As I’ve watched Coronado’s Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) trying to push forward its agenda for expanded bike infrastructure, I’ve seen increasing pushback, mostly from the non-cycling community (although some cyclists have joined the resistance). Criticism of the bike lobby is often directed at its perceived sense of entitlement: It often appears that bikers think only of themselves and their own convenience; non-bikers, meanwhile, are often discounted and sometimes even ridiculed.
I can’t help compare today’s cycling advocacy with the animal welfare movement, a cause I was involved with almost 40 years ago, when I wrote articles for the Humane Society of the United States and served on the board of directors for one of America’s premier municipal animal shelters (located in the DC area, it was often featured in national training videos). Even then, all those years ago, animal advocates realized that we could be stronger in our advocacy if we could win over our opposition – those people who didn’t have pets and didn’t particularly like pet owners; we didn’t want to dismiss them, alienate them … or even sideline them; we wanted them on our side.
Beyond that, animal advocates recognized that irresponsible pet ownership not only cost the welfare of our animals, it antagonized our critics and undermined our cause, and we became the strongest supporters possible for the most restrictive animal control laws possible. It was “dog people” who pushed for stringent leash laws; it was “cat people” who insisted that cats be adopted as inside pets only; it was “animal people” who demanded that all shelter pets be spayed or neutered; and it was “animal lovers” who fought for increased licensing of cats and dogs (and a myriad of other laws). Predictably, these advances improved the lives of the pets we loved, but they also served the interests of the non-pet-owning public by establishing standards for responsible pet ownership that even our critics couldn’t fault.
This is a far cry from what’s happening with regard to Coronado’s bicycle advocacy – just a couple of examples:
• BAC’s “Ride the Lights” event, held in December, offers hundreds of cyclists the opportunity to enjoy Coronado’s holiday decorations aboard bikes. Unfortunately, according to BAC minutes, at the December 2013 event, “there were too many bikes without lights.” A year later, there was a problem trying to keep cyclists “in the travel lane and not spilling out into the oncoming traffic lane, especially at the front [where many of the children were, many of whom were unaccompanied by adults].” It’s distressing that BAC doesn’t use this event to set a standard for Coronado’s biking community, that it doesn’t demand compliance with California’s bike laws as a prerequisite for participation.
• More recently, at a BAC meeting (October 5, 2015), a committee member recounted how he was contacted by a patrol officer for riding his bike in the middle of the right-hand car lane on Orange Avenue. A senior CPD officer in attendance took it upon himself to clarify his colleague’s action, explaining that although cyclists have the “right” to ride in the middle of a car lane (to avoid the hazard of the dreaded “door zone”), they do not have the right to impede traffic; so unless bikers are sailing through town at 25/30 mph [the speed limit on Orange Avenue varies], they must concede their position and allow motorists to pass. This interchange was troubling for a couple of reasons: Not only was the BAC member unfamiliar with prevailing bike laws, he chose to challenge a police officer’s action in a public forum.
• And this brings me to my final point: The tasering of a dog-at-large by a Coronado policeman on Sept. 26, 2015. This dog was loose and reported to be behaving aggressively. By way of background, I have retrieved many stray dogs, but when a dog appears to be aggressive and cannot be contained, police tasering may be necessary (unfortunately, this dog later died). Still, I support Coronado’s Police Department 100 percent, and I can’t imagine any professional in the field of community animal control who would not stand with them. Again, this pro-police stance provides a striking contrast to Coronado’s cycling advocates who disregard bike laws during their holiday fun rides and challenge a patrol officer for maintaining the orderly flow of motorist traffic required by law.
Oddly enough, animal advocates, like cycling advocates, work closely with local police departments in providing integrated outreach, education, enforcement, facilities, and services; however, unlike cycling advocates, animal advocates are loyal partners in this process: We support restrictive animal control laws (many of which we authored), and we support our police partners in their enforcement, all of which helps ensure the safety of our pets … and our society.
In addition, animal advocates, despite the millions of homeless cats and dogs languishing in American shelters, don’t want more pet owners; we want more responsible pet ownership. Cycling advocates, on the other hand, just seem to want more people on bikes, regardless of their riding ability or their ability to follow laws. This desire to increase the number of riders, with little concern for responsible ridership, is borne out by the bike lobby’s vehement opposition to proposed helmet laws for adult cyclists, and, predictably, the executive director of San Diego County Bike Coalition (SDCBC) has argued that making helmets mandatory would be a “deterrent to getting people to actually ride bicycles, and we very much place a high priority on increasing the number of bicyclists” (SDCBC also argues against accident statistics that show bike helmets save lives).
The bike lobby’s sense of road-riding entitlement is likewise reflected in SDCBC’s helmet-alternative safety proposals: Motorists should reduce their speeds; communities should install more bike lanes; and governments should enact more car-limiting legislation (such as the recent 3-foot passing law). Cyclists, presumably, will continue to demand more restrictive safety concessions from everyone but themselves.