Sunday, June 21, 2009
What Will We Do Without Government Money?
Friends, neighbors and bicycle advocates! With tax receipts falling by double digit rates everywhere, cities, counties, state and federal agencies are all going to be on a diet soon. What are we going to do with ourselves when all the public money for bicycle facilities dries up? Seek funding from private sources?
Here is my idea for how to move forward in this fiscal environment. Advocate for things that would benefit cycling that doesn't cost any money!
I know this will be a hard shift in how we perceive our value. We obviously pride ourselves in how much of other people's money we can get spent on "bicycle" projects.
Sadly, this prideful view has corrupted our mission. We no longer seem to measure whether or not these projects are the most prudent use of our time and effort in advancing cycling's interests. In fact, this has often resulted in expensive facilities that are so poorly constructed that the only charitable way to describe them is an "attractive nuisance". These monstrosities serve to get some politician a plaque to hang on their wall, while the cyclists we claim to serve pay for it with their blood and limbs.
Well, things will be different for a while. Probably for a long while, and the expensive bicycle infrastructure projects we favor are not likely to garner much support when competing with other basic municipal projects. (Like trash pick up, local schools, sewer repair, basic street repair, code enforcement, and even cuts in city hall staff.) What can we do to make ourselves relevant when we can no longer spend other peoples money?
We could urge stricter traffic enforcement. This would be a benefit to all of our community by making the public way more civil.
Even better, we could press for stricter enforcement of sidewalk riders, wrong way riding and failure to use lights when riding at night! That is to say, this is what we would do if we were really serious about preventing injuries and death.
It doesn't take government money to demand that cyclists receive equal treatment by police and the courts when they enforce traffic laws. Cyclists need to be viewed as proper vehicles, not some childish toy.
We can form alliances with other interested constituent groups who would benefit from our non-infrastructure/facilities type activities. Pedestrian organizations, the PTA, public worker labor unions (More ticket generated revenue would mean less city job cuts!), MADD, PETA, auto insurance companies and the like. If someday the money spigot is turned on again, these contacts would be helpful allies for our precious infrastructure projects.
We need to advocate for the equal legal status and equal treatment of cyclists in our current traffic laws. We can push for the repeal of unfair, inequitable and incoherent traffic laws. The law should be “vehicle-class-neutral” to the greatest extent possible. Rather than new laws, we can put teeth into current overtaking and reckless driving ordinances by increasing the fine structure.
Cyclist's access to all destinations must be protected. State and local laws that discriminate against cyclists, or restrict their right to travel, or reduce their relative safety, must be repealed. Laws designating where cyclists must ride within a travel lane are inconsistent with Sec. 551.101 and should be repealed.
Develop education and training materials, seminars, and classes to educate cyclists or motorists on safely operating on the public way. Prepare public messages and advertisements. Raise money to execute them.
Encourage a new understanding of the grave responsibility of operating a motor vehicle in public. (People no longer think that breaking traffic laws are actual criminal acts!) Make hitting things with your car a shameful act again. Demand that all vehicles be driven with due care of other peoples property and health.
Encourage a new sense of good citizenship in the public way. Because all these notions, taken together, will enhance the safety of everyone our advocacy could be seen as less confrontational and thus, more inclusive.