Monday, June 18, 2007

Thank You Sir, May I Have Another?...

"...we want to be free to ride our machines without being hassled by The Man."
—Heavenly Blues (Peter Fonda), from the movie “The Wild Angels"

This one ain't gonna be pretty.

Seems that "speeding" cyclists (can you speed when there is no prescribed limit?...should you be held accountable when you don't know your speed?) are making local bike paths so dangerous that some surrounding town governments are beginning to call for increased enforcement of bike laws. The information in this article, coupled with the speed sensor that has found a home on the Mount Vernon trail the last few days about a mile or so away from its sister in circuitry, a flashing digital traffic sign asking cyclists if they know their speed, spells trouble for two-wheeled trail riders.

The article quotes Vienna municipal attorney Steve Briglia, who feels the time has come to crack down on guerrilla cyclists (all real criminals having at this point received their comeuppance, I presume). The author resorts to the clichéd tactic of including in the article this all-too-typical statement, designed to quell in advance the protestations of the overly-sensitive who may otherwise feel targeted by a bullying bureaucrat:

"Briglia added that he, too, is a bike-rider (sic)."

Of course, the statement is always placed after the controversial comments, the idea being to lend the utterer some credibility (s)he may not deserve. The reader's neural arrangement is then supposed to whip up something like this: Oh, okay, he rides too, he's "one of us." Hey, maybe he's got a point...

So we are led to believe that a "bike-rider"—a term suggesting only that Mr. Briglia has thrown a leg over a saddle on at least one occasion—to feel safe and secure in the presence of a growing body of hooligan cyclists, wants to have police officers keep a Stately eye on his every move when he's out on the bike. (We are being asked to forget for a minute here that Mr. Briglia, the man calling for authoritarian intervention, is first and foremost an attorney, i.e., an authority figure whose responsibilities include, among other things, drafting ordinances and prosecuting municipal infractions.) Protect me from my comrades, from myself.

Yes, that's right, the lowly bicycle, that quiet symbol of freedom in transportation, the one true green machine, la petite reine (as the French affectionately call it), is now in danger of being tagged as a potential menace to society when in the wrong hands (or, more aptly, when under a felonious fundament). Never mind the other trail users who engage ritualistically in unsafe behavior. The runners who U-turn without looking, iPod (or equivalent) headphones dangling from their ears like shrunken stethoscopes. The double and triple baby joggers whose wardens prefer their half of the trail in the middle. The amblers who smugly walk on the left side of the trail, against the grain. The nuclear families whose rabbit-like members insist on a side-by-side group configuration. Abandoned children who meander along the trail, forcing a deadly game of chassé-croisé (sorry, there just is no equivalent phrase in English) with oncoming cyclists. Or (pulling back a bit to pan left and right) the motorists who make illegal turns against red lights or from no-turn lanes and into the hapless trail-riding cyclist, or who speed through trail crossings as if they were finish lines. No, it's the people astride bicycles, be it on the trail or the street, who are framed in the crosshairs for the public good, whose "guilt" is a fait accompli at every accident scene. And articles like this one start to infiltrate the public consciousness, quietly chipping away at any hard-won positive bicycle PR.

Then there's this beauty from the article:

"Police don’t like giving tickets to cyclists as it’s a pollution and traffic-free form of transportation, it’s healthy," he said.

Police don't like giving tickets. That's laughable in itself. But then Mr. Briglia goes and drops the bomb, displaying an almost pathological contempt for the intelligence of anyone who happens to read his words: police don't like giving tickets to cyclists because they (the police) are concerned about the environment and the health of local residents.

Yes, so concerned with promoting all things green, in fact, that the DC police department is looking to trade in its limited fleet of metabolically-powered mountain bikes for electric Segways (be sure to read the reasons the police say they find Segways so attractive and useful, all of which apply to the more functional bicycle). Anyone know how the bulk of electricity is currently produced in the US?...that's right, more than 50% is generated using King Coal and petroleum.

Sounds like the only green being talked about here is the color of money.

(Photo credit: B. Ramsey)

PS: I am not suggesting here that the local trails are utterly devoid of racer-types who ride as if a yellow jersey were at stake. I just don't think we've reached the point where some stringent order must be imposed and enforced for the sake of a few selfish and unthinking assholes.

PPS: The speed sensor has disappeared, but not before the "speed limit" it suggested was changed from 10 to 15 mph, thus revealing the dangerously arbitrary nature of the decision-making process at work here. And just to point out more madness, the trail approaching the sensor runs uphill.


Rob said...

Damn, thats frustrating as hell. I admit I'm no speed freak being that I'm usual tooling around on my fat tire. I feel good when I make 17 or so on flats these days. But the arbitrary ness and such as you mentioned just plain scares me. I admit the racers who think that the Capital Crescent or the wo&d or whatever is their personal time trial grounds do drive me nuts.

The bit about the Segways almost cracks me up as I was talking to mounted police in bethesda about that last week and most of the guys I was talking to can't imagine giving up their bikes.

BG said...

as long as we're anecdotally discussing who seems to be making the trails dangerous, let's remember that there are racers and then there are 'racers'. i race in the region and am reasonably familiar with many of the other folks on teams here. it seems to be the general consensus among us 'racer types' that the trails are made dangerous by people who don't actually race, and consider riding the trails as the height of their week of riding, and where they get their competetive angst out. most of the actual fast training rides in the area are all on roads- i know of zero that hit any of the trails. i am most often amazed at the behavior of random lance apers and fanatically late commuters than dudes i know who are actually into racing for teams- we know there is no way to get a fast training ride in on the trails, due to the unsafe nature of it, plus it makes our sponsors look bad to be blasting by little kids at 25mph. just a view from this side of the aisle.

iconoclasst said...

bg, I used the term "racer-types" as opposed to "racers" precisely because I wanted to accomodate anyone who rides at an unsafe speed through heavy trail traffic. That includes weekend warriors and chronically late commuters.

As for zero training rides on the trail, that's simply not true. I've seen pacelines out in the Ashburn and Leesburg sections (admittedly less crowded) of the W&OD Trail that ride so fast they appear as a continuous ribbon of team colors. They do indeed get in fast training rides on the trail. But yes, I agree that most experienced racers are responsible riders and it was not my intent to take a swipe at them.

BG said...

i bet you're right- i actually have about zero knowlwdge of ashburn and loudoun rides- i'm in dc proper, so i was thinking of the immediate areas. anyway, i thoroughly enjoy your blog, although, i'd appreciate some homage to wittgenstein sometime in the near future. he's the man!

iconoclasst said...

bg, Wittgenstein, yes, well, tough to work him into the biking context. Hell, I'm still working on an angle for Ferdinand de Saussure (just to do a little semi-fraudulent name-dropping, ha).

Thanks for the pat on the back and the suggestion.