November-December 2008 Newsletter
From the President
Bootless in Louisville
I could have titled this article the same as the movie that it alludes to
because any sane cyclist has had sleepless nights this season, worried
about when the next death by automobile would happen, whether he
or she might know the victim or, worse yet, be that victim. Surely all
of us have become more cautious, more likely to cast a wary eye in
the mirror or over the shoulder when riding.
I could have titled this article “Helpless in Louisville”, for that is
surely the way all of us have felt this season as the body count has
mounted seemingly in direct proportion to the increase in bicycle
commuting, which increased in response to mounting gas prices.
(And the just-beginning economic crisis is bound to accelerate cycling
for routine transportation.)
Or maybe “Clueless”, which best describes the police and prosecutors as they badly
investigate death-by-automobile cases and unimaginatively fail to prosecute the offenders
while the victims’ families and the cycling community wait in vain for some semblance of
Bootless, defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “unavailing; unprofitable; useless; without
advantage or success,” will best describe Metro Government’s efforts to make Louisville a
bicycle-friendly city unless it gets its act back together. The truth is that despite all the
hoopla, the national attention and favorable mentions by rating groups, the great start
coming out of the 2005 Bike Summit is stalling out. One casualty is Bike Summit II, which
was to be held in November but has been postponed until February 2009.
The backward slide began when the program was removed from Metro Planning & Design
and placed in Public Works. If your instinctive reaction is that there is inevitably conflict
between the mission of Public Works—moving traffic quickly and safely—and its
principle “clients”—automobile drivers—and promoting the interests of cyclists, you’re
not alone. But since the mayor has given the job to Pubic Works we need to work with that
department to implement the Bike Summit agenda and any new projects.
Among the first things that should be done is to restore the positions that were stripped
from the program: Under Planning & Design as many as 5 planners worked on bicycle
projects. Today one engineer in Public Works handles the program. Next, the conflicts
inherent in Public Works’ leadership of the program must be resolved. Public Works
should continue to play a central role in constructing on- and off-road facilities for B and C
cyclists (less experienced and children). But the other critical Bike Summit E’s—
Encouragement, Education, Evaluation and especially Enforcement—require the active
involvement of other Metro Government departments, one of which—not Public Works--
should assume the leadership role.
So, what should we cyclists do?
Certainly not follow the lead of the hapless that participate in Critical Mass protest rides
even though that might have some visceral appeal. (If someone
can cite an example where such actions have led to positive and
sustained change, I’ll rethink this position.)
But do ride in groups. Especially ride with the LBC.
Each of the deaths has involved a lone cyclist. It’s awful to
think that we may have to suspend (for a while) some of the
ways that we ride. But until the police learn the laws that
govern bicyclists and learn how to investigate cyclist-automobile
conflicts, until laws are changed to protect cyclists
from too-close passing cars and aggressive motorists, until
motorists are better educated and more used to sharing the road
with cyclists, until all cyclists, but especially the less-skilled,
learn how to ride defensively and, finally, unless the City
follows through on its commitments to make this a real bicycle-friendly
community, group riding is our best protection.
And take every opportunity to let the police and the rest of
Metro Government know that it’s time to get serious.
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web posted: 17 Jan 2009
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