Friday, January 31, 2014

Infinite Horizons

The article is, as with most of Mr. Medred's articles, sloppily written and an oversimplification of most of the "facts," but does provide an interesting overview of just how skewed Alaska is, overall, towards anything that is gas powered.

And, as usual, the comments are the best part of the article. It continually amazes me, though it shouldn't, that people seem to believe that only gas taxes pay for roads and that cyclists don't pay taxes. Strange that being a cyclist excludes owning or operating a car or paying taxes (property tax, which is where the bulk of road and infrastructure improvement funds come from... not gas taxes). Someone needs to tell the taxman that I'm a cyclist, so I don't pay taxes.


Too often it feels like it is not if, but when. When I get hit will I be lucky enough to walk away? I sure hope so.

I do want to refute a few points made by one Mr. Art Chance. Here's the text of his comment: 

Let's sort this out a bit and perhaps remove a little bias and emotion. First, the fact that the witness observing from A Street had a red light doesn't mean the light was red on C Street, though I'm not sure just how the left arrows are timed there. In the morning, the light would be heavily biased towards green on A and C Streets, so you'd be sitting at a red light for a long time on 40th. In fact, you'd be sitting at a red light for long time on 40th any time of day. If one were in a hurry, it might be awfully tempting to pop over into that crosswalk and become a "pedestrian" to cross C Street rather than waiting for the light or if one were hurrying east on 40th and saw the light go yellow, to do that pedestrian thing to get across C Street.

The article doesn't clearly state the victim's direction of travel, nor the direction of travel of the motorist, but given that the victim entered the intersection at 40th and C and the witness was looking to the west towards C street from the light at A street, that means that she (the witness) was heading north. If the motorist was heading east on 40th, there is no evidence to suggest that the cyclist "pop[ped] over into that crosswalk" as there is a separated multi-use bike path along C street at that corridor. Thus the cyclist would have had the light and, while he should have indeed dismounted for the crosswalk, would not have moved from the lane and into the crosswalk to become a pedestrian. 

I wish that piece of the muni code were enforced more because I very rarely see a bicyclist stop at a red light. They almost universally hop over on the sidewalk or that megabucks bike path that they don't pay for and pretend they're a pedestrian and go through the crosswalk to avoid the light. Under traffic laws as I thought I understood them, if you're going to cross the street as a pedestrian, you dismount the bicycle and walk it across. If you're riding, operating, the bicycle, you're a vehicle that is inappropriately in a crosswalk and if you get hit, it may well be that you were a vehicle that failed to yield, so your estate can pay to fix the damage you did to the car that hit you.

I rarely see drivers yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk, but that doesn't mean that they don't. The argument put forth here is built on a singular and limited set of data - one cannot extrapolate the behavior of an entire segment of the population from one person's observation of a behavior. 

"They almost universally hop over on the sidewalk or that megabucks bike path that they don't pay for..." Wait. What? There are so many fallacies implied here. First is the implication that someone who rides a bike does not own or operate a motor-vehicle, thus paying gas taxes just like everyone else. Secondly is the implication that gas taxes pay for all roads and sidewalks - this is patently untrue. Gas or 'road' taxes in actually pay for only a miniscule portion of construction and maintenance of public roadways, even figuring federal grant moneys and funds matching. The bulk of funding for public infrastructure comes from general funds - funds raised municpaly and in the state through property, sales, and excise taxes - taxes that, in one way or another, all citizens pay. 

I can hear Art right now, though - renters don't pay property taxes. Yes, this is true, but you don't think the landlord pays them out of his or her own pocket, do you? But, I digress. 

Art's final line in this paragraph is telling of his own bias, which he declares in the opening lines to be attempting to remove. From a simple logic standpoint, if someone hits me with their car and kills me, my estate should have to pay to fix the car's damage? I don't get it, but I'll just leave that alone for now.  

I don't know the facts here and the article certainly gives no comprehensive reporting of the facts since it was obviously written to try to make a particular point. No driver wants to hit a bicyclist, though I'll admit to a few instances where I wouldn't have minded shooting one. Mr. Mason commenting below about his .45 toting bicycling acquaintance would do well to remember that a goodly number of vehicle drivers are armed too. If the bicyclist here were in the roadway and a driver blew the light on C Street and hit him in that roadway, I think it is almost inconceivable that the driver wouldn't be ticketed for at minimum failure to yield. I think it far more likely that the investigating officer and the prosecutor couldn't determine with enough precision where the collision actually occurred to be confident in making a charge or did in fact know that the bicyclist had acted to "... propel a bicycle so as to suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and move into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard" by diverting into the the C Street crosswalk.

Yes, Art, the article was written to make a particular point. All articles are. All writing is. That is the nature of discourse. And I completely agree that the article does a horrid job of laying bare the facts. That said, the remainder of the paragraph is in direct opposition to Art's opening statement that he wants to remove emotion. No one does want to hit a cyclist, though Art's assertion that he's wanted to shoot one from time to time speaks volumes about his emotional attachment to and bias towards the subject. 

