What war?

Originally posted on Tumblr.

The Boston Herald recently claimed in several articles that the city has taken the side of cyclists in a CAR-BIKE WAR, citing a discrepancy between the number of citations issued to motorists compared to warnings* issued to cyclists.  Obviously, there are a great many more cars in the city committing violations; just over 1% of daily trips in Boston are bicycle trips. That police are stopping cyclists for any violations is actually a new phenomenon; that is to say, the city has upped its enforcement of cyclist behavior significantly.

Meanwhile, the Boston Globe reports the number of speeding tickets issued in Boston dropped by nearly half from 2008 to 2009, in line with a state-wide trend.  Part of the drop in tickets issued is probably related to decreased driving because of gas prices and unemployment.  I’ve been digging around for data without finding a year-to-year comparison of vehicle miles traveled or number of trips in the city without success, but suffice it to say I doubt decreased driving can explain all of the trend.  The Globe focuses on recent changes in police practice.  According to the police and officials interviewed for the article, police departments are assigning fewer officers to traffic duty because of staffing cuts, leading to fewer stops.  And even when they do make stops, cops are favoring warnings over tickets because they worry about burdening someone who may already be in tight financial spot because of the poor state of the economy.  In other words, police believe they have had to decrease their enforcement of motorist behavior over the past few years.

The Globe also reports that speeding is a factor in about one third of fatal crashes nationally.

This is to say nothing of the fact that the Herald didn’t bother to check how much money government spends on driving vs. cycling in Boston, or consider to what degree the entire layout of the city is oriented around cars or bikes when proclaiming the Menino administration had taken up arms with the terrorists bikers.  Or that the entire idea of there being a “war” is ridiculous.  Finding a few folks in cars willing to complain about bikes does not an armed conflict make.  Lots of people who drive complain about all sorts of things about driving – I am one of those people!  Drivers complain about pedestrians, rotaries, traffic lights, taxis, buses, and, most of all, traffic.  Is there a war between cars AND OTHER CARS?  Have I been drafted into several conflicts, and to competing sides, without knowing it?

I have not, obviously.  It’s in the interest of a conservative outlet like the Herald to scream “Culture War” at every opportunity.  Their best hope to stay profitable is to spread divisiveness, to feed on fear and resentment.  But what we actually have is a city full or road users who often come into conflict.  A lot of drivers are jealous/resentful/angry/scared of bikers, but this is no zero-sum game.  Changes in transportation policy are not dropped bombs; the fact that I bike these streets does much less to harm your commute than you tell yourself. The urge to paint as broad a swath of your community as enemies needing to be eliminated – in this case by getting cyclists off the street, which is the ultimate goal – is a disgusting habit, to put it mildly.

Pete has more on this, and I recommend reading it.  One statistic he has is worth drawing attention to.  In one ten-month period in Boston, there were eight reported “interactions” between pedestrians and cyclists, and 600 between pedestrians and motor vehicles.

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*The Cyclist Safety Bill of a couple of years ago made a change to the law that, inadvertently, makes it difficult for the government to actually collect on tickets issued to cyclists.  Police departments in the city have also opted to use warnings so that the “crackdown” serves as educational outreach in a city that is seeing growing numbers of cyclists.

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