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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Who Can Help San Francisco's Cycling Conditions? The Dutch

Posted By on Tue, Sep 20, 2011 at 8:10 AM

click to enlarge thinkbike.jpg

According to H.G. Wells, "After your first day of cycling, one dream is inevitable. A memory of motion lingers in the muscles of your legs, and round and round they seem to go." 

As Arthur Conan Doyle saw it, "When the spirits are low, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go."

For San Francisco urban-bicycling advocates, however, there are bike-related pleasures even more intense than the sensation of speed, intimacy with the contours of the Earth, and the sense of freedom offered by a short bike ride. 

For the righteous community of bike advocates, the real fun begins when you're shut in a room of European bureaucrats, and asked to discuss possible changes in planning and traffic codes.

This week, urban-cycling advocates are holding what must seem like an orgy -- hours of workshops with bureaucrats from Amsterdam who will tell them how to make San Francisco a more cycling friendly-city.

The event is called ThinkBike, and is cohosted by the Dutch consulate, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Cyclists who aren't much for attending bureaucratic pow-wows don't take issue with municipal-bicycling advocates' core beliefs, that righteous cycling advocates are correct: Bike-riding will make you a better person.

It's also true that the more people who cycle, the better things will be for other cyclists, and the more attractive cycling will become for people who don't yet ride.

But the rest of the cycling world look at these folks with suspicion because, in the words of blogger and author Bike Snob, they're a "flight risk."

A righteous cyclist only rides a bike because it doesn't use gas and is seen as "green." But, if something greener comes along, who's to say they won't leave the rest of us behind? It's difficult to ascertain how many of them are just a cleverly worded pamphlet away from defecting to Rollerblades.

A worse problem is that municipal-cycling activist types suck the essence out of one of life's pleasures when they assert it's all about saving Mother Earth. 

You hear them say it a lot. They plaster their bikes with stickers that say "One Less Car," as if a bike ride taken by a motorist were somehow an inferior act.

You hear them talk a blue streak about global warming, as if increasing the number of bike trips in a few U.S. cities -- San Francisco, Portland, New York -- has any real effect on climate change when pitted against industrialization in China, India, and Brazil. 

Many of them posit themselves as amateur city-planners. A real urbanist might focus less on bike lanes and more on convincing City Hall to approve a dozen skyscrapers like the 709-unit One Rincon Hill. They'd go further toward reducing dependency upon automobiles, because they'd have allowed 80,000 more condo-dwellers to live within walking distance of work. Some of the same people who show up for bike meetings, however, are among the loudest in decrying "gentrification" or "overdevelopment."

If there's any doubt that municipal bicycling advocates have pedaled around cycling's liberation and joy, consider that the ThinkBike bureaucratfest's closing events conflict with one of our great annual pageants of cycling-related pleasures.

At around same time, at a location, which I won't reveal because it's a secret, hundreds of cyclists will convene in the Bay Area for an annual free-form cyclocross race. Many of them will be dressed in drag. Some will ride so hard they'll puke. Half of them will be bloodied with scratches, scrapes, and cuts. Afterward the cyclocrossers, like the righteous envirocyclists, will stand around, drinks in hand, euphoric from a day's work done well.
The 'crossers will be celebrating the fact that, as Jack Kennedy has been reported to have said, "Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride."

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Matt Smith


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