Louisville Bicycle Club
November-December 2008 Newsletter

From the President
Bootless in Louisville

by


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 justice.

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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