do the work (aka unpaid staff aka volunteers). Nor do we have enough members to have the clout to make government responsive in a timely manner. That’s unfortunate. We’re rebuilding, and maybe we’ll get there. The pace is slow for a myriad of good reasons. A few good women and men are doing their best. But I fear the result of not enough action by the City and very loud and assertive advocacy will be more cyclist deaths. Online hate has real life and death consequences. Mass shooters sometimes are found to have posted bike things online.
So far we’ve had two cyclists killed this year, both in places there should have been bike lanes — years ago. How many more will die because of these bike haters? Sorry, car drivers, I don’t care if you don’t like how plastic bike lane dividers look. Our safety and over very lives are at stake. And that trumps your inconvenience. Every! Single! Single! Time!
If I sound angry, maybe because such ignorance and vitriol cannot be allowed to stand. A bus passed me with maybe 2 feet the other day — it’s supposed to be 6, by law. I talked to the driver at the next stop, which was nearby. I kept my cool and was nice and factual about it, but he just mumbled some excuse like there was a car in the next lane. Instead of slowing down to let me to pass the bus stop a few feet away, he endangered my life. Luckily I’m experienced enough to stay calm and hold my line. What if I wasn’t and didn’t, and bounced off the curb or bus? I’d be maimed or dead. I didn’t report him, but I probably should have. This sort of thing happens regularly, too, and not just to me, but hundreds of times a day, I’m quite sure. That’s why the well-vetted changes in Mueller should be applauded, not attacked. Safety first. Period.
A Dude Abikes’ Advice for Drivers
- Leave early
- Slow down
- Go around
- Drive defensively
- Yield the right of way to vulnerable road users
- Don’t be distracted by phone, make-up, food, passengers, music, etc.
- Bike a mile or 100 in our shoes and then see if you still hate us
- Don’t be a hateful jerk
- Share the road, it’s the law!
Thus concludes today’s rant. Be safe out there!
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