That said, I won't try to argue against the remaining points in this paragraph because the article does not provide enough information with which to argue and it is clear that the laws referenced in the article and the paragraph above are written in such a way as to not permit cogent argument against without having all of the evidence. 

And for those of you advocating special protections for bicyclists, let's start by having you pay some license and registration fees on those things so that you can make at least a symbolic payment towards the building and maintaining of those roads and bike trails that we drivers pay for with our gasoline taxes. Mr. Medred tries to whip up this emotional appeal about how it is open season and no limit on bicyclists. The reality is that many bicyclists are rude, militantly riding in the middle of 35-45 mph traffic lanes at 20 mph and operating their "vehicle" as if they were either oblivious to or totally ignorant of traffic laws. In Southeast we boaters referred to kayakers who militantly held the center of a channel as "speedbumps." A huge percentage of bicyclists operate with no lights, wearing dark clothing, as often as not with headphones on, and I can't remember the last time I saw a bicycle with at least a left side rear view mirror. Turning your head to look behind you will almost certainly cause you to swerve towards the traffic lane.

Again, gas taxes pay for quite little of the roadways and pathways that drivers like to claim as their sole domain for paying gas taxes. Also, how is it that license and registration fees here are equated with gas taxes? These are not synonymous. And, most cyclists pay license and registration fees for their cars and ATVs and boats and motorcycles and other motorized vehicles just like other drivers do. Basing an argument on the assertion that being a cyclist and a motorist are mutually exclusive is just weak. There are some cyclists who do not own a car just as there are motorists who do not ride a bike. 

Many bicyclists are rude. Yeah, I get that. These are generally the same cyclists who, when operating a motor vehicle are also rude. These are generally the same cyclists who don't hold open the door for little old ladies. Many drivers are rude, as well. Again, a personal observation does not provide a statistical basis on which to built the argument. 

Here's the thing, Art, cyclists who take the lane do so not to be rude or hold up traffic. They do so in order to create the safest possible situation for themselves when cycling in traffic. I am curious as to which traffic laws you feel that they are being willfully ignorant of when taking the lane? Is it not going the speed limit? Because a speed limit, if we all remember, is the top end speed a vehicle may travel on a given roadway, not the minimum. Do cyclists run red lights? Absolutely. But so, too, are there drivers who drive without seeming to know the rules of the road. 

Kayakers as speed bumps. That is a beautiful red herring argument there. 

And again, Art, using your personal observation as the basis of the argument about all cyclists is just the sign of a weak argument. Yes, there are many cyclists who don't use lights and who wear headphones and don't have a mirror. A mirror is not a legal requirement. Lights are, depending on conditions. This is a matter of enforcement, or lack thereof. 

I'm well aware that there is a cohort of for lack of a better word "serious" bicyclists. For the sake of this discussion I'll grant that the serious cyclist on his $2-3K fat tire bike is likely to operate it knowledgeably and responsibly, though I've seen exceptions. But that "serious" bicyclist isn't the one that drivers have the most contact with. The best bicycle salesmen in Alaska are the cops and Troopers and most of the bicyclists you encounter at rush hour are people who've lost their driver's license either temporarily or permanently for driving while intoxicated. Many of these people are poor so they don't have the fat tire with the flashing LEDs and studded tires and they don't have the expensive reflective clothing. All of them demonstrably have shown bad judgement in operating a vehicle. Some of them are drinking while operating the bicycle. I've had my heart almost stop more than once because a bicyclist appeared out of nowhere swerving to avoid a puddle or swerving into a cross walk to avoid a light or stop sign. There are at least two sides to this story.

I feel that this final paragraph is the most telling of Art's entire comment and is, unfortunately, likely the stereotype that is held by most non-cyclists and even many cyclists in this town. I have to admit that I have seen cyclists out riding and wondered if they are riding because they have to or if they want to, if they have a suspended license or if they are homeless. It is human nature to do this. Though the cost of one's bike does not correlate to how he or she operates it. I have seen a lot of cyclists on 10K plus bikes riding like complete jag-offs and I have seen people on 100 dollar Wallyworld bikes riding absolutely in accordance with the laws.

This is the heart of the issue, really. We look at those who bike, for whatever reason, as second-class citizens. The same with pedestrians. Until we take a really rational look at the situation and really try to get past our own biases, we won't be able to really address the issues here, which are not cycle vs. car, but rather the fact that we have laws on the books that are so unclear in their wording and intent as to make it so that someone operating a multi thousand pound motor vehicle can break a traffic law and kill person and yet have the blame deferred to the victim. If the driver in this article had not run a red light, the cyclist would not have died at that particular moment. The fact that the driver broke a traffic law and that resulted in a death seems like it should clearly be an issue of reckless endangerment. 

Maybe if we all just were just a bit more forgiving and aware of each other's essential humanness, maybe this city would be a better place for everyone. 

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